By Alicia Powell
CANNES (Reuters) – Cate Blanchett, fresh off her Oscar-nominated performance in “Tar”, stars as an eccentric nun at a monastery in 1940s Australia that takes in an Indigenous boy with intriguing powers in “The New Boy,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
Newcomer Aswan Reid plays the titular 9-year-old New Boy in the film by Warwick Thornton based on his own experience of walking into a church for the first time at the age of 11.
“That’s a genesis for a great movie,” Thornton told Reuters on Saturday, before joking: “You know, written by child and directed by a grumpy old man is probably how it worked.”
The film, which premiered on Friday, is the Australian director’s second to be screened in the Un Certain Regard section that runs parallel to the race for top prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or, after his 2009 entry “Samson and Delilah.”
Blanchett’s nun sets about trying to convert the boy, who can seemingly heal wounds with his touch and starts bleeding from his palms, in a magical-realist conflict of spirituality.
Deborah Mailman, who plays another nun, told Reuters that the film helps viewers understand the emotional gravitas of colonization: “It actually emotionally pushes you to that point of going, ‘This is what it is, this is what happened.'”
It does that “through the innocence of these young boys who, through no fault of their own, through no choice of their own, are just thrown into a world … that they have to survive.”
Reception has been lukewarm, with the Hollywood Reporter summarizing it as “engrossing, even when the story strays from its path” and the Guardian daily giving it three of five stars.
(Reporting by Alicia Powell; Writing by Miranda Murray; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)