Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Apt, France

Friends: I was anticipating the monument to Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange on the Galibier to be a statue of him in some dramatic pose, cheering and exhorting all who passed to "allez, allez" ("go-go, don't let up"), but evidently no sculptor could be found to adequately capture the "beyond category" energy and fanaticism of this de Gaulian figure when his monument was erected in 1974.

Instead, his monument is a towering, ten-foot tall, barrel-shaped pillar with the inscription, "To the Glory of Henri Desgrange, 1865-1940, Ancient Director and Creator of the Tour de France." Perhaps the pillar alludes to the pillar of salt he would want any racer who didn't give his all to be struck into. Desgrange was first a cyclist. He set 12 world track cycling records, including the hour record of 35.325 kilometers on May 11, 1893. After his cycling career he became a journalist. He was known for his hyperbolic and colorful prose and his autocratic and intransigent ways, antagonizing many riders. He created the Tour de France to increase the circulation of the newspaper he worked for. Other newspapers at the time sponsored one-day cycling races, but this one topped them all. From the very first race in 1903, it was a monumental event that captured the imagination of all of France, sending his newspaper's circulation sky-rocketing.

Even as director of the race, he continued to write about it, declaring the feats of its riders as among the greatest accomplishments in the history of mankind. As director, he never let up in his efforts to make the race more and more challenging, as if to demonstrate the greatness man and bike were capable of. For years after the invention of the derailleur he didn't allow its use in his race, declaring it made it too easy to climb the mountains. He tried to ban drafting and any outside assistance. His ultimate race would be so difficult, that its winner would be its lone survivor.

If he could have, Desgrange might have given me a nod of favor for climbing his favorite mountain with 50 pounds of gear, though he wouldn't have been too happy about my speed. There were a handful of other cyclists, all unladen, attempting it, A couple had been reduced to walking their bikes. I was hoping Lance might be training on it, as it will be included in this year's race, but it was probably a little too early for him. He no doubt plans his training well in advance, and since the road had just been reopened, he couldn't have counted on it being clear of snow by now. Plus it was a Sunday, a day when such scenic roads tend to attract more cyclists and drivers.

The southern approach to Desgrange's hallowed summit begins at the summit of the Col de Lautaret at 6,750', already above tree line and higher than the summits of L'Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux, the two most renowned of the Tour de France climbs. From the Col de Lautaret it is five-and-a-half miles to the summit of the Galibier, nearly 2,000 feet higher. The grade isn't as severe as other climbs, so it is not as dreaded a climb. Still, it is a beast. I spent several minutes at the snow shrouded Desgrange monument one kilometer from the summit cooling down and eating and drinking and hoping someone else might stop to pay homage, so I could get a picture of myself. But the closest anyone came to stopping was a guy who slowed to shout "Bravo" to me.

I had better luck at the summit though, where everyone was stopping to take in the stunning 360 degree panorama that included a distant Mont Blanc, Europe's highest peak. I imposed on an older couple speaking English. The woman said, "It's so nice to hear someone speak English. We've been having the toughest time. Yesterday we couldn't figure out how to get water." The German cyclist I met earlier in the week had a similar complaint of finding virtually no one who spoke English. He thought maybe because he was German the French were discriminating against him and simply pretending not to speak English.

This lady asked where I was from. At the mention of Chicago she blurted, "That's where I was born." I asked if she got back often. "Not since I left in 1936." She said she and her husband were traveling with her daughter and son-in-law, who had brought along folding bikes and were biking a bit while they drove. She was excited to tell me they were "gorilla camping." Her daughter was experienced at it, but it was their first time. They couldn't believe how easy it was. When her daughter and son-in-law appeared, climbing down from an overlook, she said, "You've got to meet this man. He's bicycled all the way from Paris." They were eager to hear of my impressions of biking in France, as they were greatly enjoying the little they had done so far and wondered if it was as good as it seemed. They were especially curious if I had found the shoulderless roads at all perilous. So far they hadn't had any close calls and were most impressed at how considerate the French drivers had been. I confirmed that had been my experience likewise, not only in 1,000 miles this year but in over 4,000 miles last summer too.

The more they learned of my experiences, the more they wanted to hear. It was a shame we hadn't met on the open road on our bikes heading the same direction as we had loads and loads to share. They lived in Banf-Jasper and were great outdoors people, though mostly as hikers and climbers. They'd done a bit of bike touring, a couple of weeks in Cuba and also in Holland, but they longed for extended travels such as I've done. We shook hands and wished each other luck before returning to our respective vehicles. A few minutes later they overtook me on the descent. They slowed for a few more words. The guy said, "One more thing. We'd love to be doing what you're doing. Do you mind if we ask how you can afford to do it?"

"I'm a bicycle messenger. That gives me the freedom to come and go as I please. On a good day I can earn enough to pay for a month of travel in a third world country. Europe of course is more expensive, but still it only took me two weeks to earn enough for three months over here, including air fare."

"We've got a mortgage, which makes it tough. But we'd sure like to figure out a way to be as free as you."

All for now, George

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Chantmerle, France

Friends: Unlike the Tour de France, the parade of sponsors that precedes the Giro d'Italia does not bombard the legions along the road with merchandise. All they dispense are waves and smiles and loud music and horn toots. The race is enough to bring out the Italians--no need to entice them with various trinkets and goodies. It was a mild disappointment not to have Giro souvenir refrigerator magnets and key chains and such to add to my Tour collection, but the biggest disappointment was not being able to compare how fanatically the Italians would scramble for them. I was shocked to see how obsessed the French could be, and knew the Italians had to be even more so, perhaps to such an extent that sponsor goodies had to be banned.

The Italians are in a class by themselves when it comes to devotion to the bicycle. While the French respect it, the Italians well nigh worship it. While I was in a restaurant eating a pizza in Sestriere the afternoon before the Giro was to arrive, person after person paused to examine my pannier-laden bike leaning against the restaurant window. They didn't give it a casual once over, but they'd kneel and look closely at its every feature, pointing out this and that to whoever they were with. Nowhere else I've traveled, except India, where they are crazy with curiosity, has my bike received such attention and reverence.

I arrived in Sestriere better than 24 hours before the Giro would conclude its 19th and next to last stage. I was far from the first arrival. The town was already aswarm with cyclists and RVs. I've passed through half a dozen or more ski towns during this foray into the Alps. This was the first that wasn't a virtual off-season ghost town. Even without the Giro coming, there would have been activity here, as it busily prepares to host the Winter Olympics next year.

As yellow is the color of the Tour, pink is the color of the Giro, and pink was everywhere (flowers, ribbons, banners and in just about everyone's attire). The Italians assert their obsessive devotion to their national bike race with such a profusion of pink, they make the French display of yellow a mere dab. There were considerably more official vans selling the Giro kit (a pink t-shirt and pink baseball hat), than I see at The Tour. And there was an equally greater percentage of Italians reading the pink sports section (which gave birth to the Giro and continues to sponsor it) than one sees reading the French equivalent during the Tour. People on bikes were in greater abundance too. I could somewhat blend in and wasn't showered with applause and bravos as in France. The touring cyclist is still a rarity, though I did see three others, much more than are to be seen at any one time at the Tour de France.

