Ramin Bahrani's "Fahrenheit 451" in midnight screening at Cannes

Fahrenheit 451
premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May with Michael B Jordan, Michael Shannon Sofia Boutella and director Ramin Bahrani in attendance. It was a midnight screening at the festival and presented out of competition because the new rules at Cannes are that the films in competition must premiere in France first and not on a streaming platform, in this case HBO where the film is now out. There is also a new rule at Cannes that no selfies are allowed on the red carpet, but being an out of competition film, several of the minor female characters of the cast were seen taking selfies. The selfie phase actually came about when A list stars like Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie started taking pictures at the festival of themselves. In a real twist the stars who are emulated by fans wanted souvenirs of their ascent up the red carpet and steps leading into the Palais. For most actors it is still a big thing. At the midnight screenings everything can happen, and it is a venue where most people regardless of their accreditation badge can get in to see the films.

Michael B Jordan plays Guy Montag the young firefighter protégé of Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) and as members of the government fire brigade they douse books, homes and their inhabitants with gasoline and light a match. They rely on informants to find people who still read books and Clarisse, played by Sofia Boutella is one of them. In one chilling scene a middle age woman would rather strike the match first when her home filled with books will be set ablaze. The internet called 9 is government controlled where books are carefully selected such as Moby Dick and the Bible.

As a remake, Ramin Bahrani’s films is a slick ambitious effort that updates the original Fahrenheit 451 made in 1966 with Oskar Werner playing Guy Montag, Julie Christie as Clarisse and Cyril Cusak as Captain Beatty. These films are based on Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel, one of the books of that time that prophesies the future, which is set in our time today – and others such as George Orwell’s 1984 written in 1949. These novels were written in the aftermath of WWII during the Cold War and are disturbing testimonies about the future in a world where cultural information is controlled, and civil liberties denied. The burning of books is introduced in the opening credits and the titles are classics such as novels by the 1982 Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is not only the fact that novels are burned but that these events are followed live on television and broadcast on huge screens that are visible everywhere. In apartments and homes, people are monitored by cameras and personal freedom is non-existent. Words are supposed to corrupt mankind, according to Captain Beatty.

What Ramin Bahrani brings to the screen in his remake is a world predicated on fake news, as we learn that Benjamin Franklin started the first fire company to burn books. But with such detrimental oppression there is always an underground waiting to topple the fascist government and make sure that the apocalyptic vision dies and Bahrani assembles a great team. He spoke at Cannes about how fake news evident today in the present American plutocracy and broadcast at the highest level of office is not a dystopian vision of the future but is with us now. Restriction of the dissemination of information that is safeguarded by the Bill of Rights has always been subject to revision and Bahrani spoke of this too. I saw his film Man Push Cart in 2005 at the Venice Film Festival and he contacted me beforehand to write about it. Then as now, he is an important American director that has made a compelling film populated by a cast this is not predominately white and where people of color are cast in important roles.

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/06/18

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