Cannes Diary 5: Days 9-12

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David Neary checks out the boat porn and all the winners, and waves a fond farewell to Cannes.

 

By Thursday morning the buzz was beginning to grow around Cannes that La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Colour) was now the one to watch, and I was still simmering having missed it. Things were only going to get more disappointing as the morning wore on. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska was on too early for me to make. The screening of Jerry Lewis’ new movie Max Rose was cancelled. (You may now take a moment to process the fact that Jerry Lewis is still alive. OK, moving on…) There was nothing to be done except to drink espressos and write and complain about how we hadn’t seen La Vie d’Adèle yet.

It was after 4pm before I saw my first (and only) film of the day. Screening as part of Cannes Classics, Yasujiro Ozu’s swansong An Autumn Afternoon was showing in the blissfully air-conditioned Salle Buñuel. The 1962 film, newly restored by Shochiku, was presented by, amongst others, Hirokazu Kore-eda, in town with his superb new film Like Father, Like Son. I had already heard him speak at his film’s press conference, but now was a chance to actually watch a movie with one of my favourite living filmmakers. Honestly I’m pretty sure he ducked out halfway through, having seen it many times before and being busy selling his film, but either way, it was still the best cine-date I’ve ever been on. I hope he calls me…

In many ways a remake of his earlier film Late Spring, Ozu’s last work has all the director’s trademarks – motionless cameras, head-on framing, a gripping sense of the simple tragedy of everyday life. The audience was utterly absorbed, except for the seven-year-old girl whose mother had thought it appropriate to take her to a sluggish Japanese ’60s drama, and who spent most of the film unleashing squeaky, puppy-ish yawns much to the audience’s aw-ing delight. Thinking back on it now, I think she may have been the only child I saw in that entire fortnight. Curious that.

By means far too long-winded and silly to explain, I had been invited to a proper Cannes party that night, and made my way up into the hills above the town to the chateau of a producer I can’t identify for legal reasons and because I lost his card and can’t remember his name. It was a curious intermingling; producers chatted with journalists, industry sales folk bantered with actors. I met the writer of an unmemorable Roman Polanski movie, and engaged in some great conversation with representatives of the Serbian film board (not to be confused with A Serbian Film board – that’s a very different thing altogether). We drank experimental not-yet-on-the-market vodka-infused energy drinks and listened as a young woman wearing fairy wings playing an acoustic set of The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’. That was a good time to call it a night I thought.

It was when I got into Cannes on Friday that the festival’s drawing to a close became obvious – there were more people getting on trains to leave Cannes. For reasons I have not yet had fully explained to me, Cannes becomes a bit of a ghost town for the last few days of the festival. Sure, the markets close and the deals stop being done, but why all the journalists and cinephiles leave before the final screenings and the awards ceremony is beyond me. Who flees Wimbledon the day before the men’s singles final?

On the plus side, this meant that the queues would now be shorter, and hopefully no more films would be denied to me. My over-ambitious schedule of films to watch, drawn up on day one of the festival, erroneously had me down as having seen La Vie d’Adèle, and it now took priority above all else. Given its three-hour length, this would mean skipping two films just to catch it. And good lord it would be worth it.

Taking my seat in the cinema, the woman next to me apologised that she was going to have to barge out halfway through, as she had a meeting to attend. She was still there, in her seat, transfixed, as the final credits rolled. I’ve rarely heard such silent audiences. Blue Is the Warmest Colour tells the story of Adèle, a teenager dealing with all-too-real problems, whose life begins to simultaneously bloom and unravel when she realises she is a lesbian. Newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos, only 19, gives one of the most breathtaking performances you may ever see in the lead role, while the ravishing Léa Seydoux (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) is sublimely sensual as the blue-haired object of her affections. It is one of the most intoxicating, absorbing works of cinema released in the last two decades, and barely feels half its length. The 10 minutes of unsimulated lesbian sex that follow the first act are utterly warranted by the drama that precedes, although it remains to be seen how deep the censors’ knives will cut when the film gets an international release later this year.

Afterwards, I stood sipping espresso and tweeting violently with other critics who had just seen the film. Rarely have I seen so many critics lost for words. The general agreement was, however, that we had just seen the Palme D’Or winner. Even my beloved Kore-eda’s latest could not compare to this masterful new film.