With Sestriere at nearly 6,500 feet and patches of snow besides my campsite on a cat-track under a chairlift, I feared I was in for my coldest night of the trip. Its been down in the 40's every night in the mountains, but I had yet to require any extra layers to stay warm, nor, surprisingly enough, on this night either. The balmy day-time temperatures don't allow it to get overly cold at night. I could hear raucous drumming coming from one of the RV encampments, but it didn't go on for long. The next morning Sestriere was totally clogged with tifosi (fanatics) hours and hours before the race was to arrive. They had a greater intensity than their French counterparts. The French patiently await the arrival of the racers, picnicking, playing games, reading, chatting. The Italians are much less relaxed and much much more eager for that moment. There was much more commotion and milling about, as if they were too anxious to simply bide their time.

Sestriere was at the summit of a six-mile climb about thirteen miles from the French border. On race day I continued over the summit for half a mile until I came to a break in the barriers that lined both sides of the road to keep the tifosi at bay. There would be no tight gauntlet of fans for the racers to pass through to the summit. I joined several hundred people already gathered on a semi-forested mountainside. There were scattered tents and barbecues and women sunning in bikinis and toddlers in pink and guys with the short sleeves of their shirts rolled up to maximize their tan. As the hours passed our numbers grew and grew. Unlike the Tour there was a scarcity of police monitoring the course. Bicyclists were still riding the course half an hour before the racers were due. It would make following The Tour much easier for me if the gendarmes in France were so lenient. The French harshly put the clamps down, evicting all but official vehicles from the race course, two hours or more before the racers pass, greatly comprising my ability to keep up with the race day after day.

When the string of racers passed, the fans cheered them mightily, especially the stragglers. A fan who jumped the fence to push one of the last racers was strongly booed. The fans reacted similarly last year in Milan, as several hundred of us watched the final mountain stage of the race on a large screen under a tent in the city plaza. Whenever the camera caught a fan pushing a straggler, everyone under the tent let out a vehement boo, even though we were over a hundred miles away from the action. That is what makes the tifosi what they are--extreme commitment and passion. They simply couldn't help themselves. Its a thrill to be around such fanaticism.

After the stage finished, I joined many other cyclists on the six-mile descent back towards France followed by a five-mile climb to the border and then a descent down to Briancon and then off towards the Col de Galibier. That will conclude a week in the Alps and then its off to Provence and less strenuous cycling. I had been hoping to come upon a television somewhere before I returned to France to watch the dramatic end of the day's stage, but there was none to be found. That was a major disappointment.

Later, George

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Briancon, France

Friends: Banners on all the light posts along the main thoroughfares in Briancon proudly proclaim, "The Tour is coming, The Tour is coming." It will arrive on July 13 and depart the next day, Bastille Day, a stage that attracts the largest throngs of the Tour. This city of 11,000, nestled in the high Alps, is a frequent Ville Etape (Stage City), as it is the only town large enough in this isolated sector of France capable of hosting the thousands who comprise the Tour entourage. Briancon lies at the foot of one of the Tour's legendary climbs, the Col d'Izoard, and is less than 25 miles from the summit of another, the Col de Galibier, favorite of Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange. The Galibier is one of the highest and has perhaps the most spectacular views. Desgrange put it in a category by itself. He said all other climbs were "gnat's piss by comparison."

I crossed the Izoard this morning, biking past patches of snow along the road. I had learned my lesson from last year to verify ahead of time what passes are open and which aren't. The Galibier, which is 800 feet high at 8675 feet, has yet to open. I'm hoping that will change after I return from Italy and the Giro d'Italia in a few days. It has been bright and sunny the past few days with the day time temps in the '80s. The snows gotta be melting fast over there. I plan on making an attempt on it whether or not its open to motorized traffic.

When not a vehicle passed me the first 45 minutes as I climbed the Izoard today, I was worried my information was wrong about it being open, but it was just too early for anyone else to be out. I had another sensational campsite in a pine forest the night before just past a ski town. The night before that I pitched my tent beside a fast rushing stream that drowned out all other noise. I had passed swarms of marmots coming over the Col de Coyelle late that afternoon. I was concerned they might come nipping around my campsite, but evidently they prefer higher elevations, as I saw no evidence of them at my encampment. I still marvel at the ease and the quality of the wild, or "savage", as the French call it, camping here.

The Izoard is such a popular climb for cyclists, there is a bicycle lane on the climb up from Briancon, though not up the side I climbed. It doesn't matter much this time of the year as I haven't encountered more than three or four cars an hour the past three days since leaving the coast. I see about twice as many motorcycles, usually in pairs, but sometimes in packs of five or six. And there is an occasional lone cyclist, though none carrying gear as I am. I met a German cyclist who loves this area so much, he returns to it year after year. He had set up a base in a campgrounds at a town large enough to have a supermarket and was spending three weeks there, as a training camp, riding the many passes. When I mentioned I had just come from Cannes his immediate response was, "Did you see the Jarmush film?" He said the local papers had been full of news from Cannes. The other big story was a vote this Sunday on whether France wanted to accept some EU measure. He said Germans didn't get to vote on it, their politicians decided for them. He said Germany, too, holds all their elections on Sundays and was surprised that we vote on Tuesdays in America.

There is a museum devoted to the Tour de France at the summit of the Izoard, but unfortunately it was too early in the season for it to be open. But I was at least treated to a pair of plaques, about a mile below the summit up the side I climbed, honoring two of the great cyclists from the '50s--the Italian champion of champions Fausto Coppi and French three-time winner of the Tour Louison Bobet. They were mounted on a majestic thrust of rock opposite the cliff side of the road.

I'm just getting my conditioning back after two weeks of watching movies. The next couple of days will be semi-recovery days of less than 25 miles each. Its just eight miles to Italy and then a few miles more to the ski town of Sestriere, where I'll spend the day awaiting the Italian peloton on the climactic mountain stage of the Giro, the day before the three-week race concludes in Milan. Two light days ought to leave me fresh and primed for my climb of the Galibier. Then I'll double back to Briancon and ride the 110-mile Bastille Day Briancon to Digne stage. The Briancon tourist office had all the details of the route. I'll continue following the Tour route across the bottom of France until I reach Montpellier, a Ville Etape, then head 50 miles north to visit friends Craig and Onni from Chicago, who spend six months each year in a small village in the mountains. With luck we may get to see Lance on Mont Ventoux, about 100 miles from them, in the Daphine-Libere week-long race, his final tune-up before the Tour. As always, lots to look forward to.

Later, George

Monday, May 23, 2005

Day 12

Friends: A different jury could have easily granted "Battle in Heaven" the Palm d'Or, which would have delighted some and appalled many others. This Mexican feature by second time director Carlos Reygadas was by far the most audacious, and perhaps the most artful, film in Competition, not only with its extremely graphic sex, but its story and its handling of it.

It qualified as the ultimate film of the festival featuring a teen-aged girl satisfying her lusts, though that is not the main thrust of the story. The movie revolves around a dumpy, forlorn forty-year old security guard who also serves as the driver for a teen-aged girl who lives with her wealthy family. The guard is especially morose as he and his wife have kidnapped a baby and it dies, though we see none of this. He seeks solace from the girl, engaging in very explicit sex with her. Reygadas even films his stiff member slowly collapse after their congress, just one of his many devastatingly original shots. Unlike most of the other teen-aged girls in heat movies, this didn't pander or sensationalize. Reygadas establishes a very somber mood and maintains it throughout. Perhaps more than any other movie of the festival, I am eager to experience this one again.

