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Cannes 2012: A dog's life on the road | reviews, news & interviews

Cannes 2012: A dog's life on the road

Cannes 2012: A dog's life on the road

Twisted British comedy Sightseers, Salles's long-awaited Kerouac adaptation and the legendary Palm Dog

'Sightseers': a tongue-in-cheek British 'Badlands'?

Sightseers is the third film by the young British director Ben Wheatley and the first that might be deemed a comedy; that said, as befits the man who made Down Terrace and Kill List, it is a decidedly twisted one.

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) are a new couple embarking on their first holiday together, a caravan trek around the country to visit his favourite sites. The Critch Tramway Museum and the Keswick Pencil Museum may give some cause to yawn, but this is a big deal for Tina, who is desperate to escape the clutches of her monstrous mum.

Unfortunately, she has merely exchanged one monster for another – for Chris is driven to murderous rage if someone so much as bags the best spot in the caravan park. The brilliance of the film is in Tina’s reaction to discovering this, which tempts me to posit Sightseers as a tongue-in-cheek British Badlands. Incidentally, Smurf, the dog that appears in the film – in a key role, I'd have you know – collected the first prize to be presented on La Croisette, as the winner of the Palm Dog for the best canine performance. The brainchild of British journalist Toby Rose, it’s a much-loved institution here.

For the serious contenders, however, Cannes can be an unforgiving place to open a movie. Walter Salles’s On the Road has had a mixed reception, verging on hostile in some quarters. It seems to me that the Brazilian has suffered through expectation, of the “unfilmable” book finally reaching the screen. Moreover, some of the criticisms could have been predicted, given many people’s reaction to the source itself, and their refusal to buy into Kerouac, Cassady and co as romantic and radical adventurers.

I would have liked the director to give us a more painful sense of the American hinterland, the migrant workers, hobos and disaffected that Kerouac encountered; the film feels a little too clean at times. But the man who made The Motorcycle Diaries is consummate at recreating period and the thrill of the road, both of which he achieves here in spades. And he’s elicited fine performances from young leads Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund and Kristen Stewart (pictured above right). Ironically, if Kerouac wasn’t on the masthead On the Road might have been hailed as a sexy, stirring and moving portrait of hedonistic youth, who “burn, burn, burn” until they inevitably burn out.

The man who made The Motorcycle Diaries is consummate at recreating period and the thrill of the road

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