Still stunned and a little teary from the film, I walked down the promenade and splashed out on an expensive but delicious pizza (I say expensive, which it was for France, but still the same price and twice the size of what you’d get in Milano’s back home), while hoovering up press materials on Blue into my brain. The director, Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kerchiche, has admitted he may wish to return to the character in a few years for another film, giving me a delicious slice of food for thought to accompany my meal.

What could possibly follow Blue, I thought to myself. Surely Jim Jarmusch’s latest, vampire dramedy Only Lovers Left Alive, would drown in insignificance by comparison. Well actually, no, not really. Jarmusch’s lightest film in a decade, Only Lovers stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as suitably angular-faced vampires who have been married since the mid-nineteenth century. As much social commentary as romance – the immortal duo despair at humanity’s insistent failure to evolve beyond war and injustice – the film is also exceptionally funny, with Hiddleston and Swinton delivering the silliest of lines with deadpan purity. It’s slight, and another of Jarmusch’s stranger genre pieces, but it’s quite the treat, and definitely one of the more surprising entries in the main competition this year.

On the night bus home, two tuxedoed English short film producers engaged me on who I thought would take the Palme. They had managed to see every single film in competition (at this stage, I, by comparison, was only hitting 12/20) except La Vie d’Adèle, so we had a very long debate about how it was all going to go. Of course, all I was thinking about at this stage was when was I ever going to find the time to catch up on the films I had missed. Thankfully, with Cannes drying up in terms of population, the weekend would provide more than enough time to visit what I had missed.

Stocks of espresso were also drying up on Saturday leading to minor panic in the press area. Cinema seats lay vacant in screenings that would have been in demand three-fold just a few days earlier. The men’s room had run out of John Williams and was now bellowing Howard Shore’s Fellowship of the Ring theme. The festival was coming to a close.

On my way to check out Michael Kohlhaas, I passed by the press conference for Only Lovers Left Alive, which emptied out into the main corridor, unleashing Tilda Swinton, Jarmusch, Hiddleston and John Hurt on my already celeb-filled retinas. Hiddleston, outrageously dashing in a three-piece suit in the warmest colour, stood for photographs as long as he could, before being very apologetic about the need to run off and do more important things. A proper gent that one, even if I still haven’t forgiven him for Agent Coulson.

Michael Kohlhaas is exactly the kind of film Americans think of when they think of European art films. Glacially slow, stupidly beautiful, featuring themes of faith and justice. It’s a mediaeval tale starring Mads Mikkelsen as a horse trader who takes the law into his own hands when wronged by a local baron. People discuss death and god a lot. Horses get progressively more covered in mud. Even when there is action, it is either off screen or so esoterically edited as to be dull to watch. One of the weaker films in competition in Cannes this year, it is gorgeously shot but otherwise nothing that hasn’t already been done to death.

Picking up the pace, and with less distractions in an emptier Cannes, it was straight into my next film, German drama Nothing Bad Can Happen, competing in Un Certain Regard. In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz, I can think of at least two things wrongs with the title of that movie. A Christ analogy set in modern Hamburg, Nothing Bad Can Happen sees a young devout Christian attempt to save a working class family who at first humour him and then begin to psychologically and physically torture him. It’s heavy-handed in the extreme, but it has some great use of focus and the only case I’ve ever come across of the Inception noise being used in a straight drama without any explosions.

Un Certain Regard announced its jury’s decisions after the film, and I hid my face lest anyone could tell that I hadn’t caught any of the prize winners. With this second-tier competition running parallel, it’s hard to make time for its films and even harder to predict what might be the big films in it ahead of the festival. I’ll have to pay more attention to the buzz next time.

There was time for some last-minute Cannes stuff (Sunday was destined not to allow a moment to breathe, let alone take care of non-film business), so I grabbed a burger, wrote some postcards and ambled down the docks with an ice-cream checking out all the boat porn moored there for the festival. When I’m rich and famous, someone remind me to buy a boat. Rumour has it competition jury president Steven Spielberg has barely been ashore all festival, watching all the movies in the cinema on his boat. There comes a point where something is so unimaginably brilliant that jealousy can longer comprehend it, and you just start feeling loss.

My last film for the night was the final Cannes Classic screening of the festival, Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), with the film’s star Alain Delon, fighting fit at 77, presenting. It’s a 1960 adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley that plays brilliantly on burgeoning ’60s cool and is kept lively for the most part by Nino Rota’s proto-Godfather score. The remastered transfer was stunning to behold, as was young Alain Delon, a man so preposterously good-looking that just seeing him will bump you up a spot on the Kinsey scale.

