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.
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 Vita, La 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.