Friday, May 14, 2004

Cannes #2

Friends: This festival is surprisingly shaping up to be the most user-friendly and stress-free of the many festivals I've attended. Unlike other European festivals I can attest to (Berlin, Rotterdam, Midnight Sun and Thessaloniki) I don't have to be careful to make sure a screening has English subtitles, as there are English electronic subtitles below the screen along with the French subtitles superimposed on all the non-French films.

Despite the huge numbers of us here, I have be able to see everything I've wanted and without having to line up a long time ahead of time, as one must do at Sundance and often at Toronto. Most of the screenings have been near capacity, but I have yet to be in one with people scrounging for a place to sit. I've been relegated to the balcony more often then I'd prefer, but that's a minor quibble. It is also most pleasant not to have to go to a box office first thing in the
morning, as at Berlin, Rotterdam and Thessaloniki, to acquire tickets for the day. The weather is warm, with sun-bathers on the beach, but not in the water. And there's not much of a wait for the Internet.

Now I just need to see a great film or two. That will come, as the festival is just amping up. I've
seen eleven films so far in 48 hours and all but those first market screenings have been worthwhile. My first screening in the Un Certain Regard category was Abbas Kirostami's documentary "10 on 10." It was essentially a film essay, as he speaks to the camera for 74 minutes as he drives around Tehran, just like many of his characters in his feature films have done, visiting the sites of some of his movies. His commentary was only broken by occasional snippets from his films "ABC Africa" and "10." He spoke in Fahrsi. The film had an English voice over and French subtitles. It is essential viewing for those who appreciate this former Palm d'Or winner's work. Kirostami was introduced by Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of the festival and occasional Telluride attendee. Kirostami didn't say anything other than thanks for coming. He received an ovation after the film, but there was no Q&A, as there would have been at most other festivals.

I followed this up with another documentary, "Salvador Allende" by Patricio Guzman, also introduced by Fremaux, the only films of those I've seen that have been introduced. He spoke in French and English with Kirostami, but only French here, other than one quick English aside. This too was a personal film with Guzman narrating the story of Allende, Chile's populist president who was overthrown by the CIA in the '70s. His key subject is the former U.S. ambassador to Chile at the time, who fully acknowledged that Nixon and Kissinger wanted to unseat Allende, but expresses no remorse for their meddling. That's how the world operates, the powerful looking out for their own interests at all costs, he implies. Nixon didn't even want Allende to take office, as he had clearly aligned himself with Castro and referred to the US as enemy number one. This film will go well with two other films here, "The Motorcycle Diaries," about Che, and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911." The film received a prolonged ovation, mostly over its message, not necessarily over how well done it was.

I ended my evening with the Swiss film "Bienvenue en Suisse" by Lea Fazer, a farce, much of whose humor an American audience would not get. This was European commercial fare. It was not quite lame-brained, but close to it. There was plenty of yodeling, but no lederhausen. It let out close to midnight. With the first screening the next day at 8:30, we high-tailed it back to the camp ground in less than 15 minutes. We had to use a special card to open the gate, which is closed from eight a.m. to eight p.m. So the gate was locked when we left this morning as well.

We tried a different bakery this morning on our way in, but it was no cheaper than yesterday's. The lady in front of us asked for, "Un baguette, s'il vous plait," just as if we were in France. As we zipped past the Palais to lock up our bikes I spotted Milos from Facets for the first time on his way to the same screening and exchanged a quick greeting.

Today's first screening, Emir Kusturica's "Life Is A Miracle," had a slightly earlier starting time as it was two-and-a-half hours long. This was a farce of a different sort than last night's light fare. This had the same rollicking energy but with more at stake than a two million Swiss franc inheritance. It takes place in Bosnia in 1992 as war spills over into a remote village. A lovesick donkey wants to commit suicide and a cat and dog flare up at each other. As usual, Kusturica is more bent on entertainment than enlightenment. Not even the loud um-pah-pah score could keep the woman next to me from continually nodding off.

The day's second film in the Palais, "Mondovino," a documentary on the wine industry by Joanthan Nossiter, was also two-and-a-half hours long, though it felt as if it were five hours long. People began dribbling out of it after half an hour, though for those who are devoted to the beverage, such as Jesse, it wasn't long enough. Nossitor interviews wine growers and conniusseurs from all over the world--France, Napa Valley, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Two of his featured subjects are a French wine consultant and the American critic Robert Parker, who has been awarded the French Legion of Honor and whose nose is insured for one million dollars. The director didn't shy away from showing the egotism and smallness of his many subjects, catching them in various unguarded moments. He includes a farting dog and servants interrupting interviews and a husband sniping at a wife and all sorts of other extraneous detail, implying we are not to take these people all that seriously, and though at least one grower asserts that people who pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of wine aren't snobs, maybe they and those who provide it for them are. The director's tone and message waver from giving these people respect and credence to occasional stabs in the back. He had many interesting subjects and could have made a very riveting documentary focusing on any one of them or seriously tightening the film. Jesse thinks its great, I thought it was an interesting failure.

That's my Internet break for the day. Now it's off to the nearby Director's Fortnight for my next three films.

Later, George

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