While waiting for the film to start, I realised that Max Von Sydow was seated about 10 places over from me. The moment when you realise you’re within scrunched-up ball of paper-throwing distance of one of the greatest film actors of all time, whose career spans both The Seventh Seal and Flash Gordon, is a special one. Less special was the Asian girl in front of me who kept bouncing excitedly in her seat and bashing my knees throughout the film. But worse still was the woman a few rows ahead of me who insisted on filming huge chunks of the film on her digital camera while looking at the footage on the display screen. Video piracy; of classics; in Cannes. If it can happen in Cannes it can happen anywhere. If only I’d had that scrunched-up ball of paper to fling at her head…

The last real night of the festival, I went out on the town with some friends and didn’t make it home ’til after 4am. But you’d better believe I was back in at 9am for movies… I wouldn’t miss a moment of the final day of Cannes.

The last day of the festival everything is deserted. As the red carpet gets laid out for the closing ceremony, massive deconstruction of other areas begins. The press document boxes, now emptied, had their security equipment ripped from them and stored away from another year. Like a surly barman calling last orders, Cannes wanted us to know we were not welcome to stay much longer.

Rather than show anything new, the wind down day of Cannes is a veritable clip show episode, in which every film in the main competition gets rescreened in order to give people a chance to catch them at this last venture. I had a lot of movies to watch, and was running mercilessly low on steam and caffeine.

The schedule for the rescreenings was hugely telling, with the Salle Debussy, the largest available screen by a good distance, showing Inside Llewyn Davis, Like Father, Like Son and La Vie d’Adèle over the course of the day – my three frontrunners for the Palme D’Or. Not exactly subtle on Cannes’ behalf. The schedule worked brilliantly in my favour, placing film after film I hadn’t seen at non-clashing times. It’s almost as if it had been written for me.

First up was Jeune et Jolie (Young and Beautiful), the latest from French voyeur François Ozon. It’s a rich, attractive drama about sexual identity and rebellion, that makes the improbable leap of having its 17-year-old protagonist over-compensate for a bad first time by becoming a part-time prostitute. It’s sexy and never dull, but it’s far from the quality of the thematically comparable La Vie d’Adèle.

I dashed up stairs, via the espresso bar rattling in its death throes, to catch The Immigrant, and I sort of wish I hadn’t. A period drama set amongst prostitutes (theme for the morning) in 1920s New York, director James Gray’s latest is the social and visual antithesis to festival opener The Great Gatsby. Featuring decent but tired performances from Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, it features superb period detail, but almost nothing else. It plods along at a frustratingly slow pace, and never gets anywhere special.

There was barely a moment to check my emails and grab some water before sprinting across the Palais once more to catch Le Passé (The Past), once upon a time in the festival a favourite to win. Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his similarly excellent A Separation is a heavily layered drama of family secrets and scars, with several clever reveals and a fantastic cast, particularly The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo as a mother dealing with a rebellious daughter and two men in her life she both loves and despises.

With only five minutes between the end of Le Passé and my next film, Roman Polanski’s Venus In Fur, I was disappointed to arrive after the screening had filled up. It was probably for the best, in the end, as it gave me a chance to take a break from all the endless film watching and get some almost food into me. Pretty much the only building in Cannes that looked like it wasn’t about to close up for the winter was the panini stand out back, so that would have to do.

My last film of the evening, and of the festival as it turned out, was Nebraska. Alexander Payne’s intergenerational road movie sees Saturday Night Live alumnus Will Forte drive his elderly father, played by Bruce Dern, from Montana to Nebraska to pick up prize money he is convinced he has won in a dubious postal draw. Shot unnecessarily in black and white, it’s still a great slice of modern America with lots of heart and some terrific laughs. Dern gives one of the performances of his career, and one that is begging for an Oscar come February (are we allowed talk about the Oscars yet?).

By the time I got out of Nebraska the jury had already announced the prizes. The Palme D’Or had gone to La Vie d’Adèle and justice felt deliciously served. Second and third place had gone to Inside Llewyn Davis and Like Father, Like Son, a decision I would personally reverse in order but still could not help but be happy with. Bruce Dern and Bérénice Bejo took Best Actor and Actress, making my film-viewing for the day seem all the more relevant in retrospect. Some were surprised to see Best Director go to Heli helmer Amat Escalante, although I found Best Screenplay for Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin far more peculiar, despite some seriously biting commentary in that film.

