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Cannes 2009: Bodybags are Beautiful (“Air Doll,” Kore-Eda)

Pinocchio: a sex doll comes to life, discovers she’s got a "heart." Amelie: But life, a heart, means a set tic, or routine (one character’s bulimic, another eats eggs every morning), ersatz characterization. Lolita: the thesis excuses lazy screenwriting—everyone’s hollow; such is the modern world. Garden State: Anyway, love’s better than personality. Still Walking: full-bodied and empty-headed, poses the preciousness to be tapped. There, a mother chased around a butterfly in the night believing it’s her dead son. Here, a guy’s ex-girlfriend is reincarnated instead as an erotic air toy. Life is Beautiful: life is beautiful.

It’s as though Kore-Eda set out to remake Amelie, world as dollhouse, bowl-haired girl piped into depressives’ lives to cheer them up, but was too depressed himself to commit to it. Kore-Eda’s air doll is the same plastic, pipsqueak ingénue, the child who sees the “beauty” in the world that adults (Kore-Eda included) are too accustomed to to see. Water’s beautiful, she says. The stars are beautiful, someone says. The cynical assumption is that the audience doesn’t know this. The more cynical assumption is that they do, and they just need to be reminded (never shown). But it takes Kubrick—who constructed deeper political allegories out of mannequins in single scenes of Killer’s Kiss and Eyes Wide Shut—to demonstrate, Tim Curry to recognize the mad potential; Kore-Eda ends up letting his mannequin kill her lover (like children don’t know about death) and get fucked by her master every night in exchange for board. Cute or capitalism? It’s the equivalent of a poem—“People are pretty/ the world is pretty/ I ache in a body I don’t have”—entitled “Life’s sad.” Any 15 year old kid could write it, though no 5 year could, but never mind that real children think about sex and murder constantly. Air Doll tells us life’s mysterious, and in doing so, figures it all out; life can be beautiful and sad at the same time, Kore-Eda decides, as best allegorized by a bloodied, bodybagged corpse on the street everyone finds precious. The camera, meanwhile, wanders around scenes as if looking for a better movie. Next time, let’s talk about government, horticulture, or horse races.

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