Jeff Nichols’ Loving screened at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival on May 16 reminded one of all that is happening in today’s India. A moving story about an interracial marriage between Richard and Mildred Nichols’ work traces the couple’s turbulent life in the late 1950s in the American state of Virginia, where such a union was against the law. Eventually, the US Supreme Court held that marriage was a human right and Virginia had to repeal the Act.
A strong parallel may be drawn between Loving and the khap rulings in India on inter-caste marriages/love affairs, which have led to horrible tragedies snuffing out young lives. Nichols told a media conference soon after his Competition entry was screened that “I truly believe this is one of the most pure love stories in American history”. He was describing the eventful life of the white southern construction worker, Richard Loving, played by the Australian actor Joel Edgerton and his African-American wife, Mildred, portrayed by the Ethiopian-Irish actress, Ruth Negga.
The couple got married in Washington and returned to their native home in Virginia, only to be arrested. Their prison sentences were suspended on the condition that they remain outside the state for 25 years, a ruling they eventually fought and defied. And helping the couple’s cause was the momentous civil rights movement that was spreading across America. In 1967, the Supreme Court decreed in favour of Richard and Mildred.
“The court case is fascinating; how these lawyers got this case to the Supreme Court could make a movie in and of itself,” said Nichols, who also wrote the screenplay. “I didn’t want to make that film,” he added. “I wanted to make a movie about two people in love.”
Loving -- which is the second movie of Nichols after the 2012 Mud to make a Cannes debut -- has relied heavily on the documentary, The Loving Story -- which has the actual footage of the interracial couple. The documentary was aired by HBO in 2012, and when Nichols sent it to his wife asking what she thought about a feature on the Lovings, she wrote an email to him:”’I really love you, but if you don’t make this movie I’m going to divorce you.”
Loving has been narrated with hauntingly refreshing subtlety in a script that could have in an average Indian director’s hand gone off the top with weepy emotionalism. Nichols shows admirable restraint while taking us through the deeply disturbing life of the Lovings -- who on being asked to quit Virginia, try and make a life in Washington. But they find that they cannot raise their three children there and return to Virginia. But the law catches up with them and they have to once again leave what is really their home and family.
Stripped of all artifice, Edgerton and Negga play their parts in such an ordinary, un-cinematic manner that they end up infusing power into the narrative. Herein lies the appeal of Loving that has been told in such a charmingly simple way. Critics and audiences at Cannes seemed mightily impressed. What about the jury?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cannes Film Festival.)