Cannes 2023: Black Flies, Youth (Spring), Homecoming | Festivals & Awards

Fortunately, it’s a much sturdier movie than any of those films, a make-’em-like-they-used-to gritty New York picture about the lives and minds of mean-streets paramedics. In this case, the “they” in “make-’em-like-they-used-to” is Martin Scorsese, and the “’em” is his 1999 film “Bringing Out the Dead,” to which “Black Flies” bears many, many similarities, although it never has much hope of matching it.

Tye Sheridan plays the Colorado-raised Ollie Cross, a rookie paramedic who, until he improves his MCAT score, is biding his time riding shotgun in an ambulance in the East New York and Brownsville areas of Brooklyn. His senior partner is Gene Rutkovsky (Penn), who has the apt nickname Rut. Rut is more seasoned and less easily fazed; at one point, he shares memories of being a 9/11 first responder. But he is also more disillusioned, and he is increasingly convinced that sometimes less care is more.

This is mainly an episodic film, as Ollie and Rut spend nights paying house calls to victims of gun violence, domestic abuse, drug addiction, and homelessness. The dialogue in these emergency scenes comes across as credible and well-researched. Penn, as usual, lays on the leatheriness a bit thick, but in Rut, he has a real part to apply it to, for the first time in what seems like a while.

“Black Flies” is interested in the psychological impact that the parade of trauma has on Ollie. Like “Bringing Out the Dead,” it imagines its protagonist as being prone to hallucinations, and to seeing the whole city as if were being constantly strobed by the red flash of siren lights. (Occasional bits of Christian iconography also seem taken, in this context, from Scorsese. This movie really needs more of its own material.)

If Sauvaire, who was born in France but lives in Brooklyn, makes effective use of real locations (snazzily shot at night by David Ungaro), his senses of atmosphere and proportion sometimes falter. It’s not clear why he thought it would be a good idea to score chest compressions to Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” or why he decided casting Mike Tyson as Ollie and Rut’s chief made sense. (Apparently the reason is that Tyson spent part of his childhood in Brownsville, but he is a ridiculous distraction in the role all the same.) “Black Flies” deserves the flak it will take for its anguished machismo and for seriously belaboring its finale. But by Penn-Cannes standards, the movie is the right kind of overwrought.