Cannes 2021: Vortex, In Front of Your Face, Blue Bayou | Festivals & Awards


Finally, a look at Justin Chon’s “Blue Bayou” which played in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Korean-American filmmaker Chon is best known for his 2017 Sundance film “Gook,” set during the L.A. riots. His latest tackles several contemporary hot-button social issues, including tenuous immigration status, police violence, and the legacy of foreign adoptions. It’s a lot to cover, and all these pieces are overwhelmed by the resulting haphazard storyline.

Chon plays Antonio LeBlanc, a tattoo artist looking to improve his employment situation despite having a felony record. He’s helping raise a step-daughter named Jesse (Sydney Kowalske) with his new wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander), who is pregnant with their child. Kathy’s ex Ace (Mark O’Brien) is a cop, and uses the power of his uniform to make life challenging as he tries to reconnect with his biological daughter. Ace’s partner Denny (Emory Cohen) is even more committed to causing strife, resulting in Antonio forced to confront aspects of his past outside his control.

While the setup is promising, and Vikander’s singing of the Linda Ronstadt song that give the film its title a welcome moment, the film becomes more and more ridiculously clichéd. Witnessing the terrible decision making of characters is often the core of American independent film, but here it’s presented in such a mediocre way that you generally stop caring. There’s so much thrown at the wall just to see what sticks—from sickly tattoo patrons to questions about identity, culture, and criminality—that none of it really holds any impact. The last act is particularly egregious, with a “Footloose”-like moment at what should be an emotional highpoint causing actual laughter from some of the audience at its sheer predictability and ridiculousness.

Even the filmmaking itself shows many flaws, with many issues of continuity standing out, and repeated shots with hair and other gunk in the gate letting us all know this was shot on film for no obvious aesthetic benefit. Chon is way too close to his story to have any objectivity, and while the rest of the cast try their best to navigate the overly simplistic plot elements, it all feels very much like an exercise in futility.

Who knows what 2022 will bring—already there’s talk of a “Wembley variant” after the Euro finals in London, and we may be witness to a brief window of normalcy before things shut down again. Or, perhaps by next May, Cannes will be back to its regular rollicking self, the mega yachts returning en masse and the tens of thousands of market patrons who were absent this year returning for in-person meetings. This could be the revitalization of fest-going, or the death throes of an event out of touch with the realities of what’s occurring globally.

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