Thursday, May 31, 2007

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, France

Friends: If I had arrived in Les Saintes Maries de la Mer a few days earlier I would have been part of an annual gathering of thousands of gypsies who come from all over Europe to this isolated, small seaside village 25 miles southwest of Arles to honor their patron saint Sara. Sara was a gypsy chieftain who warmly welcomed three Marys from Biblical times when they arrived in this region fleeing persecution in Palestine. The three Marys were Mary of Magdalene, Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome. The latter two were mothers of apostles and settled here, too elderly to travel further. Mary of Magdelene continued on. The "relics" (bones) of the two Marys reside in the town's cathedral and are part of the Sara celebration, lowered from the rafters of the church, where they are kept. The gypsies then carry Sara's statue, while others carry statues of the two Marys, to the Mediterranean a few blocks away. A bishop aboard a traditional fishing boat blesses one and all. The day after the ceremony, bullfights, in which the bull is not killed, are held in the local arena.

Even though the gypsies take over the town for several days, camping on its streets and on the beaches that go for miles, there was no evidence of their invasion. All was quiet with hardly a tourist, as it isn't warm enough for swimming just yet. The Mediterranean isn't the town's only attraction though. It resides on the fringe of a national park, a vast wetlands area formed by the Rhone River delta. Bird-watching and horse-back riding are popular activities. Dozens and dozens of horses, many saddled and ready to go, lined the road into town. I saw one family of four out for a ride on a trail along the road. It was mother and father in the lead trailed by a couple of teen-aged daughters, both with heads bent holding cell phones text-messaging away.

The final 30 miles to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer after a ferry across a canal were on quiet, lightly-traveled roads, a relief after passing just north of Marseille and paralleling the Mediterranean on a four-lane highway for about 40 miles with spewing trucks from the major port to the major cities of Nimes and Arles and Montpelier and beyond.

It is now 80 miles to Craig up in the Cevennes, the very same Cevennes that R. L. Stevenson traipsed about with a donkey. I will welcome a day of rest before we head off together. My legs have been pummeled by a couple of days of ferocious mistral-strength headwinds out of Cannes. They limited me to barely ten miles per hour for hours on end. They finally relented somewhat yesterday, allowing me to end my day with a twelve mph average. In any other circumstances I would have been cursing yesterday's wind, but at a quarter of what it had been, I couldn't complain. By evening the winds had calmed and I once again had that great sensation of not wanting to quit riding, unlike the previous two days when I was more than ready to call a halt to my day.

It was almost suicidal to be riding in such winds, as sudden gusts had me veering all over the road. When the embankment to my left was steep, I had to ride almost in the middle of the

road to be safe. I hardly had time to think back on all the great movies still lingering in my mind. There are quite a few I hope I will get a chance to see again in four months at Telluride. I have another bicycle pilgrimage site to pay homage to before Craig's--a plaque on the birth place of the founder of Motobecane bicycles in the town of Ganges, about ten miles from Craig's small village. As is said of the French, they do remember.

Later, George

Monday, May 28, 2007

Day 12

Friends: With all the good films this year there weren't enough awards to go around to recognize them all. The jury actually created two extra awards so they could give out nine rather than the usual seven. The extras went to a tie for third best film and a special 60th Anniversary Award. The jury also elected to overlook a couple of exceptional films by established directors who have won many awards so they could bring attention to fresh talent.

As expected, the Palm d'Or went to the Romanian abortion film "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days." Also expected, Do-Yeon Jeon from the South Korean film "Secret Sunshine" won best actress. The early favorite from the Russian film "Alexandra" dropped off the map after this film screened. And it was no surprise that Fatih Akin won best screenplay for his intricately plotted German/Turkish film "The Edge of Heaven."

The rest of the awards were not exactly what was anticipated. The biggest shocker of all was the lead from the Russian film "The Banishment" winning the best actor award. Few expected that film to receive any recognition from the jury. Best director going to Julian Schnabel for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" was a surprise, even to him. Having been called back to the festival to collect an award, he was hoping he'd won the Palm d'Or. He said if he had won it, he would have given it to Bernardo Bertolucci, the Italian who many think should have won it in years past.

A pleasant surprise was the slight Japanese film "The Mourning Forest" receiving the Grand Jury award for the second best film. "Persoplis" the French animated film about a young Iranian woman and "Silent Night" about the Mennonites in Mexico, both worthy films, shared the prize for third best film. And Gus Van Sant was given a special 60th Anniversary award for "Paranoid Park." He didn't seem all too excited about it, hoping for a bigger fish than that. At least he got something. The Coen brothers for "No Country for Old Men" and Alexander Sokouruv for
"Alexandra" received nothing, despite being favorites for the Palm d'Or.

