If any film has emerged from Cannes thus far as having the necessary legs to last the next nine months of Oscar conversation, it’s Jeff Nichols’ Loving, which premiered Monday night to a rapturous Palais crowd. It’s the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple in ’60s Virginia who were arrested and convicted for that state’s anti-miscegenation laws, having married in Washington DC. With the help of Bobby Kennedy and the ACLU, the Lovings took their case all the way to the Supreme Court and won; as Ruth Negga says in the video above, they changed the constitution with their fight.
But Nichols’ film deals in the simple heart of the case: the love these two people shared. Before the festival, Nichols had told me that the project started for him with a phone call from Martin Scorsese, and Nichols’ pitch that it be about the love story, and not a civil rights tale nor a courtroom drama. The resulting film might feel too small for some: there are no grand pronouncements and no emotional breakdowns. But it captures the Lovings for the people they were, and celebrates their quietness. They didn’t set out to change the world; they just wanted to live together and raise a family. Their revolution was in their convention.
The film is made by stunning lead performances from Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. After the premiere, Nichols told me he’d written the parts for Richard and Mildred Loving, and his challenge in casting the movie was finding actors who could live up to that. Edgerton feels like a lock on a nomination for a measured, honest performance, but it’s Negga who proves to be the revelation. This is a major breakthrough for the Ethiopian-Irish star, previously best known for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the sunshine of the Majestic Beach, the two actors and Nichols walk me through their interest in the movie, their love for the Lovings, and how they realized Cannes’ most touching, most unassuming feature.