The credits of David Cronenber's "A History of Violence" warn that it is based on a graphic novel. Maybe that was meant as a disclaimer for the ridiculous, almost farcical, behavior of the characters of this movie, which jerks from scene to scene with as many holes in them as the multitude of shot-up characters in this movie about a man with a past that catches up to him 25 years later.

I had no desire to see "Sin City," the American film by Robert Rodriguez that opened in the States a month ago and was included in Competition here, but since there was nothing else to see when it was playing, I gave it a look. An hour of the barrage of wall-to-wall violence with a little sex sprinkled in was enough for me.

"Tale of Cinema" from Korea was a good antidote to this pair of pulp movies meant to titillate. It was almost an exercise in making an art movie, slow-paced and with an inconsequential story of suicide and the love of cinema and a distressed young man obsessed with an actress.

My twelve days of wall-to-wall movies concluded with the Chinese "Shanghai Dreams" by the director of "Beijing Bicycle." It takes place in the 1980s in rural China, where people from the city have been sent to work in their small factories. Few are happy about it. This finely captures the detail of such life and is accentuated by a handful of dramatic moments. Among the noteworthy scenes is a remarkable dance hall episode with the young men of the town dancing together to "Rivers of Babylon" while the young women shyly stand shoulder-to-shoulder, some
gripping each other, watching.

And my totals for my twelve days of cinema: 66 movies, which included all 21 of the films in Competition, 14 of the 22 in Un Certain Regard, 10 of the 21 in the Director's Fortnight, 7 of the 14 in the Critic's Week, 13 of the 1,200 or so films in the Market and the closing night film, and I was happy to have seen most of them.

There were seven that could easily end up on my Top Ten List for the year: Battle in Heaven, Hidden, Down in the Valley, Broken Flowers, The Child, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Death of Mister Lazaresqu. There were another seven that have the potential to make that year end list: Grizzly Man, Factotum, The King, Johanna, Room, Me and You and Everyone We Know and One Night. There are another seven that after gestating for a while could move up to that group of films in waiting for the top ten: Grain in Ear, The Bow, Earth from Above, Last Days, Lemming, Wolf Creek, and Once You've Been Born. There are another seven just a cut below that I was glad to have seen and will stick with me: Monster Thursday, The President's Last Bang, Northeast, Pele Forever, Time to Leave, Free Zone and Southern Extreme.

As I review the films I have left out, I see others that were an enjoyable movie-going experience: Manderlay, Habana Blues, Off Screen...

And, in a class by itself was "Hell on Wheels," the German documentary on the Tour de France, a film that had me beaming from start to finish.

Now it is off to the Alps to scout out this year's Tour de France route and also to see a mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia.

Later, George

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Day 11

Friends: As I sat in the Debussy Theater waiting for the awards ceremony to begin this Saturday night the person sitting next to me spoke to me in English, one of the rare times that has happened during the festival. He wanted to know who I thought might win the Palm d'Or. I was hoping for "Hidden" but knowing how much juries like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, I feared it could be his "Three Times." My seatmate, a long-haired, 50-year old producer from London practically spat out, "I saw that film last night, it was terrible. I know all the critics loved it, but I haven't talked to anyone who liked it."

And the nine-person jury, headed by Serbian director Emir Kusturica, two-time winner of the Palm d'Or, wasn't under the spell of Hou Hsiao-Hsien either, siding with the masses. They totally ignored "Three Times," which easily could have won any of the seven awards they handed out for best actor, best actress, best director, best screenplay and for their three favorite films.

The Palm d'Or for best film went to Belgium's Dardennes brothers for "The Child" and second best to Jim Jarmush's "Broken Flowers", which I saw back-to-back one memorable morning. The Jury Price for the third best film went to the Chinese "Shanghai Dreams." Rather than winning best picture, Michael Haneke had to settle for best director for "Hidden," which won best picture from several other organizations giving out awards here.

As big a surprise as "Three Times" being shut out was Tommie Lee Jones film, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," winning two awards for best screen play and best actor, violating the festival's unwritten policy of spreading the awards out among as many films as possible and not giving more than one to any film. Juror Salma Hayek was a big supporter of the film and evidently was a dominant force on the jury. Hanno Laso from the Isareli "Free
Zone" won best actress, a bit of a surprise as well. This portly actress, who bore a resemblance to juror French director Agnes Varda, was one of a trio of actresses, including Natalie Portman, featured in this film. Some on the jury wished to give the award to all three of them. Curiously, Laslo did not acknowledge the other two actresses in her acceptance speech. Jarmush acknowledged by name almost all twenty other directors in the competition category in his
acceptance speech and paid special reverence to Hou Hsiao-Hsien by calling "Mr."

Before the evening awards ceremony I played catch-up with the Un Certain Regard category, seeing four of its films I had missed during the festival. The first was "Marock" from Morroco. This film about the hedonist bourgeoisie youth of Morocco could just have easily taken place in Beverly Hills. It was quite a contrast to a powerful Moroccan film that played in the Critic's Week section last year about the hardships of the working class in Morocco barely able to eke out an existence. "Marock" was another that fit into the predominant theme this year of highly-
desirable, sex-charged teen-aged girls pursued by slightly older and more mature young men who do not meet the approval of their fathers. Last year I saw film after film about tormented, alienated young women, films that were much more real and relevant.

"The Death of Mister Lazaresqu" from Romania oozed realism. I had shied away from this film based on its running time, 2 hours and 34 minutes, about the longest of the festival, but after it won best picture from the Un Certain Regard jury, headed by "Sideways" director Alexander Payne, it became a must-see. The film covers the last six hours of Lazaresqu's life from the time he calls for an ambulance in his cramped, cluttered apartment to his death in the fourth of four hospitals he's shunted around to. Sixty-two year old Lazaresqu has been alone for eight years since his wife died and has turned into an a bit of an alcoholic. Everyone he encounters, his neighbors who come to his assistance, the ambulance staff, the nurses and doctors, all comment on the alcohol on his breath, taking him for a drunk and advising him to quit drinking. One doctor asks him, "Do you smoke too?" When he says, "Yes," the doctor snaps back, "Good,
keep it up." Such is the caustic tone that prevails throughout this exceptionally well done chronicle of the perils of health care in Romania, and probably just about anywhere.

"Get Up and Walk" from Africa won the prize for the best film by a young director from Payne's jury. Like "Moolade" last year, it adeptly portrays life in a small African village that is dominated by the male elders. A woman is accused of being a witch and the cause of death and troubles in the village and is exiled. Her daughter comes to her rescue and stands up to the superstitious tribal ways.

"Eli, Eli" from Japan has the potential of becoming a Midnight Movie with a cult following. It takes place in the year 2015 in a remote rural part of Japan. An epidemic, known as the Lemming Syndrom, is sweeping the world and has already killed millions. Someone in this town has accidentally discovered the virus can be halted by various screeching sounds. Like a sounds effect expert, he is recording and experimenting with all sorts of sounds. Some are a great test of the patience of those in the movie theater. Some were so irritating that it had people literally running out of the theater, a site I've never seen before. I've seen people in a rush to get out and refusing to look at the screen when perhaps the sex or violence got too much for them, but with such sounds as a bow across wire or a resounding guitar, people fled as if they were being chased by killer bees.

