In the view of Indiewire‘s Boyd Van Hoeij (how do you pronounce that?), James Franco‘s As I Lay Dying is “just passable,” which raises the question of whether this adaptation of William Faulkner’s 1930s novel “deserves[s] the honor” of playing under the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard.
Pic is “not only an admittedly small-scale period movie but, at the same time, an ambitious artistic project on the more experimental end of the arthouse spectrum, with a good portion of the widescreen film divided up in split-screen, offering possibilities such as side-by-side shot/reverse shots; simultaneous wide shots and close-ups and fascinatingly merged or altogether new soundscapes.”
The presumed reason for Franco’s approach is that the original novel “has multiple narrators (15 in total over the course of 59 chapters) and is told in a stream-of-consciousness style” so “fragmenting the on-screen space seems like a justifiable choice, if clearly something that most audiences will have to learn to least adjust to.
On top of which characters “occasionally recite their thoughts directly to camera, a narrative sleight of hand that might help smuggle in a bit of Faulkner’s original prose but is also a mannered choice that breaks up the already fragile fluidity of the storytelling as it resolutely places the viewer outside of the action.
“[This] doesn’t mean the film is a masterpiece or even a particularly successful one, but the intentions behind it are clearly artistic rather than commercial, and his ever-growing box of cinematic tricks is used to tell not only a particular story but also approximate a certain style.
Van Hoeij‘s kicker: “[On] the day Franco will have found his own style — which, given the number of projects he directs, might take another few dozen films — perhaps he’ll be ready for a competition slot in Cannes.