Cannes 2023 Review: BLACK FLIES, Intense Portrait of Paramedics' Reality
Tye Sheridan and Sean Penn star in a dramatic thriller directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, co-starring Katherine Waterston, Michael Pitt and Mike Tyson.
After some slow-paced films, Black Flies injected a dose of raw intensity to the Cannes International Film Festival.
Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire portrays the arduous task paramedics face, especially when dealing with emergencies in a huge place like New York City. Black Flies – whose title refers to the smell of death that attracts flies – follows a rookie (Tye Sheridan), assigned by the boss (brief participation of Mike Tyson) as a partner to the classic experimented veteran, who often follows his own rules: Gene (Sean Penn).
Black Flies finds its power reflecting the brutal level of stress inherent in this profession. The young paramedic played by Sheridan deals with life-and-death situations, extremely hostile people and merciless criminals; even with his own colleagues, who look down on him or play tasteless morbid pranks on him. At one point, Sheridan's release in a nightclub is more than understandable.
Black Flies also shows the camaraderie between Sheridan and Penn (both giving excellent performances) -- which sometimes turns “wrong” with pedophilia jokes or when Gene declares his hatred for bikers -- and part of their personal lives. The young man is still aspiring to obtain a medical degree, while his relationship with a single mother becomes more serious. The veteran adores his little daughter, but is further alienated from her because of his ex-wife’s (Katherine Waterston) new relationship.
Everything is used to highlight that the work of these paramedics, always at the limit and not at all appropriate if you want to develop a healthy relationship, puts them in a dangerous situation: at any moment they could be overwhelmed, "buried" by the sordidness with which they live. Black Flies explores that dark side, which, without a doubt, could be thought of as equivalent to what happens with the police: there are paramedics whose behavior becomes immoral.
Michael Pitt appears with an antagonistic attitude every time Penn is suspended. And the film takes our veteran co-star to the bleakest place possible.
Although not everything is pessimistic in Black Flies, especially with the character of Sheridan – in addition to the fact that there are also emergency cases with a motivating outcome for the paramedics, whose intention is to help – Sauvaire makes his mission explicit: to raise awareness about those paramedics who are completely overwhelmed. That's something the filmmaker achieves.