At that stage, I had three options. Race to Takashi Miike’s Shield of Straw and actually stay awake this time; go home and change into my tux for the closing film, Zulu (no, not that Zulu), which critics had been busy mauling all day; or else admit that the festival had finished for this year, and it was time to move on. So I did the mature thing. I bid farewell to friends I had met throughout the festival, logged off the press computers for the last and, with heavy heart and heavier eyelids, left the Grand Palais for the last time this year.

Somehow I had survived two straight weeks of film screenings and writing at the sacrifice of food and sleep. My blood now runs brown with espresso. And for the most part I saw only great films, seeing nothing I wished to boo or needed to walk out of, catching only a select few disappointments. The whole festival had worked out quite splendidly in the end.

You can appreciate where all the hype comes from, even if at 66 you’d expect they know how to organise a goddamn queuing system.

 

Check out David Neary’s previous diary entries:

Cannes Diary: Days 7-8
David Neary embraces American-English, misses out on three-hours of lesbian sex and gets ripped off by Ma Nolan.

Cannes Diary: Days 4-6
David Neary dons his debs tux, fumes at French teens and survives on the Cannes diet and nap regime.

Cannes Diary: Days 2-3
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…

Cannes Diary: Day 1
David Neary brushes shoulders with the stars and an umbrella salesman at Cannes.

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Cannes Diary 4 – Days 7-8

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 Behind the Candelabra

David Neary embraces American-English, misses out on three-hours of lesbian sex and gets ripped off by Ma Nolan.

Tuesday was another beautifully sunny day in Cannes, the perfect excuse to hide from the sun in a dark room and watch things flicker on the screen that were less bright and frightening. I had missed Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, that morning, and as seems to be daily routine now everyone was talking about how great it was and its chances for the Palme d’Or. Michael Douglas, for the time being, is seen as a shoe-in for Best Actor.

Still disappointed from the film the previous night, I opted not to head into the Grande Bellezza press conference, despite my love of Sorrentino. After downing another liquid thunder-coffee at the espresso bar, I got in line (American journalists are rubbing off on me, the word ‘queued’ has started to look strange to me) for Claire Denis’ latest Les Salauds (The Bastards). There I got talking to Polish film critic Michal Oleszczyk, who sported a gloriously nerdy T-shirt with ‘Pauline Kael’ written on it in the font of an ’80s rock band logo. Cannes truly is the Mecca of film geekdom.

Controversially not in the main competition (where there are no female directors this year), Les Salauds may have a strong shot at winning Un Certain Regard. With the most vaguely plotted first 20 minutes imaginable, Denis’s film is a neo-noir that doesn’t introduce its characters, and leaves you collecting information a frustrating few beats behind the protagonist. Not a very enjoyable watch (and with some horrific sexual violence – a bit much before lunch), it all comes together for a quite startling final 10 minutes that make this a truly memorable film. Whether or not it was deserving of a spot in the main competition, it was certainly many leagues above the likes of Jimmy P.

I had planned to catch A Castle in Italy, but word was it is the weakest film in competition this year (worse than Jimmy P. and Wara No Tate), so I passed in order to catch up on writing and get some food for a change. Caught for time with another film fast approaching, I had to make the tourists’ Sophie’s Choice of grabbing food in McDonalds or Subway. I chose the latter, but I didn’t feel good about it.

Back at the Salle Debussy, I managed to squeeze my way into the press screening of Grigris, a French/Chadian coproduction, showing in the main competition. It’s perhaps the most unoriginal story imaginable; a performer in desperate need of money gets involved in illegal activities, decides to rob from his criminal bosses and has to go on the run. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before – except for Grigris himself. Playing a fictionalised interpretation of himself, dancer Soulémane Démé is a performer like no other. With an unexplained disability meaning his left leg is withered down to a slender stalk, Grigris is a human rubber band, able to bend himself in unimaginable ways as he gesticulates his flailing form with incredible skill on the dance floor. Démé’s physical performance is what makes the film work, in addition to some solid nighttime cinematography and an unexpectedly feminist ending.

Jaws was playing at the cinema on the beach, but I decided to call it a day then. Waiting for my train, an unexpected (and unwarranted) blitzkrieg of fireworks erupted over Cannes, deafening everyone for miles around. No doubt they cut into the enjoyment of Jaws a little.

The next morning I woke bright and early for another 8.30am screening. At this stage of the festival it had become embarrassingly clear that despite my expectations of drowning in movies at the festival, my batting average was only two a day. Today was going to be different, I thought, as I grabbed a petit déjeuner of a croissant and a bag of Haribo crocodiles and waited for my train.