"Chromophobia" was the closing night film after the awards ceremony. It was an English production by Martha Fiennes starring brother Ralph and Penelope Cruz and Kristen Scott Thomas. There were more story lines in this two hour plus long tale of life in London than stripes on a zebra, and miraculously they don't totally strangle it. There is a wife who wants to augment her breasts, a stripper with cancer who a social worker is trying to help, an investment councilor handling the blind trust of a government minister who doesn't like it being blind, a journalist who betrays a friend for a story, a judge with an illegitimate child, a gay art collector who may be a pedophile and that's not even the half of it.

One day to go. Tomorrow I get to see the five Competition films I missed. Then it will be back to the bike.

Later, George

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Day 10

Friends: The audiences this year have been significantly subdued, or better behaved, compared to last year. It wasn't uncommon last year to hear an outburst of applause indicating someone's approval of a political comment in a movie or a sudden boo from someone who was offended by an act or remark. It was a quaint little gesture, that I miss, showing how much people cared. Maybe it was the Michael Moore virus of boorish behavior that infected last year's fest, or, maybe, it's just because the films this year are essentially apolitical.

That good behavior came to an end, however, today in the final two competition screenings that started my day. The opening credits to the much-anticipated Taiwanese "Three Times" were entirely in Chinese. After several names individually filling the screen had been flashed, someone let loose a burst of applause, a little joke that brought laughter, as audiences are prone to applaud a name when that person has been introduced before the screening and is in attendance, though not this time. And then others got into the act, applauding the next few names that came up. This had to be an act tantamount to sacrilege in the eyes of those who consider the film's director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, a virtual deity and whose films are defined by their subtlety and solemnity. This was a most inappropriate tone to set for this film. I was surprised the film's producers didn't demand the offenders immediately ejected and the screening to be recommenced.

"Three Times" is three separate stories of love featuring the same actor and actress taking place in 1911, 1966 and 2005. The story lines of each are straight forward enough that this is less tedious fare than Hou Hsiao-Hsien is known for, but there was more of the Cannes head bob going on around me, some of it with snoring, than any other film of the festival. His films are always the most walked out upon when they play at Chicago's Festival, as all too many people, not knowing better, pay attention to the critics, who consider whatever he does a masterpiece. His first segment, the one which takes place in 1966, had the most sensuous moment of this festival, a simple close-up of two hands slowly intertwining at the film's conclusion.

The start of Tommie Lee Jones directorial debut, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," was likewise marred by several audience members flashing their cameras at the Cannes insignia that precedes each film. They were in extreme violation of Festival regulations, as all bags are searched before each screening looking for explosive devices and cameras. Someone got a big laugh from the audience when, between the opening promo and the start of the film, he shot a picture of the empty screen.

This commotion almost helped enhance the tone for this tale of Tommie Lee Jones taking the murdered body of a Mexican friend of his back to Mexico to be buried by horseback along with the border patrol official who murdered him with the the authorities in pursuit. When the competition schedule was announced there was considerable doubt expressed whether this was worthy of a competition slot and not just a cheap concession to get an American star to the festival as when Johnny Depp's sole directorial effort played in competition seven or eight years ago and has never been seen since. Jones proved himself to be worthy. It may even have
commercial possibilities despite the occasional subtitles.

With the festival winding down and just a minimum of choices I was forced into seeing the market screening of the mockumentary "All That I Need." This was a micro-budget American production about a pyramid scam. The cast includes a crazed used-car salesman, a judge, a priest, a former IRS agent who insists that paying taxes is voluntary, an investment banker, a cancer patient and a stripper. There might have even been a serial killer among them. This attempt at a movie was a very unsubtle study of greed and lust.

My much anticipated "Habana Blues," the first film by the Spaniard Benito Zembrano since his sensational debut "Solas" in 1999, was honored with the closing night slot for the "Un Certain Regard" category. It will also be the final film played in the outdoors theater on the beach tomorrow night at 9:30, implying that it is an audience-pleaser.

The film is about the struggles of young Cuban musicians and is full of adrenalin-rich musical numbers. The story has been told countless times of musicians everywhere. This has the wrinkle of the Cubans being virtual prisoners on their island. The two 28-year old leads are very charismatic and so is their music. Bicycles are ubiquitous in Cuba and in this movie as well.

With fewer choices of films I only managed five films this day, the first time in a week I've seen less than six movies. I saw a few frames of Scorcese's "The Last Waltz" at the outdoor theater on my way up to "Me and You and Everyone We Know," which had just been named the best film of the Critic's Week sidebar. This was no surprise, as this film had a buzz before it even got here, having played at Sundance. This debut feature by American Miranda July has been compared to "Slackers" with its meandering portrayal of a small cast of likeable and mostly wholesome characters who keep crossing paths with one another in a small town. Most of the interchanges are fairly sweet, but some would not have been out of place in Harmoni Korrine's "Gummo." Young filmmakers will be inspired by this low-budget production whose cast could all well have been friends of the director just helping her out in the effort to make a movie. This was a rare success story of such an effort.

Two days to go, but they will be a good two days, as all the films in Competition and in Un Certain Regard will be replayed, not all of which I have seen. I am most anxious to catch up with Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" and the Mexican "Battle in Heaven." I just have to hope neither of them wins the Palm d'Or, as then their screening will require formal attire, which I do not have, a fate that prevented me from seeing "Fahrenheit 911" last year when I delayed seeing it until the final Sunday. Haneke's "Hidden" still appears to be the front-runner, but Hou
Hsia-Hsien is always a threat, darling as he is of critics and film snobs and their brethren.

Later, George

Friday, May 20, 2005

Day 9

Friends: I pass three small bakeries, perhaps the lifeblood of French culture, along with cinema, within a five block stretch before I swing over to the beach on my three-and-a-half mile ride in to the movies each morning. Which one I stop at for my breakfast slice of quiche depends on how crowded each might be. If they each have more than two or three people waiting to be served, I'll dash into a small supermarket and settle for a standard-issue frozen quiche that I'll just have to wait to thaw.

Before I lock up outside the Palais and walk up its red-carpeted steps for the morning's 8:3 screening, I'll snatch the special Cannes Daily edition of "Variety" from their tent a few blocks up the beach from the Palais. I try to be at least 20 minutes early to secure an aisle seat for a quick getaway once the screening is over or to make a premature exit if the movie is a disaster, something I have yet had to do this year. Sometimes I'm forced almost to the rafters to get that prized aisle seat, as they go quick.

Today began with Wim Wender's "Don't Come Knocking." He teams up with writer/actor Sam Shepherd for the first time since their Palm d'Or winner of 20 years ago "Paris Texas." They return to the American West and a film shoot in Utah's Arches National Park. Shepherd is starring in the movie being shot, but is fed up with the life and escapes from the set on horseback. He seeks refuge with his mother, who he hasn't seen in years, in Elko, Nevada. She tells him about a son he doesn't know he'd fathered, and, like Bill Murray in "Broken Flowers" a couple of days ago, goes off in search of the mother of his child.

Along the way Shepherd ends up at a hotel overflowing with manicurists having a convention. There's not much more comic relief as this is mostly a melancholy tale of drunkenness and waywardness and longing for stability. The very sloppy script, with Tim Roth trying to track Shepherd down and Sarah Polley wandering around clutching an urn of her mother's ashes, severely undermine the credibility of this tale.

Amos Gitai's script for the Israeli "Free Zone" likewise could use a script doctor. An older Israeli woman and a young American woman take a drive to Jordan from Israel to try to get $30,000 that the Israeli is owed. They encounter confrontational border guards and get lost on the way and then suffer a run-around when they meet up with a liaison to the person who owes the money. At least they drove roads through the desert that I could imagine the pleasure of bicycling.

