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

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