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5 Essential Todd Haynes Films

5 Essential Todd Haynes Films

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Todd Haynes, one of two recipients of the 2017 Pardo d’onore Manor, has a close relationship with the Locarno Festival: in 1991 his debut feature Poison, a science-fiction/horror drama inspired by the novels of Jean Genet, played in the Concorso internazionale. The film will be shown again this year in the Locarno70 sidebar, with Haynes in attendance. Additionally, three more of the director’s features, including his latest effort Wonderstruck, will screen throughout the Festival. To mark the occasion, here are five must-see titles to get to know the cinematic world created by Haynes.

Max Borg

Safe (1995)

Safe (1995)

Haynes’ second film, and his first collaboration with Julianne Moore, is a powerful character study set in 1987 California, where a seemingly unremarkable housewife who seeks a cure after suffering from MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity). Moore’s sterling performance is grounded in a drama that dissects the America that once was, setting the tone for Haynes’ recurring fascination with bygone eras.

Far from Heaven (2002)

Far from Heaven (2002)

The director reteams with Moore (who won the Volpi Cup in Venice and received her fourth Oscar nomination for her work in the film) for a heartfelt tribute to classic American melodrama in the tradition of Douglas Sirk. Lit like a 1950s film, Far from Heaven still manages to feel resoundingly modern, with its understated but frank look at homosexuality and racial issues. Moore shines alongside Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert.

I’m Not There (2007)

I’m Not There (2007)

“Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan,” states a caption in the opening credits. This is the only overt mention of the acclaimed singer-songwriter in the main body of a film that looks back on American society and culture by exploring different fictionalized facets of Dylan’s personality and career, each embodied by a different actor (including an unrecognizably androgynous Cate Blanchett). This delightfully experimental approach makes I’m Not There a spellbinding gem that perfectly captures the essence of Dylan without resorting to the conventions of a standard biopic.

Mildred Pierce (2011)

Mildred Pierce (2011)

While technically a TV mini-series (although it was shown out of competition at the Venice Film Festival), this HBO-produced adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel is essentially a five-hour movie. Eschewing the film noir approach of the 1945 film version, Haynes’ take on the text sticks closer to Cain’s prose, exploring the progressive erosion of a family and the conflict between a determined mother (Kate Winslet) and her narcissistic daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) with a combination of measured cruelty and unexpected warmth. While technically a TV mini-series (although it was shown out of competition at the Venice Film Festival), this HBO-produced adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel is essentially a five-hour movie. Eschewing the film noir approach of the 1945 film version, Haynes’ take on the text sticks closer to Cain’s prose, exploring the progressive erosion of a family and the conflict between a determined mother (Kate Winslet) and her narcissistic daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) with a combination of measured cruelty and unexpected warmth.

Carol (2015)

Carol (2015)

Another high-profile literary adaptation (this time the source material is a novel by Patricia Highsmith), another major collaboration with a great actress. Cate Blanchett delivers another heartbreaking performance as a woman caught in the dangers of a same-sex love affair at a time when American society was far less tolerant. As is the case with most of Haynes’ work, it’s a story from another era, beautifully recreated, that resonates in our time as well, arguably even more so in light of the new political climate in the United States.

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