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We need to talk about Kevin, school massacre drama launches race at Cannes

British director Lynne Ramsay and British actor John C.
Reilly pose during the photocall of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" presented in
competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2011 in Cannes.

The race for the Palme d'Or began Thursday with Scottish director
Lynne Ramsey's powerful "We Need to Talk About Kevin" -- the first of a record
four films from women in competition at Cannes.

Adapted from Lionel Shriver's Orange Prize-winning novel, the
well-received movie stars Oscar winner Tilda Swinton as the mother of a teenager
who carries out a massacre at his high school.

Following Woody Allen's light-hearted opening film "Midnight in Paris",
which screened out of competition Wednesday, Ramsey's chilling drama depicts an
ambivalent parent who watches her suburban family life slowly unravel (

An avid traveller and writer in her youth, Swinton's character Eva falls
for kind-hearted homebody Franklin (John C. Reilly) and quickly falls

But from the start, Eva fails to bond with Kevin (Ezra Miller), who
appears even from his infancy to be hostile to his mother.

While Eva struggles -- there is a heartbreaking scene in which she tries
to warmly smile at the baby to comfort him after he has been screaming for hours
-- Franklin returns from work apparently blind to the torment at home.

Kevin becomes increasingly manipulative and brutal as he hits adolescence
and is a master at driving a wedge between baffled Franklin and Eva, who is
shocked to discover her own violent side.

The scenes are intercut with flashbacks from the school bloodbath that
Kevin later unleashes with cold efficiency and Eva's attempts to cope with her
own guilt and ostracism in the American town where the murders took place.

Ramsay, who drew rave reviews for her debut feature "Ratcatcher" in 1999,
said Shriver's novel appealed to her as a study of the mystery of parenting.

"Families are so complicated and certainly my own is as well. I
think I was attracted to it because my mother and father had a difficult
relationship, although very different from this," the 41-year-old told

"The bond (between parents and children) is a complex one and also
I'm at the age of thinking of having a child myself and wondered about some of
these questions about responsibility. Sometimes a child is born and you just
don't know who that child is."

Swinton said the film was careful to avoid the familiar trap of placing
all the blame on a well-meaning mother for Kevin's development into a
cold-blooded killer.

"This film is not social commentary but it happens to be true that in
situations where particularly a son is violent that (people say) it's always the
mother's fault," she said.

"The film makes a really radical suggestion -- that maybe what is even
more frightening to a woman... is giving birth to her own violence."

After being shut out of the running at the world's top cinema showcase in
2010, female directors made an unprecedented four of the 20 contenders for the
top prize this year, to be awarded May 22.

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" went head-to-head Thursday with "Sleeping
Beauty", billed as an erotic thriller by Australian first-time film-maker Julia
Leigh on which New Zealand-born director Jane Campion served as an advisor (

After the tough fare in the morning, Leigh's experimental picture
offered a gut punch with the story of a student who takes a job passively
fulfilling elderly men's sex fantasies while drugged and

Leigh, a respected novelist, said she had taken inspiration from a
Gabriel Garcia Marquez novella with a similar story line, and from Internet ads
for "sleeping girls".

"I hope it has a strong impact on the audience one way or
another," she said after an early preview left critics squirming in their

"I want the audience to really be watching with a sense of wonder
at what is going to happen next."

by Deborah Cole (@doberah!/doberah)

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