In “May December”, Todd Haynes films the actress in the mirror of his subject

In “May December”, Todd Haynes films the actress in the mirror of his subject


A famous actress wants to meet the heroine of an old news story. She is indeed preparing to play this one on screen, and comes to her home, a comfortable house, on the edge of a lake, in Savannah, Georgia. She gives him a package that had been left on the doorstep. It turns out to be a box containing excrement that a kind neighbor, we guess, left in front of the door. This is how Todd Haynes’ new film begins. The filmmaker seems to renounce here his chic and distanced reconstructions of classic melos ( Far from Paradise , 2002; Carol , 2015) confronted with “modern” subjects (racism, homosexuality), which had brought him a sort of critical recognition .

This entry into the matter, so to speak, has, in any case, a double function, that of outlining the existence of a painful and, of course, “dirty” precedence in the eyes of society, but also to summarize the program that will follow. The newcomer, guided by an abject motivation, will gradually reveal a destructive desire, attempting to truly transform into trash what had never been thought of as such. Inspired, in part, by a true story, May December therefore promises to be a psychological dive, precise and subtle, at the heart of which an apparent societal argument gives way to a mechanism of possession and vampirization.

Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) is a movie star who has come to spend a few days with Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), whose role she will play in a film inspired by her story. We fear, while hoping for the opposite, that such a project risks being nothing more than the opportunistic and sensationalist exploitation of a scandalous event. Twenty years earlier, Gracie, a mother, was surprised in the company of her lover, a 13-year-old schoolboy. Which had earned him time in prison for embezzlement of a minor and regularly appearing on the front pages of the tabloids. She has since divorced and then married her lover, with whom she had three children, who became teenagers.

Deaf hostility

We quickly guess that the certainties of the actress, in search of this unfindable and so contemporary infernal truth (repressed sexuality and transformed into shameful news), collapse in the face of an unexpected reality. Neither shame nor guilt governs the life of a woman who will say, in all conscience, that she was saved by her naivety. In a world where the most feared catastrophe would be running out of hot dogs for the Sunday barbecue, Gracie Atherton-Yoo has recreated a comfortable, family-friendly, normalized universe, ensuring, thanks to a salutary blindness, that she has distance the secret hostility that society and, more prosaically, the neighborhood would experience. A hostility triggered by an original transgression. It is also easy to feel that this situation contradicts the newcomer’s ready-made vision.

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