Thursday, May 13, 2004

Cannes #1

Friends: And the films have begun. They started off at a trickle yesterday with just 40 screenings, all market screenings that some film-maker has paid thousands of dollars for, hoping his film will gain some notice and distribution. Today we have some 300 films to choose from and tomorrow, Friday, there will be even more.

There are some 30,000 film professionals in attendance, 4,000 of which are press. There was a huge mob of us waiting to pick up our credentials yesterday morning. The process was well organized, and we had our passes within half an hour without any hassle. We had to go to a different building to redeem a certificate for an official Film Fest canvas messenger style bag with about 25 pounds of literature including schedules and a 10-pound 1,000 page book with all the attendees, including Jesse and I. I'm here representing My Sister's Cutting Room. There I
was, picture and all, sandwiched between MTV productions and Myriad Pictures. Myriad is representing the John Sayles movie, "Silver City," with Chris Cooper. It has two market screenings.

Jesse gave me a quick introduction to the various venues, which hadn't changed since he was here two years ago working as an intern at the American Pavilion. There was a huge maze of booths on several floors for the many distributors and film organizations conducting business. As we wandered past one booth, we heard someone pitching, "This picture could be a big hit all over the world," perhaps the mantra of the festival. There are nearly 50 theaters ranging in size from 40 seats to several hundred, devoted strictly to market screenings. And then there are a four large theaters for the 100 or so invited films in several different categories--the Official Competition, Out-of-Competition, Un Certain Regard, Director's Fortnight and Critic's Week. Our credentials let us in to most of the screenings without a ticket. We only need tickets, referred to as "invitations," for the 20 Competition films playing in the grand Palais Theater. We acquire our 'invitations" by requesting them a day in advance of each screening.

We began our smorgasbord yesterday at two p.m. with an Icelandic film, "A Revelation for Haines," by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson in a 40-seat venue that was half full. We knew nothing about the film, not even its crucial running time, as it wasn't listed in the catalog. Even if it were, we wouldn't have known much about it as none of the films in the market are given much more than a single sentence description along with its genre and the cast and director. It was a satire on Icelandic bureaucracy focusing on a 50-year old nebbish who lived with his mother and was enamored by his secretary's mammary glands. This may find an Icelandic audience, but nothing beyond. We were lucky it was only 75 minutes long. But if it had gone beyond 90 minutes we would have been spared the embarrassment of blundering in to a 3:30 screening of "The Prince and Me."

Neither of us recognized the title of this Julia Stiles comedy that played in the States this past winter. It was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Icelandic film of what plays in the market--a big budget Hollywood production looking for more distribution world wide. The 90-seat theater was near capacity. We had no other choice of movies, so we endured it.. At least I could flash back to Stiles' brilliant performance in "Business of Strangers," while she wasted her talents in this trivial love story. I might have given the film a modicum of respect if the Danish prince Stiles falls in love with had mentioned Bjarne Riis, the only Dane to win the Tour de France and Tyler Hamilton's coach last year, or Lars Van Trier, the Danish film-maker who always causes a stir here at Cannes, as famous Danes, when he was asked by Julia's farm boy brothers if anyone from Denmark had ever done something significant. Instead he mentions a rock star and a super-model.

Jesse and I didn't bring formal attire with us on our bikes so we can't attend the evening screenings at the Palais. Last night was Opening Night debuting Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education," the first time a Spanish film has been chosen as the Opening Night Film. We didn't even bother to join the throngs that had started amassing at nine a.m. to gawk at the celebrities as they strolled up the red carpet at the Palais as if this were the Oscars or the prologue for the Tour de France. Instead, we attended the six p.m. market screening of "We Don't Live Here Anymore" in a legitimate, several hundred seat theater a few blocks away from the hub of all activity. This was an American film directed by John Curran with Laura Dern, Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts and Paul Krause that had played at Sundance. Krause and Ruffalo are adulterous university literature professors in the Pacific Northwest and Dern and Watts are their wives who they end up having affairs with. The performances are all fine but the story plods and plods. The best part of the movie is that Ruffalo goes off on his cruiser bike to his assignations with Watts, and he thrills his two young children by asking them if they want to go off on bike rides. After the movie we finally encountered one of the many people we know attending the festival, Charles from Facets. He said he kept waiting for Ruffalo to scream "Stella." Charles was off to dinner with friends, unable to score a ticket to the Opening Night film, while Jesse and I hung around for the eight p.m. screening of "Buena Vida" in the same theater. This was an Argentinian film by Leonardo DiCesare that started out as a slight romance but threatened to turn into a Michael Haneke film. If only it had. There was a worthy performance from the conniving father of the young woman gas station attendant who seems to have fallen in love with her landlord/roommate until her mother, father and daughter move in without his permission and take over.

After that, we meandered over to the beach where "Hair" was being projected on a large screen on the beach. One had to have credentials to sit in one of the 200 canvas beach chairs facing the ocean, but anyone could watch and listen from the sidewalk. These nightly movies on the beach are the only screenings that the public is privy to. We watched for a few minutes before biking the three-and-a-half miles back to our campsite. It may be our only chance to get to bed before midnight in the next 12 days. We did stop at an Internet outlet on the way, but its computers were down, almost a relief enabling us to stock up on some shuteye. Most of our ride is along the Mediterranean on a narrow two lane road, but there was virtually no traffic. Cannes is much quieter than I anticipated. And this morning when we stopped at the local supermarket to stock up on food for the day on the way in to our first screening we were surprised to learn it didn't open until 8:30. So breakfast was quiche we picked up from a bakery.

We started today at nine a.m. at the 3,000 seat Palais with the first film in Competition to be screened, the Italian feature "The Consequences of Love," by second time director Paolo Sorrentino. It was the story of a respectable looking 60-year old man who is always dressed in a suit. He has spent the past eight years living in a hotel and no one knows why. His past is
gradually revealed. The director has an eye for pleasing detail from faces to the shooting spray of gigantic sprinklers. The lead conveys a beguiling mystique. This will most likely make the 250 film cut at Toronto's Film Festival, but not the 20 film cut of Telluride and just possibly Chicago's 75 film schedule.

Film number two for the day was the first film of the Director's Fortnight, half a mile up the beach from the Palais. Among all the great good advice that Helen of Chicago's Film Fest gave me, was that this would be among the easiest of screenings to get in to as not everyone wants to wander so far from the hub of things. As in all her advice, including recommending the free Internet at the Variety booth where I'm presently at, she was absolutely right. But we haven't had to sweat out getting into anything yet. That may change in an hour when we try to see Kiorstami's "10 on 10" at a mid-sized theater. Unlike at the Palais, we didn't have to have our bags checked or our bodies scanned by metal detectors at the Director's Fortnight. Nor were our passes scanned, nor were we asked for a business card, as is the custom at the market screenings, where the filmmakers want to know who is seeing their film so they can pursue them. I could see three movies a day hassle free in the Director's Fortnight sidebar if things heat up elsewhere.

"The Taste of Tea," a Japanese film by Ichii Katsuhito at 143 minutes was about an hour too long, especially with my legs still getting adjusted to the sedentary life. The film was a series of episodes in rural Japan ranging from hitting rocks with a baseball bat to playing Go and a very slight secretary beating the crap out of her boss. Most of the vignettes were meant to be comical. Some were mildly amusing and others less so. Still this is a director with a good eye for captivating images.

There are ten computers in this pavilion and I've more than taken up my time.

Later, George

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