‘Rumours’ Review: Cate Blanchett Gets Lost in Heavy Fog and Hot Air in a Laugh-Out-Loud Political Satire

Depending on who you talk to, the world is either in crisis, on fire, at war and/or simply lurching toward a frankly deserved final judgment. So what can be done to save it? Why, a carefully worded provisional statement, of course, from the global leaders currently in possession of both the gas canister and the lit match, but not a surfeit of great ideas for the future. The ineffectiveness of rhetorical politics and symbolic diplomacy — best represented by the Group of Seven, the intergovernmental forum keen on expensive meetings that could have been emails — is kookily but ruthlessly skewered in “Rumours,” a wildly entertaining shaggy-dog satire that sees a stuffy G7 summit devolve into a murky, muddy and strangely isolated zombie apocalypse.

As comedy subgenres go, political satire can often veer closer to the wryly clever than the baldly hilarious. But “Rumours” — the third feature collaboration between veteran Canadian experimentalist Guy Maddin and fraternal duo Evan and Galen Johnson — is a welcome exception, scoring consistent belly-laughs with a mixture of broad goofball gags, puckish surrealism and more pointedly topical critique. The result may be premiering out of competition at Cannes, but it’s more incisive and enjoyable than certain big state-of-the-world reflections in the festival’s most prestigious section, and should gain considerably more mainstream exposure than any of the filmmakers’ previous work. (Bleecker Street will release the film Stateside.)

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The film’s marquee attraction, of course, is Cate Blanchett, impishly funny as the summit’s po-faced hostess Hilda Ortmann: a German chancellor with roughly the same hairdo and taste in tailored blazers as Angela Merkel, but little of the gravitas. It’s Germany’s turn to welcome the leaders of the six other G7 democracies — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan and, repeatedly mentioned with self-mocking incredulity, Canada — for a weekend of wining, dining and superficial political discussion at a luxuriously sequestered country estate where they won’t even have to lay eyes on any of the common people whose best interests they’re allegedly representing. A gazebo has been specially built for the occasion. What can go wrong?

The task at hand is a minor one that nonetheless stymies them repeatedly: to collectively draft a constructive-sounding but tactfully unspecific statement on “the global crisis,” a catch-all term for, well, they’re not sure exactly. As they brainstorm the matter over an umpteen-course dinner, concerns raised range include, in no particular order of importance, global warming, bilateral management, staunch advocacy for “non-sexual physical affection,” scheduling the Olympic Games every three years rather than every four, and erecting Western Europe’s largest sundial. The theme of this year’s summit, Hilda helpfully reminds everyone, is “regrets” — this very meeting could safely be added to the list, and that’s before things go more uncannily awry.

For the purposes of a rather distasteful photo op, the German contingent has exhumed an Iron Age corpse (eerily preserved in fleshy, moist condition) from the rolling grounds, but this one archaeological gesture appears to have triggered an uprising of fluid-seeping ancient bodies, chasing the politicians into the surrounding forest when their servants mysteriously vanish. Within minutes, a low-stakes gathering of the world’s most protected people becomes a perilous survival quest as a thickevening fog encloses them, and the film’s visual language turns to that of baleful horror. Stefan Ciupek’s cinematography succumbs to exaggerated bursts of flame and haze, while the tense zitherings of Kristian Eidnes Andersen’s melodramatic score are wittily disproportionate to our emotional investment in proceedings.

Not that the shadow of death stops this less-than-magnificent seven from fretting over more trivial matters. Canada’s buff, manbun-sporting prime minister Maxime Laplace (Roy Dupuis) edges toward a nervous breakdown over a numbingly dull “carried interest scandal” at home, not to mention an extinguished romantic liaison with his U.K. counterpart Cardosa Dewindt (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who keeps insisting they can complete their statement while they claw their way out of the woods. French president Sylvain Broulez (Denis Ménochet) is more preoccupied with writing a “psychogeography of graveyards and burial customs,” Italy’s gormless premier Antonio Lamorte (a pricelessly addled Rolando Ravello) forgot to bring his phone, while venerable POTUS Edison Wolcott (Charles Dance) can’t seem to stay awake — or explain why he speaks with a cut-glass English accent.

Wolcott’s unaccountable Britishness is one of numerous blithely absurd running jokes that Evan Johnson’s hyper-quotable script (from a story by all three directors) effortlessly maintains while building to a bigger satirical picture. The massed foibles and outright idiocies of the seven principals — all sharp individual comic creations, but collectively a devastating hot-air hydra of enfeebled contemporary democracy — add up to a frustrated protest against our elected elite fiddling while Rome (or the planet, rather) burns, offering mealy-mouthed sentiments that gesture toward coordinated action without ever getting there.

Though you can see flickers of real-world caricature in the ensemble (a bit of Joe Biden here, a dash of Emmanuel Macron there), that’s not exactly the point of the exercise. Our interchangeably ineffectual leaders could be wiped out overnight, “Rumours” points out, as our laughter turns to a groaning sigh — it’s broken global power structures that remain immovable.

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