Rumours: Cate Blanchett’s satire on smug Western leaders is bizarre and brilliant

In Rumours, the leaders of the G7 must contend with a giant pulsing brain
In Rumours, the leaders of the G7 must contend with a giant pulsing brain - Cannes FF

The trouble with political summits, splutters the president of France (Denis Ménochet) to the German chancellor (Cate Blanchett) as they troop their way to a photo op, is the constant interference. If only the little folk would leave the statesmen and women alone for a while, who knows what the latter might achieve?

Rumours lets us find out. This triumphantly stupid ensemble comedy, which premiered on Saturday night at Cannes to a five-minute standing ovation, casts the G7 leadership adrift in a B-movie, essentially turning the heads of the leading liberal first-world democracies into the Mystery Machine gang from Scooby-Doo.

During a working lunch in a German castle’s picturesque grounds, a supernatural apocalypse descends. Soon, our prim septet – including Nikki Amuka-Bird as the desperately proper British PM, and Charles Dance as the doddering and narcoleptic US President (who, in an inspired absurdist running-joke, has an intact English accent) – are battling zombie bog-monsters and tangling with a giant glowing brain, while a creepy forest presses in on all sides.

The premise sounds as though it must invite a satirical reading, and there are many well-aimed ironic jabs at aspects of the leaders’ national character and the box-ticking rigmarole of modern politics. But directors Guy Maddin and brothers Evan and Galen Johnson – three beloved cult Canadian experimentalists – also poke fun at the notion that their intentions could be so clean-cut.

“Do you think it might be illuminating to consider this situation as an allegory?” panics France at one point, before musing ominously: “Germany caught up in the dramatics… we’ve seen this before.” In fact, the dramatics are one of the key causes of laughter, as the leaders squabble, flap and flirt among themselves, while trying to maintain an air of serene centrist gravitas.

Blanchett's film received a standing ovation at Cannes
Blanchett's film received a standing ovation at Cannes - Getty

There’s a flash of hope when the group realises that the council president of the European Union (Alicia Vikander) is also out there, somewhere, in the woods – but this turns to despair when she’s found crouched in the colossal brain’s spongy folds, babbling about a new world order in what they initially take to be an unintelligible dread tongue of old, but later realise is Swedish.

The Canadian prime minster (Roy Dupuis) is first to snap. Really, he’s a wreck before the apocalypse even gets going, guzzling wine and fretting about the collapse of his marriage even as the group try to draft a “provisional statement” that sets out a shared vision for the future in managerial buzzspeak. Yet – with a 10-ton wink – it’s Canada who will become the tortured action hero of the piece, dramatically fording a river to the strains of Enya’s ‘Exile’ and bedding Germany in a leafy glade.

The others chip in as best they can, while simultaneously trying to finish off that provisional statement – as if getting the right clichés in the right order might actually stave off Armageddon, at least until the next summit comes around. Perhaps this is really how it works; perhaps our leaders would just like to think so. Either way, Rumours suggests, isn’t that utterly ridiculous?

108 min, cert TBC. A UK release is TBC