It's a story about a family not too different from your family...assuming your family steals food, kidnaps children, and dances for money.
These are some elements of the plot of Hirokazu Kore-Eda's latest film showcased in competition at the festival. The director returned to the festival with Shoplifters, a seemingly less loud statement of a film compared to those surrounding it in the competition. However, this made it no less impactful for the jury who awarded it the top prize. It also happened to be a favorite of critics for good reason. The story itself deserves many honors, and the cinematography makes it even better.
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A father, Osamu, and his son are frequent shoplifters in order to support their family. On their way home one night, they come across a young girl freezing in the cold. The plan is to take her home for a night, but when Osamu's wife becomes aware of the abuse the little girl suffers at home, they decide to keep her with their family, composed of the grandmother as well as another sister, both struggling financially, too. This doesn't strengthen their love for one another, however, which is one of the most moving parts of the film's storyline.
An audience will be unable to help but fall in love with these characters and the way they interact with one another. The grandmother is hilarious in her joking about the family and griping about not receiving enough money from outside relatives. Osamu and his wife laugh about how being in close quarters makes it difficult for them to have sex without someone walking in. The children play as much as they steal, and when the shop owners take notice, they do not call the police but instead try to encourage them to just enjoy their time as siblings.
At the underbelly of the story, however, is the fact that the young boy and the young girl at not actual siblings given the uncanny nature of her joining the family. It is something we are unable to forget, from the news reports on the television about her being missing and Osamu's wife cutting off her hair in response. There are also struggles for the different members to truly identify one another as mother, brother, sister, etc. Something, they know, is uncomfortable about it, and soon the audience learns exactly what this is. The most interesting part of all of this is the fact that family is actually engaged in a very sketchy business, but the plot is built up in a way that we don't really care about the illegal actions.
Instead as the characters get caught in their bad decision-making and the truth behind the relationships unravel, a viewer will become engaged in what will happen to everyone, and whether or not there will ever be a future for this family unit. It is unconventional. It is not natural. But when these characters separate from one another into more "normal" circumstances, we are forced to wonder if they are really happier, and if not, was the wrong thing actually the right one? It expands the understandings of the meanings of both family and happiness.
Last year, the jury's choice for the top prize in competition (The Square) at the festival felt moronic, like some frivolous statement about how silly the world of art was made by those who support the art world the most strongly. The year prior, with I, Daniel Blake, it spoke to the way that art can influence politics and policy. This year was my first at the festival where I felt the jury not only chose the strongest film in terms of its cinematic craftsmanship, but also the one with an important story. In the current climate we live in, where the world feels like it is often at a loss for love and comfort, focusing on a film that puts the importance of forming such lasting bonds at the forefront was both the smart and the right choice for the Palm d'Or.
Running time: 120 min | Director: Hirokazu Kore-Eda | Starring: Franky Lily, Ando Sakura, Matsuoka Mayu, and more!
More about the Cannes Film Festival can be found here.
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