David Cronenberg plunges Vincent Cassel into the madness of mourning for Les Shrouds

Perhaps the most complex film in the competition at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, “The Shrouds” by David Cronenberg is a testamentary work endowed with great depth, in contradiction (only apparent) with the monotonous and anti-spectacular form that the director applies it to him.

The Requiem by David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg’s new film, The Shrouds, presented in competition at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, seems to have disturbed more than convinced. Which is not an originality in the filmography of the Canadian director, including notably the body horror and the constant darkness have ranked him among the great authors of contemporary “shock” cinema. But at 81, widowed since the death of his wife Carolyn Zeifman in 2017, David Cronenberg offers a new story on a calmer, more monotonous and seemingly more peaceful note than his previous feature films.

The Shrouds tells of a death that never ends. Thus, the real drama of the film is not the one that takes place there, but the one that happened Before : the death of Becca, love of Karsh’s life, who died of cancer. This one, played by a remarkable Vincent Cassel, is a former “industrial video producer”, converted into a successful funeral director high tech. He has in fact developed connected shroud technology, which allows the decomposition of corpses to be visualized in 3D and in real time. In this way, Karsh can see his wife’s decomposing body at will, to still have her, to make her his until she returns entirely to dust.

But when his Montreal cemetery is vandalized – he has several around the world – a chain of mysterious events is set in motion and a great paranoia is spreading. Who would harm Becca’s rotting body? Who is mad at him? Why does Karsh notice that on the skeletons of the vandalized tombs we can see strange tumors that do not appear organic but artificial?

The terrible illness of mourning

Like Paul Schrader with Oh, Canadaas to a different extent Francis Ford Coppola with Megalopolis, octogenarian David Cronenberg offers a mirror film for this Cannes Festival. With his very personal subject of course, but with Vincent Cassel too, strikingly resemblance to the directorwhite hair and slender figure dressed in black. THE Shrouds is different, notably because it is this actor, seen twice previously with Cronenberg, who plays the main role. Previously, he played supporting roles in two of David Cronenberg’s most realistic films, Shadow Promises And A Dangerous Methodworn by the director’s favorite actor Viggo Mortensen.

If it is impossible at the moment to know if Viggo Mortensen was initially wanted in the role of Karsh, we must note that the two actors resemble each other, in their morphology as well as in the hardness and sharpness of their faces, piercing gazes and smiles. predators. And the newcomer to the Cronenberg universe, Guy Pearce, in the role of Maury, Karsh’s geeky and paranoid brother, also resembles them…

A battlefield without a battle

By bringing up a brilliant supporting role – Vincent Cassel’s performance in Shadow Promises is memorable – in the first line, David Cronenberg invites not an action but to sit in a mental landscape, in a psychological background where the character gets lost, like the spectator.

The Shrouds ©Pyramide Films

The Shrouds doesn’t have the visual force of other David Cronenberg films. Nor does it really have the full dimension of body horror, although we can see bodies mutilated by suspicious medicine. This is because, once again, the action has already been done: Becca’s death. The Shroudswith difficulty, also mixes what initially resembles an intimate drama and a morbid romance a paranoid spy thriller when Karsh, his brother Maury, and Becca’s twin sister, Terry, believe they are uncovering a plot to turn the GraveTech system into a global surveillance device. But is it true, or does it only exist in the sick brains of these characters poisoned by grief that they do not know how to – or do not want to – deal with?

David Cronenberg in the grave of his cinema

These “streamer” shrouds, of which Karsh is so proud of the video resolution, beyond their dramatic interest in the plot of the film, represent the cinema and the camera of David Cronenberg. Obsessed by the body and its life, by its mutilation and its transformation, as he is also by the concept of double identity – and in Les Shrouds triple -, he films the after of a life and a death, he captures of a drama what remains for eternity: the absence of the loved one.

Like a sailboat without sails, like a love without reciprocity, like an intrigue without stakes, The Shrouds unfolds flatly. At the risk sometimes of seeming staged like a prestige TV film… But in this way, David Cronenberg undoubtedly intends to identify this void and make it palpable. To try something when there is nothing left to do except to die yourself, for him as for Karsh.

Triple Diane Kruger

We were talking about triple identity. Diane Kruger plays Becca in Karsh’s erotic-nightmarish memories, she is also Terry, his conspiratorial and paranoid twin sister, and finally she lends her voice to Hunny, Karsh’s AI assistant created by his brother Maury. Maury, who is none other than Terry’s ex-husband…

The Shrouds ©Pyramide Films

Thus, both dead (Becca) and alive (Terry), the main female character is also an AI. This dematerialization makes sense. While the dead woman’s bones rot and Terry’s living body fades away, Hunny fully exists on the screens of Karsh, a young blonde woman who transforms into a koala or takes on the appearance of Becca’s mutilated body. When the bodies have all disappeared, what will be left, if not immortal virtual creations which no longer belong to anyone, too connected to everyone to be just one or one?

This element of AI exists here in the perspective of a critical view, as it is also the representation of “new” ghosts. Whether the voice and appearance of the loved one come back to us in dreams, in reality through twinning, or in virtuality on screens, would man thus condemn himself to the impossibility of total disappearanceand therefore at the conclusion of mourning?

A unique philosophy of great melancholy

Film of global decomposition, where lies end up taking precedence over the truth – it is impossible to know if the plot involving Russians and Chinese is a reality or a shared fabrication -, The Shrouds can be understood, in its general intention, by one of the very first sentences of the film: “Sadness rots your teeth“, pronounced by his dentist in Karsh. A medical reality, since in fact deep sadness, depression, the unhappiness felt, can reach mineral density, and therefore the very structure of a body.

Crippled with sadness, David Cronenberg demineralizes thus his new film and rids it of the energy both vital and morbid which animated his filmography tremendously. From this movie The Shrouds thus reduced to his skeleton, almost emaciated and as if paralyzed, David Cronenberg then brings out a unique melancholy and a monotony as abysmal as it is imperturbable. A gesture which proves radical, despite its almost anecdotal manner, to sign a film with depth that is difficult to access but moving.

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