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Roberto Minervini The Damned Movie Review

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The Damned | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

The Damned | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

The Damned Do Cry: Minervini Details a Doomed Mission

Roberto Minervini The Damned ReviewFor his first narrative feature, Roberto Minervini tackles another aspect of the evolving American identity with The Damned. A period piece depicting a company of volunteer soldiers charged with patrolling and protecting uncharted regions of the western territories in 1862 whilst the Civil War rages, Minervini crafts an intimate existential journey with a handful of non-professional actors. After spending a decade examining racial and economic disparities in the American South, it seems a logical narrative move for Minervini to return to one of the galvanizing historical events which assisted in forging these cultural dichotomies. And yet both the war and the period are merely elements shaping the background for an odyssey of survival.

In the Winter of 1862, a year into the onset of the Civil War, the U.S. government dispatches a volunteer company of soldiers to patrol and protect border regions, presumedly far from the frontlines. Unsure of what they’ll find or even do, the men take the opportunity to better train each other with their weapons, as well as sharing a general amiability as comrades who each have their own specific reasons for volunteering. Violence finds them, and an already tenuous rationalization for their motivation begins to fade.

What’s most surprising about The Damned is how it actually feels less agonizing than Minverini’s documentary offerings to date, perhaps because there’s the automatic safety of both distance and fiction. An opening sequence features wolves picking apart an animal carcass, a grisly metaphor of the fate in store for them, yet this is merely a natural cycle. War is a violent aberration of the natural order, hence a title which suggests all of our collective complicity in participating or allowing its fruitions and continuations means we are all damned. A rather sedate introduction finds Minervini detaching himself from these men as characters, as we come to recognize them more for the skills they bring and the thoughts they share.

Roberto Minervini The Damned Movie Review

Eventually, a deadly gunfight claims most members of this posse, but not before we witness a decline in their fortitude, dependent upon their initial motivations to volunteer as well as their reckoning with how they believe Christianity justifies their actions. The tone of the film shares some striking similarities with Chilean filmmaker Felipe Galvez’s The Settlers (2023), but there’s less insidious violence utilized by Minervini. Much of the contemplative dialogue feels improvised, as if the actors are working through the ideas of the scene. Rather than elevating the intricate approach, however, there’s a sense of verbal anachronism in these longer exchanges, and phrases and speech patterns lend the film a Civil War reenactment kind of pattern. It’s a pity considering the stoicism of the actors, as well as the brooding, wintry isolation established in first time DP Carlos Alfonso Corral.

Reviewed on May 16th at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival – Un Certain Regard. 88 Mins.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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