I was enticed by the blurb in "Screen" to see the market screening of the Dutch film "Off Screen." It is the true story of a 60-year old Dutch bus driver who takes hostages in a high rise building because he is convinced that wide screen TV is a devious plot. His sole demand is a press conference with an executive with Phillips, who is in on its development, and who has befriended him, to expose the conspiracy. Dutch star Jeroen Krabbe plays the executive in this well-done drama.

"Southern Extreme," a Brazilian documentary about a mountaineering expedition in Patagonia, followed in the same theater. My plans were to give it twenty minutes and then go see the Finnish documentary "Riot-On!" about a bunch of nobodies who hatch a scam to become billionaires. "Southern Extreme," however, was too good to leave. The mountain in question, Sarmiento, lays beyond the Straits of Magellan at the tip of South America and had been attempted by just 15 expeditions in 200 years, only three of which had succeeded. The wind and rain are quite severe on this glacier capped mountain of some 9,000 feet. Its rained upon 340 days on the year. The mountain was so intimidating that the crew of five gathered for this documentary refuse to continue more than half way up the mountain, which becomes the story of the movie about half way through.

How a mother reacts when she returns home in the middle of the afternoon to discover her teen-aged son and daughter in the throes of passionate love with each other is the climax of the Argentinian film "Geminis." It was easily the most dramatic moment of any film I've seen so far. Unfortunately, the film is plodding and ponderous until this extreme moment of devastating realism. It is so well done it almost justifies turning the film over to someone with a surer hand to reshoot the first three-fourths of the story.

"Sleeper" too could use an injection of vitality. This Austrian film lacked the ominous tone that one comes to expect from Austrian cinema thanks to Michael Haneke and Erich Siedl, and which would have been most appropriate for this story of a suspected Arab terrorist working for a research lab. The Austrian secret service enlists a professor, who joins the lab, to befriend the suspect, an Algerian, and try to determine if he may indeed be a "sleeper," a plant with allegiance to others. The professor is a bit of a mope and isn't all that enthralled with the
assignment. The treadmill he exercises on might as well be his life.

Serial killers continue to pop up on the schedule: "Blood Rain" from South Korea--A serial murder leads back to an incident that occurred seven years before, revealing an even deeper mystery..."Eternity" from the UK--A date goes horribly wrong when the man announces he's a serial killer..."United States of Albert from Canada"--Set in 1926, this fantasy drama recounts the tale of Albert, an eager young actor headed for Hollywood to take up where the great Valentino left off. The odd assortment of eccentric characters he meets along the way include a serial killer, a night-time golfer, but also the love of his life. Someone ought to make a movie about a serial killer following the Tour de France. And someone did about three or four years ago--"Sombre." It played at the Facets New French Film Festival, and it wasn't bad at all.

Later, George

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Day 8

Friends: Each day as I make a quick read of the scanty synopses provided by the trade papers of each of the day's 250 or so offerings in the market and the four competition sections, I see at least one movie on soccer and another on boxing, and others about serial killers, prostitutes, drug dealers, con men, dancers, a heist, but two-thirds of the way through the festival there has been just one lone mention of the bicycle in all those blurbs, and still not a single film with at least a bit part for a bicycle messenger.

The festival missed the opportunity to play a classic documentary on the Tour de France when it honored Louis Malle, acclaimed French director who gave us "My Dinner With Andre" with this being the tenth anniversary of his death. Instead of playing his Tour documentary they selected "Le Fue Follet" from 1963. But the Fest did acknowledge the Tour in one of the clips from the work of Jean Renoir it has been playing before some of the films in the Palais. A couple of soldiers mention the Tour de France in "The Grand Illusion" from 1937, considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

I, at least, got a healthy dose of bicycles in the Chinese film "Grain in Ear." It takes place in a small Chinese city where about the only automotive traffic is police and guys looking for prostitutes. The lead character, a Korean-Chinese woman, is a food vendor who pedals most laboriously a tricycle with her wares on the back. Most of her clients stop by on bicycles. The story moves along about as slowly as she pedals her bike, but with enough insight into her pathos as a single mother and being an ethnic minority to make it a worthwhile portrait.

That was the first of four films this day I saw about young women and their struggles. The second was "One Night" by an Iranian actress directing for the first time. It follows the nocturnal wanderings of a young woman through one night. She is given car rides by three different men, each of whom give a lengthy commentary on the place of women in Iranian society. The technique was straight out of Kiarostami (former Palm d'Or winner), and so was the depth and sensitivity of the subject matter.

"Johanna" from Hungary, also by a first time director, and produced by master Bela Tarr, who was on stage before the screening, was a wildly original film. It was easily the wackiest, most outrageous film so far, an opera, that many will find offensive, of a young blond wisp of a woman who nearly dies in the hospital and is transformed into a miracle healer mounting various comatose men and healing them, eventually antagonizing the doctors and others. The final song blasphemes one and all with the lyrics "Infinite goodness was her
failure...better to be a murderer than a saint..."

My fourth woman character of the day was Odette, a long-legged, roller-skating, price-checker in a hypermarket in Portugal. The movie takes its title from her--"Odette." As long as she was roller-skating this movie was just fine, but that doesn't last too long. She so desperately wants to have a baby she hugs the baby clothes to her face when she makes price checks on them and asks to feel the bellies of pregnant women. Her desperation is so strong she develops a case of hysterical pregnancy, imagining that her boy friend, who dies soon after the movie starts, left her pregnant. Maybe if this had been operatic it could have been salvaged, as the story is almost as far out there as was Johanna's.

The competition film "Paint or Make Love" by the French Larrieu brothers and starring Daniel Auteuil from Palm d'Or front-runner "Hidden" and Sabino Azeman and Sergi Lopez also had a plot that had many wondering. The story moves gracefully forward developing a strong and genuine friendship between an older and a younger couple in rural France. The younger husband is blind and the mayor of the town. For better than half of the film it is a pleasure getting to know them and also gaining a genuine glimpse into the world of blindness, when suddenly the movie takes a dramatic turn that was as upsetting to the audience as the turn that "Lemming" took.

I also managed to squeeze in a couple of market documentaries. The first was the exalting French production of "Earth from Above," duplicating the stunning aerial photographs of natural and man-made wonders from the acclaimed photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. I was sorry the shots of craters and forests and thousands of flamingos and marching camels and mosques and even a sprawling garbage dump went on for only 67 minutes.

Having seen two soccer movies so far, I finally gave in to one of the many boxing movies--the four-hour documentary "The Glory and the Passion, My Homage to the Boxing World," by an Italian woman who looked like she had never had a camera in her hand until this experience. The promotional material she handed out before the screening was almost as badly in need of editing as the film. I sat through an hour of interviews that went on and on. Someone with some editing experience might salvage it, as she herself had a refreshing spunk and unpretentiousness about her. Her interview with Budd Schulberg, Oscar-winning script writer for "On the Waterfront," who penned those immortal words, "I coulda been a contendah," was a nice touch.

Back to the movies, George

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Day 7

Friends: If I weren't so determined to give as many movies a chance as possible to dazzle and transport me, I'd be taking an afternoon break to return to the campgrounds to put all my gear out in the sun to dry. Day 7 was marred not just by a prolonged shower, but by a deluge complete with thunder and lightening that flooded my tent and forced me to sleep in a damp sleeping bag last night. With it warm and sunny today I'll take a chance on my gear drying out on its own within the confines of my tent.