Seated in the Grand Théâtre Lumière there was a huge amount of excitement in the air for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, his follow-up to Drive. There had been rumours slamming around Cannes the previous days that a gaggle of Danish press had seen a preview and been heartily unimpressed. Now was our chance to finally find out.

Well, yeah, they were right. Even more visually stylish than Drive, Only God Forgives also has less plot, character or purpose. A convoluted revenge tale set in Bangkok, Ryan Gosling stars as Ryan Gosling playing Ryan Gosling, a drug dealer who comes up against an unstoppable and vicious police chief who allowed Gosling’s brother to be killed in custody. Very little happens, and very little is said, other than Kristin Scott Thomas talking at length about her sons’ genitalia. It may be gorgeous to look at, but it’s very little else. As the credits rolled, rapturous applause and blistering boos rose into the air and collided like at the battle of the bands in Scott Pilgrim.

It was straight out of that into a rescreening of Behind the Candelabra for me. Soderbergh’s purposed final film is a superbly judged if straightforward drama anchored by excellent performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. It’s Rob Lowe who steals the show however in his brief appearances. American audiences with HBO can enjoy it almost straight away, as it airs on Sunday night. At the cost of new Game of Thrones, however. Surely that’s too great a price to pay…

My closest shave of Cannes 2013 thus far came shortly after as I was hanging around the American Pavilion, chatting to some staff there about how disappointing we all felt Only God Forgives had been. ‘I thought the music was great at least,’ conceded one woman of Cliff Martinez’s score, to which I agreed, but added that it sounded like leftover tracks from Drive. We moved onto another topic altogether, but only just in time, as Cliff Martinez walked into the pavilion and straight through our conversation. Being a critic at Cannes can be very dangerous sometimes. You never know who is listening, or lurking around the next corner.

My third film of the day was to be Wakolda, showing in Un Certain Regard. Seemingly a rather pretty but standard Argentinian period piece, about a family opening a hotel in 1960, it takes a turn for the disturbing when their first guest turns out to be Josef Mengele, the real-life Auschwitz physician, and he takes a creepy interest in the family’s youngest daughter and her mother’s in-utero twins. A little slow moving, it is still a solid drama with some terrific imagery, most notably a doll factory where perfect blonde plastic girls are lined up on shelves while mangled and burned defected dolls lie crumpled in a heap on the floor.

Absent for a few days, the rains came back a vengeance, bringing with them the familiar sights of dampened tuxes and umbrella salesmen all down the promenade. With time to spare to grab some food,  I checked out the Armenian kebab joint everyone had been telling me about, and was not left disappointed. If there’s anything you miss while at Cannes, it’s eating remotely healthily.

Hiking back to the Palais in the rain, I shared a knowing, damp look with Michael Cera as his entourage umbrella’d him through the town. When I got back to Salle Debussy, I realised I had made an enormous error of judgement. The three-hour La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Colour) was having its press screening and with the rain and its length I had assumed there would be little demand or queue for it. I could not have been more wrong. Apparently people really like their three-hour lesbian sex dramas.

Who knew?

Rejected from my second film of the festival, I had no choice but to join some friends for drinks in a local Irish pub, the unfortunately named Ma Nolan’s, where pints were a preposterous €6.70. If it can happen at Cannes, it can happen anywhere.

No, wait, scrap that! You’d never pay €6.70 for a pint at the Galway Film Fleadh. That’s some serious bullshit right there!

Still to come, Alexander Payne, Jim Jarmusch and Roman Polanski all have new films to show, and now that everyone and their mother is hailing La Vie d’Adèle as the first true masterpiece of the festival, I suppose I’ll have to block off some time to catch that now too.

It’s all fun and games until somebody misses a film.

 

Check out David Neary’s previous diary entries:

Cannes Diary: Days 4-6
David Neary dons his debs tux, fumes at French teens and survives on the Cannes diet and nap regime.

Cannes Diary: Days 2-3
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…

Cannes Diary: Day 1
David Neary brushes shoulders with the stars and an umbrella salesman at Cannes.

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Cannes Diary Days 4-6

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 Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis

 

David Neary dons his debs tux, fumes at French teens and survives on the Cannes diet and nap regime.

