Cannes 2024: The Girl with the Needle, Wild Diamond


Of the 22 films in this year’s Cannes competition, the first two to screen have a lot in common. Both are portraits of strong-willed women willing to be exploited to find a way out of poverty. Both films doggedly stick to their heroines’ point of view, and both heroines prove more credulous than is strictly advisable. Both movies are shot in claustrophobic aspect ratios.

Yet one film is about an aspiring Instagram influencer, while the other centers on a WWI-era factory seamstress.

Magnus von Horn’s Danish-language “The Girl with the Needle” is the period piece. Filmed in a stark black-and-white that, despite a digital sheen, can on occasion convince you you’re watching a lost work by Fritz Lang or Carl Theodor Dreyer, the movie establishes its harrowing agenda from the get-go. Introduced washing her hands—ablutions become a motif of sorts—Karoline (Vic Carmen Sonne) is evicted from her apartment for failing to pay the rent. Despite a valiant effort to deter the new tenants by claiming a rat infestation, she is soon forced to take up residence in a hovel without indoor plumbing.

Although Karoline’s husband never returned from the war, Jørgen (Joachim Fjelstrup), the well-born businessman who runs the factory where she works, says he can’t give her widow’s pay without a death certificate. He takes a liking to her, though—a liking that dissipates in the face of a pregnancy, his mother’s disapproval, and (although it’s not clear he’s aware of it) the belated return of the now-disfigured spouse, Peter (Besir Zeciri, who behind his mask sounds a lot like a Danish-speaking Franz Rogowski).

Karoline’s efforts to end her pregnancy bring her into chance contact with Dagmar (Trine Dyrholm), with whom she forms a queasy codependency, eventually even feeding Dagmar’s 7-year-old daughter with breast milk. There is more than one needle in this movie, although the morphine that begins to flow freely is taken orally. At one point, Dagmar and Karoline go to the movies and dose themselves—which may or may not account for why they seem to be watching a film with anachronistic synchronous sound.

“The Girl with the Needle” descends almost imperceptibly from mere miserablism to something much closer to a nightmare. It also rambles a bit in its back half, drawing on a real-life criminal case that appears to have been the project’s raison d’être. But von Horn doesn’t quite find a way to weave it in thematically or to make clear what he is trying to say with the overall material. The vintage look and Carmen Sonne—mousy and wraithlike yet authoritative, nearly always onscreen—do a lot to hold the movie together even when the script (by von Horn and Line Langebek) does not.

“The Girl with the Needle” is von Horn’s first feature to screen in the official selection—but not, technically, his first film to be selected for it. After Cannes canceled its 2020 edition, the programmers announced several dozen titles that would have shown there had the festival happened. Von Horn’s “Sweat,” a portrait of a fitness influencer who struggles to balance her online self-dramatization with her actual feelings, was among them. And that film, too, has several points of intersection with Agathe Riedinger’s “Wild Diamond,” the day’s other competition feature, and the only film in this year’s competition that is a directorial debut. 

Opting for a 1.33:1 ratio, “Wild Diamond” answers the unasked question, “What if Rosetta—of the Dardenne brothers’ Palme d’Or-winning film ‘Rosetta’—were an Instagram user?” Constantly trailed by Riedinger’s camera, the 19-year-old Liane (Malou Khebizi—like Carmen Sonne, carrying an entire movie) spends her days watching her younger sister, contending with a barely attentive mother, and making money from sneak sales of flash drives and perfume.

She spots a way out when she gets a chance to audition for a reality show called “Miracle Island,” whose ninth season would bring her to Miami. It doesn’t matter that she’d partying on camera with douchebros who, she admits at her audition, don’t respect women. It doesn’t matter that the programmers may pressure her to part with her virginity, which she doesn’t disclose. (“Do you do it easily or not?” she’s asked at the casting session, which surely tests the boundaries of legality. “We don’t want any goody-goodies.”) She is not happy about the pay disparity between her and her prospective co-stars, but that doesn’t appear to be a dealbreaker.

Elsewhere, a social counselor, skeptical of Liane’s prospects and doubtful that fan meetings are the basis of a durable career, urges caution. But Liane, somewhere between determined and delusional, sets out to improve her chances.

“Wild Diamond” teases a few interesting angles—psychological, economic, religious—without ever resolving them. Part of the trouble may be that influencers are already starting to seem past their expiration date as a subject, and other movies (like the 2019 documentary “Jawline“) have done a better job of elucidating what makes the TikTok generation tick. “Wild Diamond” is the sort of feature that might have been a breakout in Un Certain Regard. In competition, the glare of the spotlight is harsh.

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