Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Megalopolis’: What to Know

“Megalopolis,” the first film from the director Francis Ford Coppola in 13 years, premiered Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival. Self-financed by Coppola, the $120 million passion project has earned headlines about a reportedly chaotic shoot, allegations of misconduct and questions about the film’s commercial prospects.

But what exactly are we dealing with here? Now that I’ve seen “Megalopolis,” let me try to answer the questions you might be asking.

What is “Megalopolis” about?

Any attempt to sum up “Megalopolis” will impose more narrative onto this movie than it actually contains, but here goes. Adam Driver plays Cesar Catalina, a visionary architect who dares to ask: What if a major city looked like an Iris Van Herpen dress? Like so many great men in movies, he is Haunted by Visions of a Dead Wife, but still finds himself falling for Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel), the daughter of Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito), mayor of the city that is sometimes called New Rome but that resembles New York.

Cicero, who despises Catalina for his reckless idealism, is one of many characters trying to bring the architect to heel. Other rivals include Clodio (Shia LaBeouf), a party boy turned politician, and Wow Platinum (Aubrey Plaza), a financial reporter determined to bed or plot against every powerful man in her orbit.

Wait, her name is Wow Platinum?

Yes, you read that correctly.

What exactly is the tone of this movie?

Despite the big budget, huge sets and scenes soaked in special effects, “Megalopolis” finds Coppola in the same experimental-filmmaker mode he employed for his two most recent movies, the indies “Tetro” (2009) and “Twixt” (2011). Few scenes are shot or edited in a conventional manner: Coppola employs split screen, projection techniques and artsy montage at will, and the pacing of any given sequence can change on a whim.

Sometimes, that anything-could-happen approach is beguiling: Midway through the Cannes press screening, a spotlight shone on a man in the front of the theater who asked questions that Driver’s Caesar would answer onscreen. At other times, though, it feels like the filmmaker is just throwing things at the wall and hoping that something will stick.

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