 

Day four began at the crack of dawn as I ventured into Cannes for the 8.30am screening of Jimmy P., playing here in competition. Insult added to sleepy injury, there wasn’t much demand for it and I could’ve shown up just as it started, instead of a little after 7.But it was my first film in the colossal Grand Théâtre Lumière, and had to make sure I saw something in the cinema where all the real magic happens. Jimmy P., however, was not a good example of this magic. The film, full title Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, is a mess of a play of a film, a series of decently performed psychotherapy sessions that say very little about the male psyche or Native American history and society. Now, I don’t want to be over-dramatic here, but in terms of the people involved – Benicio Del Toro and Mathieu Almaric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) star, Howard Shore scores, Stéphane Fontaine (Rust and Bone) is DoP. and the director is Arnaud Desplechin, beloved in his native France for films such as A Christmas Tale (not to be confused with A Christmas Story, that’s a very different film) – Jimmy P. may just be the most disappointing movie ever made. Pretty but permanently bland, with tiresome dialogue and Oscar-baiting performances, it is somehow never exactly boring, but it’s not for a moment interesting.The epic dud-ishness of this first flop of the festival was all anyone could talk about Saturday – well that and the starter pistol incident that resulted in a man being arrested Friday, and Christoph Waltz being forced to run for his life. This impeded everyone by ramping up the already excessive security procedures – getting into the Grand Palais now requires more bag and I.D. checks than the United States.Still buzzing from Like Father, Like Son the night before, not even Jimmy P. could bring me down. At the press conference for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film (they say never meet your heroes, but you should sit in rooms with them and hear them talk if you can), we got some great insights into the film. One of the most fascinating revelations was that the child actors in the film were never given the script; the adult actors had set lines to deliver and the kids were invited to just respond to those. As the star Masahuru Fukuyama put it, ‘we just let them play’.

Surely the quote of the festival so far came from six-ish-year-old actor Shogen Hwang, who was asked what he thought of Like Father, Like Son and of working on it. Translated from the Japanese into French before being fed by a second interpreter into my earpiece in English, little Shogen responded: ‘It was fun and very interesting,’ before pausing to add ‘The end was not a real end, and I like it.’ If I were a film critic in Japan I’d be watching my back, because that kid would have my job in 15 years!

I dropped by the Irish Pavilion, to check on how the Film Board were succeeding in  promoting their wares and steal some of their coffee and wifi. Things seemed to be going well, although the intermittent rain was disabling their terrace from being used for meetings. Never underestimate the role the sun can play in business transactions.

Playing as part of the Cannes Classic section of the festival, Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (The Lonely Wife) was a chance for me to brush up on my film history. Both Ray and Indian cinema are massive blank spots on my to-see list, so this was an unmissable chance (although only because nothing else newer and more appealing was on at the same time). A pleasant love-triangle drama with some plucky musical asides, it gets a little bogged down in period politics of its 1870s setting. Slowly paced, its late afternoon screening time was perhaps ill-judged, and the audience began dozing on a pretty wide scale. The cinema, the Salle Buñuel, has the most legroom I have ever come across in any theatre, so I suppose I can’t blame the sleepyheads.

Had dinner with a friend, American filmmaker Heather Fink, over in Cannes gathering finances for her end-of the-world comedy http 404, about mankind’s struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world without internet. Given the pathetic quality of the wifi (or ‘weefee’ as they say here) around Cannes, I feel like I am already living in that universe, and it is hell.

The only hell worse than not having internet is queuing, and queue we did. In line for the hugely in-demand Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest from the Coen brothers, a big crowd of lowly journalists waited two hours just to get in. The press pass system here is cruelly tiered, with white and pink badged hacks waltzing in 15 minutes before the movie starts while the blues and yellows camp out hoping that the pastels leave us a few seats. Carnage broke out when the doors finally opened, but a preposterous decision from on high meant that only the blue badges could go through – desperate film critics shoved and tore their way through the crowd. Tensions and bodies became heated. New aromas never before smelled by man were invented. By the end of the debacle, the yellows were turned away, cut off by Cannes’ cruel system of journalistic apartheid. There was nothing to be done except go to the bar for a much-needed drink.

Sunday I took off, hanging out in suburban beach town Antibes to catch up on sleep, writing, and most important of all food. Cannes is so hectic and expensive that many people struggle to manage even one meal a day, living off of espresso and free M&Ms. No doctor has yet come out in support of the Cannes diet, but a week in the results are already speaking for themselves in terms of belt notches. And in terms of scurvy.

