David Neary eavesdrops on the Danish, gets berated by a Mexican, shares a boat with Metallica and hangs out with three of a decade’s worth of celebrity crushes. It’s tough in Cannes…
The rains had poured and poured like streamers at a Jay Gatsby party as Cannes opened on Wednesday night. Two days later my socks are still drying in the bathroom. But Thursday morning my whole body was still dampened from the long umbrellaless search for a taxi the night before, so curling up under the sheets to dry off seemed like a far better idea than heading straight for Cannes to catch François Ozon’s latest Jeune & Jolie. From what I hear, I didn’t miss much.
Not that it would have mattered had I arisen on time, an electrical fault meant a 90-minute wait for the eight-minute train to take me into Cannes. The rain was barely a faint drizzle when I got to the Palais, which was mobbed with new arrivals to the festival. We had had it easy the day before…
Caught between screenings I opted to attend the press conference for Heli, which had just had its official premiere that morning but had screened for the press to positively mixed reviews the night before. Director Amat Escalante spoke long and passionately about his film’s depictions of violence, while deflecting some roundabout abuse from a French critic who complimented him on his depiction of rural life despite being ‘a bourgeois’. Only in France. The press were conspicuous in their absence; a day earlier reporters had been practically stabbing one another with pens to get into the Great Gatsby Q&A, but here the room was barely a quarter full. Even in this Vatican of cinephilia the queues for the multiplexes dwarf the queues for the art house films. If it can happen at Cannes, it can happen anywhere.
An interview had been lined up for me with Northern Irish director Brian Kirk (The Tudors, Game of Thrones), in town to dig up a distributor for his upcoming sci-fi romance Passengers, which has Keanu Reeves attached as its star. More on that interview elsewhere later, but it’s worth noting the interview was on a boat docked in the harbour. Alone and waiting for the interview to begin, I mumbled to myself about being ‘on a boat’, but it just doesn’t carry the same majesty when not shouted at someone. Disembarking the three-storeyed floating palace, I overheard another journalist arriving for his ‘Metallica interview’. I now get to tell people semi-erroneously that I have been on a boat with Metallica, so yeah, there’s that.
Refuelling, I was forced to spend €10 on a plate of pasta in a bar along the promenade. Outside, a man in a convincing Toxic Avenger costume danced with his mop to raise awareness for video nasty legends Troma, who have their first film in years, Return to Nuke ’Em High, playing during the festival. Cannes and Troma; together at last.
‘OK, this is a stupid question, right,’ began the American girl behind me in the queue for The Bling Ring, ‘but is there popcorn inside?’ This was the moment I realised I was in the wrong queue. After a realigning myself I waited amongst the press for nearly two hours just to get into Sofia Coppola’s new film, opening Un Certain Regard. In the meantime we were treated to blaring music from the film’s soundtrack to pass the time. Unfortunately, it was the same two tracks on a loop, leaving a few hundred people feeling like they were a subject of controversy in Zero Dark Thirty. When said songs featured during the film, bitter grunts were audible in corners of the theatre, many patrons still harbouring the audio scars.
Un Certain Regard jury head Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) introduced his jury, amongst them Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool). Sagnier wore a dress so canary yellow that all across France canaries were dropping dead in their cages from the shame of being not quite canary yellow enough. When Coppola and her cast, amongst them Emma Watson (who nearly Jennifer Lawrenced herself ascending the steps to the podium, but recovered gracefully) took to the stage, I suddenly realised that I was in the same room with three of a decade’s worth of celebrity crushes – Zhang, Sagnier, Watson. How often does that happen?! Isla Fisher, in town for The Great Gatsby, still eludes my eye – 10-year old me’s heart beats only for Shannon from Home & Away.
The Bling Ring is an entertaining turn from Coppola, with some light comedy sprinkled into its rich girls gone bad storyline. Sadly, it’s as vapid as its central characters, and runs out of ideas long before it is over.
There was only time to gargle a quick espresso (fifth of the day) before the 10pm screening of competition film A Touch of Sin, from Chinese director Jia Zhangke. A hyper-violent quadrilogy of short films making pointed commentary on the state of modern China and the carnage brewing within it, it loses itself after the brilliant first tale and overstays its welcome. Still, if I find a more jaw-dropping metaphor in a film this year than a Chinese businessman beating a woman across the head with a slab of 100 yuan notes until she agrees to sell him sex, I’ll be very surprised.
Taking the late bus home, I conversed with fellow passengers about the films they had seen, only to be berated by a Mexican for having liked Mexico’s competition entry Heli. No satisfying some folks.
Friday morning the sun was splitting the pavement, but terrified of another turn for the worse in the weather I was sure to pack bulky waterproof gear I would inevitably never need. Once pissed on, twice shy.
Having missed the morning screening of Le Passé (The Past), the latest from Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), I was doomed to be landed in conversation after conversation with people who had caught the then-frontrunner. I decided to ease my suffering by escaping to one of the screenings running at the time, the out-of-competition special selection Stop the Pounding Heart. And now let us never speak of that film again.
Queuing for my next film, I could only stand there and listen-in fruitlessly as four Danish critics engaged in fiery debate about Spring Breakers. I really wanted to join in, but my Danish doesn’t extend beyond ‘tak’ meaning ‘thank you’ and ‘Spring Breakers’ meaning ‘Spring Breakers’.
Playing in Un Certain Regard, Miele (Honey) is the directorial debut of Italian actress Valeria Golino, best known for playing Ramada in the Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux. A drama about a beautiful loner who assists the terminally ill to commit suicide, for a price, Miele is finely written, beautifully shot and features two superb central performances. It is sure to be one of this year’s best first-time films. Awkward laughter descended on the audience however when a fade to black at the film’s close was greeted with a huge round of applause, which was then followed by five more minutes of the film. No one was certain whether to clap or not when the end finally did come. Good thing a few tweaks can be made before wider release!
It was a revolving door at the Debussy theatre, leaving Miele to go straight into Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest, Like Father, Like Son. It is a magnificent tragicomedy about a couple faced with an impossible decision when they learn that their six-year-old son was switched at birth – meeting their real son and his family, the question arises of whether the two families will perform a swap. Heartbreaking, gently handled and beautiful to behold, it is one of the director’s finest films, and a major forerunner at the festival right now. With Steven Spielberg chairing the jury, there is likely to be a boost for a film that so adeptly captures the innocence and humour of children. The director of E.T. will no doubt find himself swooning.
Tears carefully wiped off faces, the critics left the cinema, leaving behind a few select individuals who needed more time to weep. The competition is heating up, and we’re still only a third of the way there.
Check out David Neary’s previous diary entries:
Cannes Diary: Day 1
David Neary brushes shoulders with the stars and an umbrella salesman at Cannes.