Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Megalopolis’ Wows Cannes

Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Megalopolis’ Wows Cannes

Iconic American director Francis Ford Coppola’s last film at the Cannes Film Festival was over 45 years ago when Apocalypse Now played in competition. So, it makes sense that after such a long-awaited return, the director wanted to deliver something magnificent and grand, and he succeeded with his latest film, a sci-fi drama called Megalopolis.

There is so much to say about this film and what it’s about, but I’ll start with the ending sans spoilers. As the screen fades to black and before the ending credits roll, we see a dedication: “For my wife, Eleanor.” This is a movie about a lot of things but ultimately, it’s a movie about love. Coppola’s wife Eleanor Coppola died last month, in April 2024, in their home in California. It’s telling, then, that the very end of the film highlights an unexpected love affair, and when the movie wraps, the director points to his own love affair. “Love…it guides every decision we make,” says the film’s protagonist, Cesar, played by the brilliant Adam Driver. Cesar expands on the idea saying how love is unbreakable, and even though it can’t be touched, it’s the most powerful force in the world.

The movie is an epic opus set in the fictional futuristic society called New Rome City, which is a dressed-up Manhattan. Actor Laurence Fishburne’s booming voice provides a voiceover that tells the audience about fallen empires, like Ancient Rome, and how America is currently in its empire era. There are many parallels to ancient Rome throughout the film, and much of it is scripted in a way that makes it feel like a Shakespearean play. Cesar (Driver) is a “wreckless dreamer” who has the power to stop time. He’s an Elon Musk-esque futuristic dreamer who’s called a mad scientist by some and a genius by others.

Cesar has a dream of building Megalopolis, a utopian place where humans can thrive. (“Utopias turn to dystopias,” someone tells Cesar.) He’s a visionary, but not everyone sees his vision or agrees with it. Mayor Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito) can’t stand Cesar and everything he represents. Cesar is also despised by his cousin Clodio, played with humor and madness by Shia LaBeouf in a sometimes-cross-dressing role. “Revenge feels best when wearing a dress,” he says, after setting up Cesar to be exposed to criminal charges.

Cesar is a man overcome by grief after his late wife’s tragic accident, and he was inspired to discover and create Megalopolis to bring her back to life. But even for a man who can stop time, he can’t bring back the dead. Cesar is a handsome guy with lots of lady friends, but when the mayor’s daughter, Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel) begins working for him and is asked by an interviewer if Cesar is her boss or her boyfriend, she hesitates to say.

Julia, who is introduced as a wild child who loves a good party, ultimately becomes indispensable to Cesar. Meanwhile, a former flame of Cesar’s, the TV journalist Wow Platinum (played to perfection by Aubrey Plaza), hasn’t given up hope that Cesar will be hers. She seems to want to possess him and own him rather than love him. Wow Platinum married Cesar’s uncle Hamilton (Jon Voight) and in a Shakespearean-drama-worthy way, she aims to one day control her husband’s bank and enlists the help of Clodio (LaBeouf).

The world Coppola has created in Megalopolis is visually breathtaking. It’s a feast for the visual senses, and every detail has been carefully considered. We’re in a world where people regularly wear capes, and the set design matches that level of drama and over-the-top flair. The score was what you’d expect from a Coppola movie which is to say it was beautiful and elevated the film’s universe even further.

The cast was enormous and full of A-list stars, including Dustin Hoffman, Jason Schwartzman, and many more. One wonders about the budget for this film and if a cast of this size and caliber took a pay cut to be a part of it. Megalopolis hit the mark with making an impact on cinemagoers at Cannes, who exited the theater in a bit of a Megalopolis-infused haze wondering, as I did: What WAS that?

It’s the kind of film that sticks with you and one that you need to sit with a bit to fully unpack those two-plus hours that played out onscreen. Suffice it to say that Coppola’s vision for a futuristic film about power, greed, time, and ultimately, love, was executed to near perfection and made its mark.

Lead photo credit : Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis”

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Anne McCarthy is a contributing writer to BBC News, Teen Vogue, The Telegraph, Dance Magazine, and more. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster and is the Editor in Chief of Fat Tire Tours’ travel blog. She lives in New York City.