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.