The storm was severe enough that the "Variety" booth shut down their Internet in fear of electrocuting us at the terminals. The rain did deter the masses from making the trek from Festival Central by the Palais up to the Director's Fortnight and Critic's Week theaters, making it a snap to get into their screenings. I didn't intend on seeing the Lithuanian "7 Invisible Men", but the storm allowed me to slip into it just across the street from the "Variety" booth on the beach. This tale of ne'er-do-wells in Crimea, who go off into the country and hang out at a rustic farm with loads of turkeys and pigs, wasn't much. It was picturesque enough, but failed completely at establishing anything to be interested in.

I could afford a yawner after starting off the day with a bang, Jim Jarmush's "Broken Flowers" starring Bill Murray. It was just the second competition film since the festival started that earned a better than three point average on a scale of four from "Screen" magazine's panel of ten journalists. The only film to score higher has been Haneke's "Hidden." The film hinges on the wacky, but credible premise of Murray searching out four former girl friends from 20 years ago, one of whom may have sent him an anonymous letter telling him that she'd had a son by him and that he might be coming to visit him. Murray doesn't much care, but his amateur sleuth of a neighbor, all to eager to solve the mystery, forces him to go off on this adventure, arranging all his flights and hotels and car rentals. It is a superbly crafted film with one comic moment after another. Jarmush does not let up. His keenly observant eye finds the comic underbelly in every situation and predicament Murray finds himself in. There are chattering, witless teen-aged girls sitting besides him on an airport bus, one of his ex's is now a professional closet-organizer and another an animal communicator, one has a daughter named Lolita who is a Lolita. Murray's character's name is Don Johnston, so he is often confused with Don Johnson when he introduces himself.

The other competition film for the day "The Child" by the Belgian Dardenne brothers, former Palm d'Or winners with "Rosetta," offered up an equally fine film, though it was anything but comic. It is the story of a young unmarried couple who have just had a child. The father is a petty thief who scorns anyone who is stupid enough to work. His occasional partner-in-crime is a 16-year old still in school. They rob homes and purse-snatch and will do just about anything that comes along to make a buck, including pan-handling, and then the ultimate, selling the baby without telling his girl friend. She passes out when she learns what he has done and is so faint he takes her to the hospital. She's raving mad at him and brings in the cops. The film does not waver in its veracity.

"Zim and Co" from France was a not dissimilar film about three guys around twenty who have no direction in life and can't find work to their liking and are not adverse to breaking the law, though not as extreme as the protagonist of "The Child." They are pals who come to each other's need. Zim faces prison after he is involved in an accident on his scooter at the start of the movie and tests positive for marijuana. He's told if he gets a job, he might not have to go to jail. That is not such an easy task, but he's diligent in trying. The film is not as bleak as it could have been, showing these characters do have humanity and hope. The film does have a conscience. Zim and his girl friend both pull out condoms, the first allusion to safe sex in the 40 or so films I've seen so far.

My token market screening for the day was the British "Stoned," a biopic on the last days of Brian Jones of the Stones. It played to a packed house of close to 200 at one of the the local theaters that are given up to market screenings. This film was a marked contrast to Gus Van Sant's polished and artful "Last Days," also a depiction of a rock star given to excess doses of alcohol and drugs who meets an early demise. There wasn't much depth to this rendition stocked by a cast who just marginally inhabit the characters they are portraying.

There was still a slight drizzle at nine p.m. when I went to get in line for the ten p.m. screening of the Australian thriller "Wolf Creek" that had played at Sundance to rave reviews. The tuxedoed guards at the Director's Fortnight let us all wait in the lobby rather than out in the rain. The Australian Tourist Board is going to have a big job ahead of itself encouraging people to come to Australia, or at least its Outback, after this film, based on a true story, of three travelers, two British women and an Aussie bloke, who are taken hostage and terrorized by an Outback dweller. This engaging tale of travelers in the starkly beautiful Outback doesn't turn into a horror movie until about two-thirds of the way through.

Later, George

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Day 6

Friends: If I'd accepted that position with the Bicycle Certification Board to certify and rate films according to the proper and plausible use of the bicycle, with special commendation for its promotion, I would have had nothing to report on this day, as it happened to be a Bike Free Monday, a marked contrast to yesterday's Jackpot Sunday.

There were so many noteworthy bicycle sitings yesterday that I neglected to mention all of them. One of the more significant was my first cinematic observation ever of one of Lance Armstrong's yellow Livestrong wristbands. We can thank an extra in a swimming pool in "The King" for this momentous event. I doubt it was purposely placed by the director, as it was one of those incidental inclusions that only an eye attuned to such things would spot. The camera did not linger on it, nor was it strategically placed. But it was there, and in that we can rejoice. I will
be on the alert for many more.

Thankfully I did not have the responsibility from the Bicycling Board for rating yesterday's "Once You're Born," the Italian film about the boy lost at sea. I would have been greatly torn. It deserved accolades for its brief early glimpse of a bicycle, symbolizing, in this instance, a film of social consciousness (in contrast to the more common implication of independence and freedom and innocence), but the director missed the opportunity to build on this when the boy is given a deluxe motorbike to celebrate his return home, even though he can't use it until he's 14. Some prized Italian racing bike, of which there are many to choose from, fully Campy-equipped, would have been much more appropriate and could have won the Board's highest rating.

I didn't expect to find any bicycles or wrist bands in the day's 8:30 a.m. Competition screening in the Palais of Lars Von Trier's "Manderlay," as like "Dogville", it was shot on a bare bones sound stage. Unlike "Dogville," which was set in Colorado, "Manderly" takes place in 1933 Alabama. Not too many people saw "Dogville", despite it winning the Palm d'Or two years ago, and even fewer will want to see this, unless Von Trier rushes a copy to Jesse Jackson along with a phalanx of physicians to make sure he survives his screening of this depiction of a plantation where slavery still survives. The physicians need to be on full red alert during the commentary on the various categories of "niggers" on the plantation--pleasing, proud, etc. etc. Jackson would blast this movie so vociferously, he could make it the year's highest grossing film.

Nor did I expect to have any bicycles to analyze in the market screening of "Pele Forever," a two-hour Brazilian documentary on the Eddy Merckx of soccer. The bulk of the film was a dizzying array of what seemed like every one of the 1,281 goals Pele scored in the 1,371 games of his career, some of the more noteworthy ones showed two or three times. He was born in 1940 and named Edison, as his father was a great admirer of the American inventor. He turned pro at 16 and at 18 led Brazil to the first of three World Cups they won during his era. He was named the athlete of the century by many organizations, including "Sports Illustrated," an honor that would have gone to Merckx if bicycling were as popular world wide as soccer is.

For the first time in my Cannes experience I was rained on as I waited for "Time to Leave," a French film by Francois Ozon, last at Cannes two years ago with his Competition entry "Swimming Pool." When we had rain a couple days ago I discovered that my tent was in a low spot. I hadn't taken the time to move it, so that had me nervous. I barely have the time to eat with all the movies to be seen and these ramblings to get out. I heard the first boos of the festival after this movie by those disappointed in the slightness of this story about a 30-year old guy who learns he has an advanced stage of cancer, leaving him only several months to live. He declines chemotherapy, as it had less than a 5% chance to work, and he elects not to tell his family or friends. Not much happens, but there was enough depth and feeling to this film that I was happy to have seen it, if only for its reminders of dear Crissy.

