Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Megalopolis’ Is Totally Nuts

There’s nothing in Francis Ford Coppola’s (maybe) last testomony that appears like one thing out of a “regular” film.
Photograph: Francis Ford Coppola through YouTube

The second when an precise stay human walked out in entrance of the film display screen to pose Adam Driver’s Cesar Catilina a query (which Cesar, within the movie, proceeded to reply) may, looking back, be one of many much less weird moments in Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis. The director’s supreme dream undertaking, which he’s been attempting to get off the bottom for 4 many years, arrives at Cannes trailing clouds of hypothesis, skepticism, and controversy. It bears the marks of all of the years Coppola has spent attempting to make it, with components that really feel like they’ve been patched in from totally different durations in his filmography: a little bit of The Godfather right here, a little bit of Tucker: the Man and His Dream there. However the film additionally feels older than that. Watching it, you sense the creativeness of somebody who got here of age within the Nineteen Fifties, with its visions of scientific progress, modern design, and space-age surprise. How odd and curiously apropos that once we do see glimpses of Coppola’s metropolis of the longer term on this 2024 movie, it doesn’t appear too removed from one thing we’d have seen on The Jetsons. Megalopolis involves us because the (maybe last) testomony of an artist now in his 80s, however typically it feels just like the fevered ideas of a precocious little one, pushed and dazzled and possibly a bit of misplaced in all the chances of the world earlier than him.

There’s nothing in Megalopolis that appears like one thing out of a “regular” film. It has its personal logic and cadence and vernacular. The characters communicate in archaic phrases and phrases, mixing shards of Shakespeare, Ovid, and at one level straight-up Latin. Some characters communicate in rhyme, others simply in high-minded prose that appears like possibly it ought to be in verse. At one level, Adam Driver does your complete “To be or to not be” soliloquy from Hamlet. Why? I’m not precisely certain. But it surely certain sounds good.

The plot, for all its love of science and cause, is a miasma of magic, melodrama, corny emotionality, and gangster-movie politics. It lands us proper in the midst of a debate between visionary architect Cesar and this alternate-universe New York’s Mayor Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito) over the right way to use their restricted sources after they’re already racked by debt. Cesar, inventor of a dwelling constructing substance referred to as Megalon, desires of a self-sustaining metropolis of the longer term that may organically develop with its inhabitants. Cicero, already tormented by scandal and booed wherever he goes, desires to assist his indignant and anxious residents now. “Don’t let the now destroy the ceaselessly,” Cesar insists to the mayor.

Coppola, who as soon as deliberate on adapting Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, clearly sides with the dreamer, however Cesar is an imperfect vessel. He possesses super powers — within the movie’s bravura opening sequence, we see him cease time as he leans precariously off the Chrysler Constructing — however he’s additionally an egomaniac, absorbed in his personal brilliance and unable to compromise or look after these beneath him. It’s a super position for Driver, who combines haughtiness and neurosis higher than some other actor of his technology. Cesar’s life begins to vary with the arrival of Cicero’s party-girl daughter, Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel), the one different one that sees his capability to pause time, and who appears to have the identical energy herself. She is drawn to his brilliance, however in fact, a romance additionally blossoms between them. There’s little chemistry between the actors, however their love feels extra like a metaphoric one than an precise one.

There are echoes right here of the central battle in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the granddaddy of all Metropolis of the Future films, with its personal conflict between an aloof, opportunistic chief and a superb, probably mad scientist, in the end introduced collectively by love. There, as in Megalopolis, the residents have been on the mercy of the elites’ hedonism and warfare. However Coppola spends extra time among the many elites than Lang, who despatched his protagonist into the caves beneath Metropolis to witness the bodily and non secular toll of the commercial utopia above. In fact, prolonged visions of squalor and despair would have labored in opposition to this cinematic ode to those that dream of the longer term. However this can be a film about concepts greater than individuals; the whole lot in it feels purposefully unreal and fanciful, as if the entire thing have been happening inside its creator’s head. It principally is: Coppola is extra within the debate over the longer term than he’s in presenting any solutions.

