From Cannes: ‘Val’ captures a life with breathtaking intimacy | Arts
“I have lived a magical life and captured a good part of it.” The camera pans to reveal an aging Val Kilmer, surrounded by his artwork, before images from dozens of his tapes flood the screen – a life in a movie, captured by home videos, reels audition and behind-the-scenes footage, all sewn together to capture the ephemeral of everyday life. A story, as Kilmer called it, “about acting … truth and delusion.”
The eponymous documentary, “Val,” which premiered July 8 at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, is a compelling statement about life, art and futility – as well as the compulsive human urge – to capture fleeting truths , to capture moments that define who we are. At the heart of the film is Kilmer’s wish to squeeze and contort a lifetime on a screen, be it his own or that of his late brother, Wesley, whom he admired. And while such a goal may be unattainable in practice (Kilmer himself has said his footage is “incomplete”), directors and editors Ting Poo and Leo Scott certainly come close. Their film introduces the humanity behind Kilmer as an artist who has dedicated his life to studying people – a portrayal that contrasts with his reputation as a “hard to work with” actor. The result is a striking, albeit with hagiographic indulgence, look at Kilmer’s life as he saw it. “Val” is more of a personal essay than a biography, which is exactly why it works. There is an astonishing sense of sincerity in a visual diary expertly sculpted from thousands of hours of personal Kilmer footage, all presented on screen.
Because production began after Kilmer recovered from throat cancer (where he lost his ability to speak clearly), the film is narrated by Val’s son, Jack. Through a combination of the moving testimonies of his loved one, the rebirth of the original 16mm film of Kilmer’s youth, a collection of his film scenes and new footage shot for the documentary, Poo and Scott ensure that let viewers be immersed in Kilmer’s mythology as the absolute truth was.
It’s by bridging the gap between Kilmer’s side of its own story and viewers’ existing preconceptions that the editor-director duo strike the perfect balance between a shameless tribute and something deeper. Scott and Poo don’t try to argue with Kilmer’s point of view, nor do they feign the kind of superficial and boring objectivity that biographies often get with her. Instead, they lean in on them while giving audiences heart-wrenching vignettes of Kilmer’s ambition. It’s a naïve sense of fragility that’s woven into tiny details like images of Kilmer reading the same line about death four times in “Hamlet,” or the tedious audition videos he made for directors with who he wanted to work (a particularly elaborate film video that Kilmer made to audition for Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” stands out).
Kilmer’s reputation as a notoriously misunderstood artist also brings a stark sense of intimacy. For example, “Val” isn’t afraid to show Kilmer’s self-defined weaknesses, such as having to “sell his old self” to fans in order to pay off his debts. Again, it’s the film’s stylistic collage of home videos and current images that draw viewers into Kilmer’s world and help them understand the actor’s most controversial decisions. For example, decisions like leaving the “Batman Forever” franchise are justified by giving us insight into Kilmer’s complex motivations, all driven by a need for artistic excellence. The only flaw in the film’s side mission of redeeming Kilmer’s image is that it doesn’t accept Kilmer’s own voice as sufficient for this redemption, and instead makes up for it with cheesy testimonials from contemporaries like Robert Downey, Jr. , who can feel forced and awkward.
By focusing intensely on his career – from elementary school plays to “Citizen Twain” – “Val” draws compelling parallels between Kilmer and the many characters he has played, comparisons that bring us closer to understanding. of the enigmatic actor. For example, interweaving footage of Kilmer’s performance as Jim Morrison in “The Doors” in 1991 with a voiceover from Kilmer claiming that “The Lizard King’s Aspiration [was] capture [a] fleeting ethereal truth, ”viewers are led to believe that Kilmer longs for the same. Perhaps this goal is also true for the filmmakers behind “Val”, who are trying – with unwavering commitment – to portray Kilmer on screen as he sees himself.