We stopped counting the number of times we believed that Steven Spielberg had reached the peak of his career and that the sequel, obviously, would only exist in a series of feature films that were at best “minor”. at worst simply disappointing. This traditional comedown that other great filmmakers of his generation experienced before him (Francis Ford Coppola or George Lucas, to name a few) and that he should undergo in turn, like the rite of passage of the perfect Hollywood artist . But the director of Sea teeth makes life difficult for the myths and legends of the dream factory. Neither the big bang of the 2000s nor the arrival of digital technology has tormented him more than that. Projected into the new century, he subsequently signed a moving tribute to his mentor Stanley Kubrick (AI Artificial Intelligence), a dystopia that is no longer quite one (Minority Report) and the great film of post-September 11 America (War of the Worlds, worn by an unrecognizable Tom Cruise as a father freaked out by seeing machines destroying the world). We could also cite Munich Or Stop me if you can except that its following decade proved to be just as fascinating, between the quest for digital avatars (Tintin, Ready Player One) and incessant returns to the great classic forms of American cinema (the biopic with Lincoln and the war film for War Horse).
At 76, in 2023, what can the director of the films still explore? Sea teeth ? Like the Soviet spy portrayed by Mark Rylance in The Bridge of Spies, he takes a self-portrait. This exercise in self-reflection began two years earlier with West Side Story. Steven revisited one of his favorite films to make a show as stunning as it was despairing about the persistence of identity divides in the United States. Despite a dismal failure in theaters, the film remains one of the greatest achievements of his career. And in this month of February, promised a fabulous destiny in the awards season, The Fabelmans, Steven’s almost official autobiography. Almost because Steven is not strictly speaking Steven but Sammy Fabelman, and his parents are called Mitzi and Burt instead of Leah and Arnold. But the story remains, in its broad outlines, intact: that of a kid who fell into the cauldron of cinema at a young age, of a passion which will become more and more devouring until it consumes him, and at the center a family unit which falls apart, year after year, from move to move, and which will constitute the founding drama of Spielberg’s cinema.
Cinema as a curse
At a time when Hollywood is constantly celebrating itself via large frescoes on the dull mysteries of the seventh art (the latest to date, Babylon by Damien Chazelle, was released in France last month), The Fabelmans begins with an event whose bittersweet tone clashes with the expectations of the famous “love letter to cinema” and sets the tone of the film from the first minutes. In January 1952, Sammy went to the cinema for the first time with his parents to discover Under the biggest marquee in the world by Cecil B. DeMille. Anxious before entering the dark room, the child is reassured by his parents. The father (Paul Dano), a brilliant engineer, explains to him what cinema is in a monologue that looks like a little technical summary. The mother (Michelle Williams), a brilliant pianist, chooses to present a more dreamlike argument to her son: “movies are dreams you never forget” — a statement to which Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner will add a number of objections, two and a half hours. In a simple exchange, Steven Spielberg already establishes the great family issue which will cross The Fabelmans, the dissimilarities and complementarity of a couple which made the director an author apart, both an outstanding technician and storyteller of a certain American history. The most interesting thing happens a few seconds later. As the session begins, Sammy witnesses a brutal train crash scene. Swallowed by the flood of images in front of him, the kid leans back in his seat when the rest of the audience around lets out a cry of fear. Leaving the room, he walled himself in silence, determined to reproduce at home, with his toys and the family camera, this moment of revelation as terrifying as it was captivating.