On the identical time, it’s no shock that the director of The Godfather movies is drawn to the courtroom intrigues of the rich. It’s on this world that we discover Wow Platinum (Aubrey Plaza), an attractive monetary journalist intent on accruing wealth and energy for herself. She begins off as Cesar’s mistress, however quickly marries his uncle, Hamilton Crassus (Jon Voight), the richest man within the metropolis. In the meantime, Crassus’s consistently shape-shifting grandson, Clodio (Shia LaBeouf, in ever-rotating costumes), schemes to inherit all of the household cash for himself, ingratiating himself into town’s subcultures in an effort to achieve affect. A lot of this scheming occurs throughout sequences of unchecked bacchanalia, with scantily clad partygoers clearly meant to evoke Roman-style decadence and decline. At their greatest, these scenes have an otherworldly inventiveness that will get at their intoxicating, anything-goes enchantment. At their worst, they arrive throughout as uneven pictures of awkward extras gyrating listlessly.

Megalopolis is commonly caught between its personal desires and what’s merely doable. It actually has moments of dazzling invention. When Cesar travels by evening into the darker, much less glitzy corners of town, he passes by large animated statues: Blind Justice leans exasperatedly in opposition to a wall, her scales tipping wildly off stability; a determine of a person in chains holding a pill totters, the pill breaking into items. A person gently braids the hair of a lady surrounded by angelic nurses, and we then see that she was by no means there, that he’s alone in a dingy room misplaced in his reminiscences. By the point the aforementioned live-audience component arrives (and who is aware of if that shall be replicated when the film will get launched in precise theaters), it’s actually notable, however it’s so consistent with the movie’s incessant, go-for-broke high quality that the viewers accepts it matter-of-factly: Oh, in order that occurred. The occasional dissolves that made the fever desires of Apocalypse Now and Bram Stoker’s Dracula so gorgeously disorienting right here take over whole sequences. In these footage, these have been stylistic thrives. Right here, it’s all flourish, on a regular basis.

However then there come scenes that really feel rushed, undernourished, and underpopulated. What made Coppola’s earlier epics of household energy and backstabbing so compelling was his capability to compose his narratives in depth: We all the time felt that there was a complete world thrumming with murderous vitality behind the important thing characters. The director’s difficulties in getting Megalopolis made — not simply the various many years it took to get the undertaking off the bottom, however the very actual challenges of this specific shoot — have been documented elsewhere. He’s talked brazenly of getting to chop corners and work with a smaller crew after what began off as a extra formidable manufacturing. At instances, we are able to inform. Crowd scenes might be sparse. Seemingly main characters drop out of the story. For all of the visible grandiosity, the digital cinematography is usually flat and overly vibrant, which in flip reduces depth and element and makes issues really feel one-dimensional. We all know Coppola has an eye fixed, and he and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare have achieved tremendous work collectively previously. Possibly there are future cuts of this movie that may flesh issues out extra. Or possibly typically the fact of the now simply defeats the chances of the ceaselessly.

Megalopolis is stuffed with quotations and contours that really feel like quotations. Among the many aphorisms that drift in is one attributed to Marcus Aurelius: “The article of life is to not be on the aspect of the bulk, however to flee discovering oneself within the ranks of the insane.” Apparently, the quote doesn’t seem wherever in Marcus Aurelius; apparently, Leo Tolstoy as soon as cited it as coming from the Stoic Roman Emperor, and all people simply accepted that as truth. So, it’s a pretend quote! However an attractive one nonetheless, presumably warning in opposition to the hazards of going with the group but in addition of the hazards of going mad in a single’s opposition to the group. However listening to it on this movie, I imagined an additional comma in there, between escape and discovering: “The article of life is to not be on the aspect of the bulk, however to flee, discovering oneself within the ranks of the insane.”

It completely reverses the that means, however it could be in holding not simply with this film however Coppola’s profession on the whole. Time and again, he very consciously leaps over the sting with every new undertaking. He admitted to going insane making Apocalypse Now. I’ve written elsewhere that I believed he’d misplaced his thoughts with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a film I now take into account a masterpiece. Certainly the person who staked his whole studio on One From the Coronary heart — the attractive, woozy, unforgettable, financially dead-on-arrival One From the Coronary heart — wasn’t considering clearly. And so, he’s achieved it once more, and maybe exceeded himself. Megalopolis is perhaps the craziest factor I’ve ever seen. And I’d be mendacity if I stated I didn’t take pleasure in each single batshit second of it.

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