Shoplifters took the top prize at Cannes this year. Historically, I gotta confess I’ve not been particularly drawn to see the Palm d’Or winners—an obscure, arty lot mostly by directors whose names you only start picking up after you’ve been kicking around the critic scene a spell. But the reviews of Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s latest were glowing, seeming almost as if their glow was an attempt to capture a glowing quality of the movie itself. Something warm, honest and feeling. It was being described as heartbreaking, but also very kind. ‘Tender’ is maybe the word for it. I only really glimpse at little pocket-reviews before I see something, and even those were enough to get this across. And I want to thank the people that wrote them, because I did go see Shoplifters, a whole gaggle of seven of us went in fact, and then stood around afterward chorusing praises.
We praised Sakura Ando as our first note, who is just….she’s phenomenal in this. A grounding, nuanced anchor and light. There’s a shot held straight on her face near the end that is easily the 2018 successor to Timothée Chalamet’s long take last year, as this person’s soul just falls open in front of you. And honestly it’s remarkable that she even is such a standout, when the entire cast is just exceptionally good. And that includes two kids! This is a movie about family—for all the twists and turns (such twists, what a turn), the thesis is always that simple—and they gathered the perfect ensemble to play out this tale. The web of relationships, and the singular universes of each individual, all get time and space in the graceful dance Kore-Eda has choreographed.
We praised that turn as well, which I’m not going to really get into much because you know my style! But it was necessary, there had to be consequences. I mean, from the premise: this is a story about a family of ragtag petty thieves who kinda half accidentally/half on purpose steal a kid. An abused little girl, but still, you can’t just steal kids! As one of my friends said, if this had just been a fun romp through illegality it wouldn’t have been as good. It wouldn’t have been as genuine. And what’s interesting is that even though there’s comeuppance and fallout, this isn’t a moralistic movie. Shoplifters isn’t going to tell you that anyone is right. In fact, it’s probably going to tell you that everyone is wrong. So let’s start there, and then move forward with compassion.
And at last we headed over to the food carts nearby, because we had started praising the noodles. This is the best Asian food porn movie since Crazy Rich Asians—a watershed year for this, apparently! It’s welcome. I love watching people enthusiastically eating on film, god do I ever. And it’s part of that warmth of this one. The family table, and the family humor. You gather, you joke, you break bread. This is how family is made. And sometimes a family is just a group of criminals sharing a paper bag of croquettes.