However, since the only thing better than not watching movies is watching movies, I opted to head back into Cannes Sunday night for my first black tie event of the festival. The black tie dos here are ticketed affairs, and while tickets must be requested by the plebs of the cinema, many people opt to camp out in their finery hoping that a generous and busy patron of the festival will throw them a spare. This was my only option. Standing there like a nob in my somehow still wearable debs tux with a scrap of paper reading ‘un billet s’il vous plait’, I felt like the festival was beginning to turn against me. But only for five minutes; that’s how long I was there before someone gave me a ticket for the premiere of Borgman. Beggars can’t be choosers, but they can be winners.

 

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 Mr Neary scrubbed up

Ascending the red carpet staircase of the Lumière with a bombardment of camera flashes firing off all around was one of those rare experiences of satisfaction you get as a cinephile. Inside Ifound myself  seated in the best available place some hundred feet above the main floor and waited for the director and his cast to arrive for the film to start.

Borgman, the Netherlands’ first entry in competition in nearly 40 years, is a twisted black comedy thriller horror satire that feels like the illegitimate child of Dogtooth and Boudu Saved From Drowning. Borgman, played by Christoph Waltz’s cousin (probably) Jan Bijvoet, is a fiendishly manipulative homeless man who blags his way into the suburban home of a miserably well-off family. Things start out strange, and get stranger, before getting absolutely batshit demented as Borgman takes complete control of the household, bodies begin to pile up and reality begins to collapse on itself. Disturbing but often hilariously funny, it is one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival so far.

The only real disappointment of the night was the four French teens to my left, who talked and checked their phones and falsely hollered laughing when the audience laughed all through the movie. The only thing worse than louts is louts in tuxedos. Steven Soderbergh’s right, the cinema experience really is dying. If it can happen at Cannes, it can happen anywhere.

Having missed the last train to Antibes, the only option was to party through the night, resulting in me missing the first train as well. Worried about when I would ever catch up on the sleep I was missing, a fellow rail user provided some help by wising me up to the concept of the ‘Cannes nap’. This ingenious ploy is performed by finding a film that you don’t want to see that is on during a gap in your schedule and going in purely with the intention of falling asleep for the film’s duration. Films not in your own language are of course preferable so you’re not being woken by the dialogue. I didn’t know how soon I was going to need one of these…

Arriving back at my apartment, my alarm having gone off en route from the train station, I climbed out of my tux and into the shower before heading straight back to Cannes like some kind of film devouring machine.

First up was Takashi Miike’s in competition thriller Wara No Tate (Shield of Straw), about a group of cops protecting a killer from innumerable bounty hunters after the billionaire grandfather of his murder victim puts a colossal sum on his head. At least, I think that’s what it’s about. I couldn’t be certain, since the subtitle track in English didn’t work. Normally I would take this as an opportunity to walk out of the film, but given my schedule for the day, I switched to a seat near the back, took off my glasses, put on my sunglasses and took a Cannes nap, falling unconscious for two blissful hours.

I didn’t miss much it seems. There were boos in one screening, and most critics agreed it was a waste of a competition slot. With another hour to kill, I headed down to the beach and rested to try and keep my energy up for the day of movies ahead.

Determined to see it at the festival since it won’t hit cinemas until December at the earliest, I queued once more for Inside Llewyn Davis, and this time got in. An intimate film from the Coens about a folk singer in 1962 New York, it’s another triumph for the pair. Drifting between comedy and heavy introspective drama, Oscar Isaac (Drive) is astounding as Llewyn, a tortured artist furious at his own music because it won’t provide a future for him. If there’s a better soundtrack this year, I’ll be shocked.

Feeling accomplished after catching that, I got queuing for one of my most anticipated films of the festival, La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty). Director Paolo Sorrentino’s last film, the Dublin/America-set This Must Be the Place was a troubled, if beautiful, mess, and I was very much hoping for a return to form with the director reuniting with his muse Toni Servillo. Alas I was to be disappointed. Ostensibly a retread of Fellini’s La Dolce VitaLa Grande Bellezza sees Servillo playing an aged libertine struggling to start a second novel decades after his first work became an astonishing success. Immaculately shot with suitably oddball asides, Sorrentino’s film is never less than eye-blisteringly beautiful, and Servillo is perfect in the role, but the story meanders from scene to scene without effectively building its themes, and it struggles to come together at the end. It’s a step up from This Must Be the Place, but still a long away from the glorious heights of his The Consequences of Love and Il Divo.

Racing from that screening I had very little time to make it to a cinema down the promenade to catch Irish director Ruairi Robinson’s Last Days on Mars. With the streets thronged with black tie and gowned moviegoers queuing for disappointment in Wara No Tate, navigating my way to the film before it started turned out to be impossible, and I took this as a sign from the cine-gods that I badly needed to go home and get some sleep.