Helen said she had heard good things about "Little Jerusalem," a French film about a Jewish community in a Parisian suburb, and when I saw one of the director's of the Telluride Film Festival in line to see it, I felt assured that it was going to be worthwhile. Unfortunately, the director takes her time in establishing the story about a young woman philosophy student devoted to philosophy and trying to lead an ascetic, Kantian existence. Once the film does get on track, perhaps a little too late to save it, it earned the commendations it has received.

I squeezed in my dinner of tabouli and cassoulet from the supermarket in the back row of the lightly attended market screening of the Italian "Abide in My Love." I had no reason to see this other than as a quiet place to eat. This film doesn't merit comment.

The Portuguese film "Alice" completed my Bike Free Monday. It was another film about parents who lose their child and are frantic over her loss. This topic is emerging as the theme of the festival. There is another film in the Director's Fortnight devoted to the subject, "Keane", by Lodge Kerrigan that played at Telluride last year. ("Adam and Paul" and "Yes" are also here from Telluride, though only in the market, looking for distribution.) It was also a factor in three other films I have seen so far--"Hidden," "The King," and "Once You're Born." It is also a factor in tomorrow's "The Child." The lost child in "Alice" is a four-year old. The father devotes himself to monitoring several surveillance cameras he has set up around the big city where he lives in hopes of spotting her. It is an utterly hopeless task, making this a not very credible film. It is by a first-time director who previously made commercials. It is a film that looks good, as the footage from the herky-jerky surveillance cameras blown up on the large screen are almost poetic. Their look may well have inspired the director to make a film, any film, where he could showcase them.

Later, George

Monday, May 16, 2005

Day 5

Friends: May 15, 2005 will long be remembered as Jackpot Sunday, one of my greatest days of cinema ever, a day I saw six films and six winners, something unheard of at any festival, even ultra-selective Telluride. I somewhat cheated by slipping in a market screening of Werner Herzog's documentary "Grizzly Man," which debuted at Sundance in January to rave reviews and is being distributed by Lion's Gate, meaning it will make it to at least a semi-commercial theater in Chicago. I try to resist films that I know I will have a chance to see in Chicago, unless they are being premiered in one of the competitive categories, but the allure of "Grizzly Man" was too much for me. Having spent a couple summers in Alaska, this film about a bear-lover who spent 13 years living amongst and filming the bears of Alaska before being killed and eaten by a bear had special appeal to me. I had been fully entranced by several days of full-page glossy ads in the trade papers of three bears in line approaching the Grizzly Man against a green expanse and Ebert's rave, "Brilliant! An astonishing portrait." I can not disagree.

But that was not my highlight of the day. Rather it was another market screening that my careful reading of the one-line blurbs of the 250 daily screenings unveiled. The movie was the German film "Hell on Wheels." "Screen" magazine's description was, "An inner view of the Tour de France from the perspective of one its participating teams." I would have sacrificed any of my choices for the day to see this. The film followed the German team Telekom in the 2003 race. It is Jan Ullrich's team, but not that year, as he was racing for Bianchi. I was relieved the film wasn't devoted to last year's race, as I would have had the distraction of looking for myself along the roadside. Instead in 2003 I was off in Iceland following The Tour on line, rather than in person. There was much that was just as I had seen and experienced, especially the flavor of the small towns and all the people along the route. This was a glorious two-hour immersion into the mostly unseen Tour--in the team bus and the rider's rooms and the director's car and even a montage of the racers pissing during the race, both on their bikes and off. This was the year Lance struggled to win and had to go cross country to avoid an accident and took a fall when his handlebar caught a musette bag of a spectator, all of which we get to relive, but the film concentrates on the German team and just pays passing attention to the race drama. There were only six of us in the small screening room.

For the first time since the festival began I didn't start my day at the Palais, as it was given up
to the latest installment of the "Star Wars" saga. Instead I saw "Room," a very fine small American independent film about the tormented life of a 40-year old mother and wife working at a bingo parlor in Texas at Christmas. She's further frazzled when her boss tells her he can only give her half her paycheck until after the New Year. She's in full-fledged crisis mode and takes drastic measures.

The Palais had recovered from "Star Wars" by 11:30 for the Italian film "Once You're Born" by the director of "Best in Youth," the critically acclaimed six-hour film that was here two years ago. The credits were panned against a prolonged tapestry that had a quick close-up of a bicycle that had me wondering if the director was pandering to his audience seeking their good will with this almost subliminal image or if he was paying homage to the bicycle. Since the film was a most agreeable and original story of a 12-year old boy lost at sea, I can give the director full approval for his use of the bicycle. The critics will most likely steal some of the drama of this story by telling what happens to the boy, but I won't.

My day was further highlighted by "Factotum" a Norwegian film on Charles Bukowski starring Matt Dillon. I had missed its earlier screening at the Director's Fortnight and was forced to see it in a less desirable market screening room. The reviews were so good I was not surprised to see a mob outside the small screening room when I arrived half an hour early, about the same time as Helen. We both started frantically searching the schedule for a back-up if we didn't get in. We gained some hope when the agent guarding the door announced, "No Press." Since there are 4,000 of them here, a greater gathering than for any event other than the Olympics and the World Cup, and just slightly more than for the Tour de France, that gave us some hope. The agent then announced, "Buyers first." As Helen and I edged towards the door various people slipped past us waving their credentials. Not all were accommodated, but most were. Helen knew her status as the programmer for Chicago's International Film Festival didn't carry much weight with such people, so she didn't even try to bluff her way in. But she looks respectable enough that the woman guarding the door reached for her pass around her neck to give it close inspection, but then just dropped it without saying a word. The woman held up letting any of us non-buyers in until the last moment in case any other buyers arrived, but she did let us in.

It is one of life's great moments to gain admittance to a screening you desperately want to see after giving up virtually all hope. So with that thrill there was no way we would not like this movie. Dillon offers a most convincing performance of a drunk/struggling writer, right up there with Mickey Roarke in "Barfly" and Ben Gazarra in an Italian version of Bukowski life. There is loads of witty dialogue and outrageous scenes to be mined from Bukowski's work, and this film, shot in Minneapolis, succeeds. Among the many jobs the Bukowski character is fired from is working in a bicycle warehouse.

My final winner for the day was "The King" starring Gael Garcia Bernal and William Hurt, who were both on stage for the film's introduction, though Theirry Fremaux, festival director, only gave the microphone to Bernal. This was another dark American independent similar to "Down in the Valley" about a teen-aged girl still in school who gets involved with an older guy who the girl's father has forbidden her to see. Bernal is magnificent as a sailor just turned civilian, and Hurt too is great as a preacher with a pair of mighty ugly sideburns.

After such a great day I can't wait for more.

Later, George

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Day 4

Friends: The Austrian master Michael Haneke never fails to spice his movies with confrontational moments that have his audiences gripping their armrests in terror of what might happen next. He stays true to from in, "Hidden," his Competition entry about an upscale French family terrorized by someone who has them under surveillance.

