Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Cannes film 'Bull' shows tough slices of life from both ends of age spectrum

Regular readers know that, when visiting here, they won't find reviews of movies which have not been released, let alone one that does not even have a distributor.

Such is the case, though, with "Bull," a keen little drama we had a unique opportunity to screen at the same time it remains in competition at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival, where awards will be announced Friday and Saturday.

The ever-stern Morgan shows deadpan Havard how to ride a "Bull." 
The good news about this film from first-time feature director Annie Silverstein (already a 2014 Cannes winner for her short, Skunk") is that it's not just another coming-of-age story. The better news, in fact, is that it also raises some stakes as the rare dealing-with-age tale by focusing as much on a hard-living rodeo bull fighter named Abe, as it does on the tough teen years of 14-year-old Kristal.

Silverstein's two-pronged attack on what some may call marginal existences brims with an urgency often displayed through anger, by acting vet Rob Morgan in the guise of Abe, and the quiet poise of young newcomer Amber Havard, as Kris. The co-lead performances often soar, especially in simple and subtle moments from a wisely minimalist screenplay by Silverstein and Johnny McAllister.

An oddly moving friendship begins with outrage on a typical backwater Texas morning for Kris, whose mother is in prison. That means tending to a playful little sister and giving the daily insulin shot to a dependent grandma. As if Kris needed it, extra loud barking suddenly arises from a meager yard. It's the result of joy from the ugly family dog, now engrossed with a dead chicken the canine thug brought home after digging into a coop owned by a neighbor.

Naturally, that would be Abe, no happy camper and threatening to shoot the mutt if it happens again. Kris silently ignores the threat on her way to school, but soon hatches a revenge plot which gets her in trouble with the law.

Grandma shows some surprising chops by pleading with Abe to "work out a deal to make things right." However, when learning that said deal means helping Abe around his shack, Kris asks the arresting officer, "Can't you just take me to juvie?"

Such telling responses soften as we move into the small time rodeo sequences, where Kris learns more about all that goes along with the literal and figurative aches and pains associated with Abe's chosen field.

From there, Silverstein's sober story takes us into a few predictable spots while still revealing seriously real issues needing to be addressed, resolved and buried. A hopeful co-existence never may help the key characters get where they want to go but, at least for now, keeping a destination in sight remains intuitive and good enough.

Unrated, with drug use, language and nudity; 1:43; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

(This is one in an intermittent series of reviews featuring buzz-worthy films either currently playing the festival circuit or soon to be released. "Bull" is now at Cannes, where it is competing in the "Un Certain Regard" section of the prestigious festival.)

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