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Vincent Cassel, Diane Kruger in Cronenberg Drama

Vincent Cassel, Diane Kruger in Cronenberg Drama

Vincent Cassel plays a recently widowed tech mogul who invents a cloth camera/sensor/imaging thingamajig that enables the bereaved to watch their dead loved ones decaying in the grave in David Cronenberg’s latest, The Shrouds. Viewers don’t even need to have read or heard the director explaining how the film is partly inspired by his own feelings of grief for his late wife, because that nugget of authentic feeling is palpable throughout. Sadly, however, in an inversion of the natural order of gemstone generation, that’s the pearl of emotional truth that ends up encrusted in the grit and sludge of less-imaginative-than-usual storytelling and tired ideas (for Cronenberg), as well as flat performances. None of this will enhance the director’s reputation at this stage in his career.

At least the film made its debut in competition in Cannes alongside a few other features of debatable quality by directors of the same generation — one or two of which may at least make The Shrouds look good in comparison.

The Shrouds

The Bottom Line

Grade-C Cronenberg.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Vincent Cassel Diane Kruger, Guy Pearce, Sandrine Holt
Director/screenwriter: David Cronenberg

1 hour 59 minutes

Wearing mostly funereal black, sharply cut clothes throughout, Cassel’s Karsh is a Francophone businessman who has lived for years in Toronto. (Saint Laurent designer Anthony Vaccarello takes credit for the clothes design, as well as a producer’s credit, which may explain why this sometimes feels like a very weird product placement exercise.) Karsh’s late wife Becca (played by Diane Kruger in flashbacks and dream sequences) died about a year or so ago from cancer after surgery that cut away a breast and half of one of her arms.

Since Becca was Jewish and therefore preferred to be buried rather than cremated per tradition, Karsh had her corpse wrapped in one of his tech company’s newest products: a shroud made from electronic mesh and sensors that composes a detailed visual map of the body. After the burial, the living can come by the grave, log into an app for security, and see how much of the flesh has rotted away on a screen embedded in the tombstone. This idea may seem utterly ridiculous to you, but they do say everyone grieves in different ways.

Karsh’s business also owns the Toronto cemetery where Becca is buried, which, in a further departure from most other graveyards, has a swanky restaurant in its main building, one that looks like the kind of upmarket café you’d find attached to a museum. It’s there that Karsh meets stylish woman Gray Foner (Elizabeth Saunders) for a first date in the opening scene, which, judging by Gray’s expression of bemusement and barely stifled horror, doesn’t seem to be going well. But the interaction’s real purpose is to dump a lot of explication in the dialogue.

From this premise, the film starts to spin a feeble air of mystery when someone knocks over some of the graves in the middle of the night and Karsh starts to investigate. Could the damage have been caused by pesky environmentalists who object to the burying of such potentially toxic materials in Mother Earth? Or does evidence that some of the lines connecting the shrouds to the headstone screens were tapped into suggest that industrial espionage is afoot, particularly from nebulously defined Chinese interests?

Karsh brings in his former brother-in-law Maury (Guy Pearce), a cyber whiz who installed Karsh’s security systems as well as an online digital assistant named Hunny (whose animated avatar looks just like Becca) to help him investigate. But can twitchy Maury be trusted?

Certainly, if Maury were the main character in the film, viewers would be shouting at him not to trust Karsh, who, half way in, starts sleeping with Maury’s ex-wife, Becca’s twin sister Terry (also Kruger of course), for whom Maury still has feelings. A downwardly mobile dog groomer who favors Birkenstocks and dungarees — and probably not ones designed by Saint Laurent — Terry is supposed to be read as the very opposite of Becca in terms of personality. But she’s laid-back enough to not mind much when Karsh makes it plain that he wants her body partly out of the perverse desire to break the taboo of sleeping with a partner’s siblings and partly because he misses Becca’s body, which is exactly the same as Terry’s, at least genetically.

Turns out Karsh is a bit of a player for a middle-aged grieving widower, because later on he hooks up with Soo-Min (Sandrine Holt), the wife of a super-wealthy Hungarian magnate who is also dying. Karsh is trying to get Soo-Min’s hubby, whom he promptly cuckolds, to invest in another one of his ridiculous tomb-with-a-view cemeteries in Budapest.

This fetid stew of sex, death and tech may be an aphrodisiac for hardcore Cronenberg fans, but more casual viewers are likely to find it all rather slapdash and undercooked here. Cinematographer Douglas Koch’s lighting looks drabber than usual, and many of the scenes feel like the first or second take after a long day’s filming, thrown in the can so the production can move on. There’s little of the verve, wit or invention that make vintage Cronenberg still so evergreen, which renders this already melancholy work even sadder to watch.

See Also

Full credits

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Vincent Cassel Diane Kruger, Guy Pearce, Sandrine Holt
Production companies: SBS, Prospero Pictures, Saint Laurent Productions, Telefilm Canada, Eurimages, Ontario Creates
Director/screenwriter: David Cronenberg
Producers: Saïd Ben Saïd, Martin Katz, Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent
Executive producers: Kevin Chneiweiss, Kateryna Merkt, Marieke Tricoire,
Charles Tremblay, Ariane Giroux-Dallaire
Co-producer: Steve Solomos
Directors of photography: Douglas Koch
Production designer: Carol Spier
Costumes: Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent, Anne Dixon
Editor: Christopher Donaldson
Sound designer: Trevor Goulet
Music: Howard Shore
Casting: Deirdre Bowen
Sales: SBS International

1 hour 59 minutes

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