One of those classic Haneke moments in this one is an altercation between a bicyclist and the lead character, Daniel Auteuil, the host of a TV talk show on books, who blindly steps out into the street between cars, nearly knocking over the bicyclist. Like the typical pedestrian, he starts haranguing the bicyclist, calling him a "dickhead", rather than apologizing for his negligence. This cyclist, a husky, young black man, rather than ignoring him and continuing on his way, harangues back. It is, after all, a Haneke movie. When Auteuil declines to back down, the cyclist steps chest to chest with him and, towering over him, asks him if he'd like to yell some more.

The scene has nothing to do with the plot other than to show how quick-tempered Auteuil can be and also to keep the audience on edge, Haneke's trademark. Unlike Egoyan's contrived thriller of yesterday, this is tight and gripping and not "just a movie" nor without comment on our times.

The second superb movie of the day was "Down in the Valley," the third feature by the American, David Jacobsen, whose last movie was "Dahmer." Edward Norton, brilliant as always, plays a down-on-his-luck cowboy from South Dakota working at a gas station in San Fernando Valley. He doesn't even own a car, and knows enough to tell motorists stuck in gridlock, "You don't belong in there, you belong out here," just one of his many homespun asides in the well-written script. Early on, as he is putting gas into the car of several teens heading to the beach, he is invited to join them by 18-year old Evan Rachel Wood. He is naive enough to ask his boss if he can have the rest of the day off. He can, but not if he wants to keep his job. He elects to go off with Wood, the first time he's ever been to the beach. Thus begins a romance her father, a law enforcement officer of some sort, is not happy about at all. This is not a movie that will flood the
multiplexes. With luck it will be a fall release, meaning it could get its North American premiere at Telluride. Norton would be a most worthy tributee. I'm already salivating over the clips that would accompany his tribute from his many outstanding performances, especially "The 25th Hour" and "American History X."

Between these two enervating cinematic experiences, I had a long day at the Critic's Weekly
theater. The three movies I saw there all had merit, but with the air conditioning malfunctioning in this, the least comfortable of the 50 or so festival venues, I was second-guessing myself on my choice of being there. "Vento di Terra" was the first film by a young Italian about a young man going nowhere in his life. After he starts getting involved in a life of crime, he rights himself by entering the army. He gets sent to Kosovo and comes down with a mystery disease that may be related to toxic wastes there. It was a well-intentioned film, but its cast of non-professionals weren't really up to the task.

I was only going to watch the first hour of the Japanese "A Stranger of Mine," and then hop over to the Director's Fortnight for a film on Charles Bukowski, but it showed enough potential to make me delay Bukowski for a day. I didn't realize it was a three part film, and that the first part was by far the best. A droll, nerdy, young businessman, who could have been a Jarmusch creation, is seated with an equally misfit young woman by chance at a restaurant. He ends up taking her home on his bike. They are nearly run down by a van who doesn't see them in the dark. If the film had stuck to their misadventures, I might be able to rave about it.

And then there was "Drum," a South African film about a magazine from the '50s that shed light on the inequities of the apartheid world. There was nothing startling or new on offer here.
I also saw the Hong Kong gangster film "Election" hoping that since it was deemed worthy of Competition that it might win me, though I'm not very partial to Asian gangster films. There was a little less blood and brutality than usual, but not enough reality or pizazz to make me glad I had seen it.

I was surprised to so easily come by an "Invitation" to Lars Van Trier's film "Manderlay"
playing Monday. I'm told it was a real challenge to get into "Dogville" when it played here a couple of years ago. The hardest ticket to come by this year is for "Battle in Heaven" by the Mexican director of "Japon." It beings with fellatio and is being called the Mexican "Brown Bunny." It plays tomorrow and I haven't been able to come by an "Invitation" yet.

Later, George

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Day 3

Friends: When a French businesswoman full of maternal longings flies off to Patagonia in the Argentinian "Nordest" to buy a baby (legally), she is drawn into a world of intrigue and hardship she never could have anticipated. The bad guys include a gang of pre-teens, doctors selling body parts, abusive boy friends, and an enforcer, who, while trying to intimidate a poor, single mom to leave her shack of a home, runs over her bicycle, the ultimate of evil. This was an accomplished portrayal of social realism by a first time director, which makes the film eligible for the Camera d'Ora as well as any of the Un Certain Regard awards where it was playing.

Veteran Japanese director Kohei Oguri was so incensed that his film "Buried Forest" had been
relegated to the "Un Certain Regard" category, when he was led to believe his film was going to be granted a much more prestigious Competition slot, he withdrew it from the Un Certain Regard and let the Director's Fortnight have it. To appease him, Thiery Fremaux, chief selector for the Competition and Un Certain Regard films, put in a rare appearance on stage at the Director Fortnight's for the presentation of the film in the prime Opening Night 7:30 p.m. Friday night slot. Politics and intrigue are everywhere, but not so much in his film, another movie long on style and short on narrative and character development. Its the story of a small Japanese village where a buried forest emerges. There are dazzling images of whales on a billboard being pulled by a truck through the town and whales lofted by helium balloons and luminous orange lizards on tree roots and even a camel prancing through town that would bring smiles to Fellini or Angelopolous.

Those were my last two films of a six-film day that began once again at 8:30 in the 3,000 seat Palais with a film in Competition, this one "Where the Truth Lies" by Canadian Atom Egoyan, starring Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth as a pair of '60s entertainers bearing a resemblance to Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Egoyan is known for his cerebral, quirky films with oddball coincidences and distinctive intellectual touch, but there wasn't much of that in this tale of a woman reporter trying to solve the mystery of a dead woman found in the entertainers' hotel room years after the event.

Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" was next up in the Palais, a loose imagining of the final days of rock star Kurt Cobain. Michael Pitt mumbles and cowers for 90 minutes in and around a mansion in the woods until his fatal end. The French speakers were lucky, or unlucky, to have sub-titles to make sense of his sporadic mutterings. This didn't have the power of "Elephant," van Sant's Palm d'Or winner of a couple of years ago, but it was another worthy effort. Neither I nor Helen realized Harmony Korine had a small part until the credits.

Against Helen's advice I saw "The Invisible," a French film about another tormented
musician, starring Laurent Lucas, who also starred in "Lemming," probably the only reason the Critic's Week programmed it. It is the first genuine dud outside of the market I've been subjected to.

My sixth film of the day was "The President's Last Bang," a South Korean film about the assassination of a long-time Korean President/dictator. It was an interesting portrayal of his decadence and the chaos among his staff after his death. There is a nice wise-crack about their lack of respect for that 'peanut-farmer' Jimmy Carter.

Market screenings I will miss today: "Adam's Apples" from Denmark--A neo-Nazi is sent on community service with a priest..."Death Train with Lasko" from Germany--A criminal mastermind and his evil cohorts take over a train to Lourdes, but it will take a miracle to strike fear into the pilgrims on board... "Making Waves from the UK"--Some people will go to any wavelength to get a date..."Molotov Samba" from the US--A Brazilian pimp falls in love with a desperate Russian prostitute.

The special daily Cannes editions of "Variety" and "Hollywood Reporter" and "Screen" have loads of money numbers as well: such as how much the last three films of each of the 21 directors in Competition earned in the US..."Fahrenheit 9/11" grossed more money than any
other English speaking Palm d'Or winner, even more than "Pulp Fiction"..."The Passion of the Christ" was the second highest grossing film in Italy and South Africa last year...Japan is second to the U.S. in box office receipts with some U.S. films grossing more in Japan than in the U.S., such as Tom Cruise's "Last Samurai." It earned 139 million dollars in Japan. Just some of the tidbits I pick up while standing in line for the next show.

Later, George