Salles gets up close to the beats in daring On the road adaptation
Brazilian director Walter Salles’ road movie of the Jack Kerouac modern classic novel On the road is in competition for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a brave move to adapt such a well-known literary work to the screen.
Salles does it with an up-close look at the post-World War II beat generation in the US. Young people who didn’t identify with their parents values. Kerouac’s chums were the beat poets and writers, Neal Cassidy, William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.
In the film they are known under their Kerouacian literary names.
Three of the actors are British, including Sam Riley who plays the Kerouac character known as Sal Paradise and Tom Sturridge who plays the beat poet Allen Ginsberg, called Carlo Marx in the book. One is Brazilian, Alice Braga one of Kerouac/Paradise’s lovers.
All the main ingredients are in the film, the “pure” road, from New York, to Denver to Tucson to San Francisco to Mexico and back, sex, drugs and bebop/jazz music. The scenes are appropriately interspersed with writers’ angst, part of Salles' idea that today, as much as then, life is about grasping the moment.
“It’s about a group that is going from youth to the beginning of adulthood who try to find all the possible freedoms that were denied to them. And in doing so will ultimately expand the frontiers of the culture in a country that was very conservative, Second World War America," he says.
Paradise/Kerouac scribbles, Moriarty/Cassidy (Garrett Hedlund) indulges his varied sexual appetite more than his pen and Marx/Ginsberg is a fountain of poetry.
The women, including last year’s best actress winner at Cannes, Kirsten Dunst as Moriarty’s wife Camille, are supporting roles. And those who lag behind the new generation by more than a beat have a lot to bear.
Salles remains in a genre where has already gained recognition, after his Motorcycle diaries - Diarios de motocicleta of 2004 with Gael Garcia Bernal which won him fame in festivals across the world.