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Among a handful of elite American directors repeatedly invited back to compete at the Cannes film festival, New Yorker James Grey, returns to the Croisette this week for the world premiere of the Palme d’Or nominees. his fourth gold, Armageddon Time. With a star-studded cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, and Jeremy Strong of Successionfame, Gray’s eighth film is his starkest autobiography yet, a poignant coming-of-age story that tells the story of events. real events that happened to him and his family in 1980.

Banks Repeta stars as Grey’s on-screen alter ego Paul Graff, a reasonably bad high school student who grew up in a middle-class Jewish household in upstate New York City. Paul has ambitions to be an artist, but his mother Esther (Hathaway) and father Irving (Strong), a plumber with a violent temper, insist he follow the usual American Dream route of college. , stable jobs and increasing mobility in society.

Further complicating family tensions is Paul’s budding friendship with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a poor black student with a troubling story behind, that opens the innocent white boy’s eyes to segregation. The almost unmasked racism of his teachers, classmates, and policemen. When both children got into the hot water, Paul’s skin color saved him from the punishment Johnny had to face alone. No one called it “white privilege” in 1980, but it was Gray’s way of framing these events with decades of insight, a guilty admission that the game was always in the favor of others. he.

Gray said he built Armageddon Time around four keywords: love, warmth, humor and loss. There are precious few laughs in this sombre memoir, but three out of four are good enough. That said, there is a brief comic strip about Donald Trump’s infamous property magnate father, Fred (John Diehl) and his sister Maryanne, played by young Jessica Chastain but engaging guest appearances, emphasizing the theme. The film’s theme is about wealth, power, and privilege. The real Fred and Maryanne both gave speeches at Gray’s alma mater.

Gray’s films are always solidly made and elegantly shot, but he also has a weakness for mind-blowing. Armageddon Time is lighter and leaner than some of his earlier works, but not without its awkward, serious moments. While the insights into race, class, and social inequality in America feel pretty obvious, high-quality acting elevates most scenes. Hathaway and Strong are both in powerhouse form, but it’s Hopkins who provides the film’s emotional pulse as Irving, Paul’s grandfather.

A dashing elderly man descended from Jewish-Ukrainian refugees who, like Gray’s actual maternal grandparents, Irving acted as Paul’s moral compass, gently commanding the boy. must always “become a mensch” to the less fortunate. Lines like these may sound corny, but Hopkins makes them jump off the screen with an unusually stunning performance, a Welsh Zen master who does so much with little.

Armageddon Time Screened at Cannes Film Festival

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