Halfway through the festival now, and with no decisive leader for the Palme D’Or, anything could happen yet. Most likely more films though. We’ll see what else.

 

Check out David Neary’s previous diary entries:

Cannes Diary: Days 2-3
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…

Cannes Diary: Day 1
David Neary brushes shoulders with the stars and an umbrella salesman at Cannes.

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Cannes Diary: Day 2-3

France Cannes The Bling Ring Photo Call.JPEG-0cf6b

 

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.

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Cannes Diary: Day 1

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David Neary brushes shoulders with the stars and an umbrella salesman at Cannes.

It was a damp start to the 66th Cannes Film Festival  the deluge began just as the stars began to walk the red carpet into the Grand Théâtre Lumière in the Palais des Festivals.

But it had been a bright, if cloudy day up to that point; the town was busy with the arrivals of film industry professionals, up-and-coming filmmakers, over-enthusiastic cinephiles and journalists from all corners and all media.

Navigating the Palais, an unending stream of free espresso as my only fuel,  I found myself waiting with the photographers and TV cameras outside the Great Gatsby press conference – which was already full to the brim inside. The slightest flicker of a celebrity approaching and several score cameras leapt into the air like the alert heads of meerkats when a predator is suspected to be approaching. Carey Mulligan walked by – radiant, in couturest of black outfits – and I thought for a moment I might faint from her beauty; actually the press corps have been waiting so long that the heat their bodies is emitting is now overwhelming. As Leonardo DiCaprio passed by, I slipped out of the crowd before I was crushed to death by a flurry of camera bags and tripods.

Eager not to miss Gatsby, lest I not have anything to talk about to anyone for the rest of the Festival, I placed myself at the top of the queue for the afternoon press screening. The tiered system of press passes meant that despite my punctuality a few hundred more premiere journos got let in ahead of me. I whiled away the time planning my schedule for the coming days and chuckling at the solitary brown pigeon strutting his stuff on the red carpet, and the burly security type singularly failing to scare it off.

The Great Gatsby, the opening film of the festival, is an attractive if soulless venture that eschews much of the subtlety of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel in order to focus almost solely on the central love affair, creating a hybrid of Gatsby and the director Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! A short duration into the film I had to change my 3D glasses, which were malfunctioning and distorting the images. The Parisienne to my right texted throughout the film. Remember folks, if it can happen at a screening in Cannes, it can happen anywhere!

The press screenings over, the jury could begin to assemble for the Opening Ceremony. Steven Spielberg, head of the jury this year, walked past sporting the most stylish flatcap the movie industry may have ever seen. In honour of his presence, Jaws is being screened at the open-air Cinéma de la Plage next week, and the theme music from Jurassic Park can be heard playing in the men’s room. The press attempted to bait the jury on a variety of issues, including Spielberg and fellow jury member Ang Lee’s “rivalry” since Lee took home the Best Director Oscar for Life of Pi over Spielberg for Lincoln, but the jury members were putting up a unified front. Christoph Waltz seemed delighted with all the attention. As the rains began to fall and the wind began to whip them up, Nicole Kidman looked less than comfortable on the red carpet, clinging to her umbrella and joking with reporters that she felt she might blow away like Mary Poppins. It remains to be seen what they thought of Luhrmann’s film.

On the other side of the Palais, arrogant and Irish, I queued in the now undeniably lashing rain for the press screening of Mexican drama Heli, while rebuffing the offers of quick-witted salesmen trying to pass me on overpriced umbrellas. In retrospect I should have coughed up.

Heli, from Mexican director Amat Escalante, whose film Sangre screened at Cannes out of competition in 2005, is a superb work. Hard-hitting from its grim opening shot and the barbaric conclusion to its first scene, it is also often witty and tender. But as a story about a drug deal gone bad in a rural town, there is not much room for happiness, and Heli features some truly brutal scenes of violence and torture. Twice the audience unleashed gasps of horror, which the film earned with moments of despicable, believable cruelty.

Outside again, and the attendees of the Gatsby premiere looked bedraggled in their waterlogged gowns and tuxes; the rain thundering down now. This is the price you pay to look fabulous in a Mediterranean town still suffering the unpredictable weather of late spring.

Hopefully the rain is the only washout that will hit Cannes this year. But there’s still plenty of time yet for something else to go wrong…

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