Lost River: Ryan Gosling’s Strange, Messy Directing Debut

Judging by the lines outside the theater, “Lost River,” Ryan Gosling’s feature directorial debut, was one of the most anticipated screening of the 2014 Cannes Film Fest.

But, alas, after 105 minutes of an incoherent and messy, though sporadically visually arresting, narrative, there was more booing than applause at the first press screening.

“Lost River” world premiered in the festival’s secondary series, Un Certain Regard.

A very good actor himself, Gosling has written and directed a feature that’s at once overbaked and underbaked, a darker than night Gothic fable whose only connection to realism (or any recognizable context) is its locale.

The movie is set in a Detroit neighborhood, which suffers not only from downsize economy but also from a whole range of villains, greedy bankers, sexual perverts, criminals who set old houses on fire, and so on.

It’s easy to identify the inspirational sources of this ultra-violent tale, at the center of which is a family on the brink of destruction.

The sporadic poetic imagery comes from Terrence Malick,  The surreal touches (especially in pink and purple sequences, set within a sleazy night club) and repeated imagery of gorgeous fires are inpired by David Lynch.

The predominance of red (in blood, lipstick, wardrobe) from painting by Munk, and the ultra-violence (including the slashing of a rat called Nick) from Gosling’s director and mentor, Nicolas Winding Refn (who is a member of the jury this year).

The tale begins with an image right out of Malick’s Tree of Life: a cute baby boy named Franky opens the door of a shabby house and runs wild into the open road.

He is soon chased by his single mother, Billy (Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men” fame), who has not paid the mortgage of their home for three months and is now facing bankrupcy by the bank.

As a teenager, Bones (Iain De Castecker) steals scrap metal, bringing him into conflict with menacing psycho gang leader Bully (Matt Smith) who cuts people’s lips off with scissors, including those of his sidekick, Face.

Billy is sort of romancing his weird neighbour, Rat (Saoirse Ronan), who lives with her speechless grandmother.  For no apparaent reason, the old woman watches endless reruns of her own wedding.

Senseless and plotless to a fault, the tale unfolds as a stylish music video, which benefits from the surreal cinematography by Benoit Debie and the powerful soundtrack by Lon Bender (“Drive,” “The Hunger Games”).

My imporession after the screening was that Lost River is an unfinished film, based on some muddled ideas that never add up to a coherent or engaging tale.  In its current (mis)shape, it desperately needs–but lacks–a workable scenario with some relatable characters.

How did this messy flick make it into the prestigious Cannes Fest?  It’s easily the worst movie I saw there last year.