School massacre drama launches race at Cannes

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The race for the Palme d'Or began Thursday with Scottish director Lynne Ramsey's powerful "We Need to Talk About Kevin" -- the first of a record four films from women in competition at Cannes.

Adapted from Lionel Shriver's Orange Prize-winning novel, the well-received movie stars Oscar winner Tilda Swinton as the mother of a teenager who carries out a massacre at his high school.

Following Woody Allen's light-hearted opening film "Midnight in Paris", which screened out of competition Wednesday, Ramsey's chilling drama depicts an ambivalent parent who watches her suburban family life slowly unravel.

An avid traveller and writer in her youth, Swinton's character Eva falls for kind-hearted homebody Franklin (John C. Reilly) and quickly falls pregnant.

But from the start, Eva fails to bond with Kevin (Ezra Miller), who appears even from his infancy to be hostile to his mother.

While Eva struggles -- there is a heartbreaking scene in which she attempts to warmly smile at the baby to comfort him after he has been screaming for hours -- Franklin returns from work apparently blind to the torment at home.

Kevin becomes increasingly manipulative and brutal as he hits adolescence and is a master at driving a wedge between baffled Franklin and Eva, who is shocked to discover her own violent side.

The scenes are intercut with flashbacks from the bloodbath that Kevin commits with cold efficiency and Eva's later attempts to cope with her own guilt and ostracism in the American town where the murders took place.

Ramsay, who drew rave reviews for her debut feature "Ratcatcher" in 1999, said Shriver's novel appealed to her as a study of the mystery of parenting.

"Families are so complicated and certainly my own is as well. I think I was attracted to it because my mother and father had a difficult relationship, although very different from this," the 41-year-old told reporters.

"The bond (between parents and children) is a complex one and also I'm at the age of thinking of having a child myself and wondered about some of these questions about responsibility. Sometimes a child is born and you just don't who that child is."

Swinton said the film was careful to avoid the traditional trap of placing all the blame on a well-meaning mother for Kevin's development into a cold-blooded killer.

"This film is not social commentary but it happens to be true that in situations where particularly a son is violent that (people say) it's always the mother's fault," she said.

"The film makes a really radical suggestion -- that maybe what is even more frightening to a woman... is giving birth to her own violence."

After being shut out of the running at the world's top cinema showcase in 2010, women made an unprecedented four of the 20 contenders for the top prize this year, to be awarded May 22.

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" went head-to-head Thursday with "Sleeping Beauty", an erotic thriller by Australian first-time film-maker Julia Leigh on which New Zealand-born director Jane Campion served as an advisor.

© 2011 AFP

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