Before the awards ceremony Charles and I had a chat with critic Ken Jones, who had served on the Uncertain Regard jury. We asked if "California Dreams" was a consensus choice of his jury. He said the French film "Actresses" was his choice, not something I particularly cared for. I asked if he expected it to be another winning night for Romania. He said he had heard that the jury might surprise and give the Palm d'Or to something other than "Four Months." He'd heard wrong.

I had a busy day before the 7:30 p.m. awards ceremony seeing the three Competition films I had missed and also giving a second viewing to several other films. Unfortunately all of my favorites were screening at a time when I needed to see something else, so I wasn't able to enjoy "Four Months" or "Alexandra" or "The Edge of Heaven" or "The Diving Bell" or "Silent Night" or "Import/Export" or "Breath" again.

My first film of the day in the new 400-seat 60th Anniversary Theater, constructed on the roof of the market complex, was the opening night film "My Blueberry Nights" by Wong Kar Wei. Although the film has the cinematic flourishes that make cineastes and fellow directors gush over Kar Wei's camera movements and angles, there wasn't enough emotional depth to Norah Jones's character of a woman hitting the road after breaking up with her boy friend to make this anything more than average fare. I had the enjoyment, however, of seeing the name of a friend from Facets, Leanne Murphy, who I helped moved to Manhattan nine years ago, appear in the credits for her design work.

Norah Jone's performance, as well as that of every other actress in the festival, was overwhelmed by that of Do-Yeon Jeon in "Secret Sunshine"from South Korea. She plays a recently widowed 25-year old who moves to the city where her husband was raised with their five-year old son. The city is small enough that everyone seems to know who she is, but thinks it odd that she would move to a city she had never been to. As one woman says, "She looks fine, but I don't think she's normal." She gives piano lessons and is pursued by a nerdy, never-married, semi-repugnant 39-year old. She suffers a traumatic event that leads to her embracing Christianity. She becomes supremely devoted and seems saved, but she suffers another traumatic event giving her doubts. As with the other South Korea film in Competition, this movie has a prison scene that is the crux of the story. The range and depth of her performance was profoundly moving.

"Persopolis," the black and white animated feature based on a series of best selling novels about an Iranian woman's life growing up in Iran and Europe, gives an insightful look into the suppressive state of that regime. Like many movies this year, it featured a feisty elder--this one her grandmother. She speaks frankly not caring about the repercussions, saying Tehran "has become a shit-hole."

The closing night film after the awards ceremony was "The Age of Ignorance" by French-Canadian Denys Arcand. The closing night film is never anything exceptional, just something okay, otherwise it would have been included in one of the competitive categories. Marc Labreche is a 50-year old civil servant with a dynamic real estate agent of a wife and a couple of daughters, none of whom would miss him if he never came home. The movie is a succession of his flights of fancy imagining how he would like his life to be--becoming a samurai warrior in the middle of a meeting beheading his boss, summoning a couple of African warriors who brutally rape a worker he is at odds with, having hard, spontaneous sex with women who demand it of him and on and on.

Fortunately, I didn't have to end the festival with this. The final rescreening of a Competition film was "Zodiac" at ten p.m. There were less than a hundred of us wanting one last film. If he weren't a Hollywood star Jake Gyllenhaal easily could have won the best actor award here for his performance as the San Francisco cartoonist who became obsessed with the Zodiac serial killer and tried to solve the case on his own over many years. The movie is based on his book.

And now I can return to the bike. It's off to Craig, about 250 miles west, and then he and I will
head north to the Channel.

Later, George

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Day 11

Friends: The last two of the 22 films in Competition were screened today. Of the 19 I've seen, not a one was a dud. I'll get to see the three I missed tomorrow on repeat Sunday. Not all were universally embraced, but even those that were reviled by some had others calling them masterpieces, as with the Bela Tarr, Ulrich Seidl and Quentino Tarantino films. Half the films in Competition were by veteran, established directors, none of whom stumbled, each delivering another work in their distinctive styles that will at least please their devotees.

So it was with today's first Palais presentation, "Promise Me This," by Serbian Emir Kusturica, two-time Palm d'Or winner and former jury president. This rollicking, frenzied, sometimes farcical story of a teen-aged peasant who is sent to the city to find a wife for himself by his grandfather will delight all of Kusturika's fans and others as well. Kusturika's exuberant imagination shows no signs of diminishing. Guys are clobbered left and right by falling and flying and flung objects. A guy fired from a cannon is glimpsed throughout the duration of the movie above the mayhem below. When he lands he wants to know what's happened in the Italian soccer league. A variety of objects are hoisted and dropped by intricate sets of pulleys, including the peasant boy trying to impress the woman of his affections. Going to the city is a big deal for the boy. His grandfather warns him to be on guard as "towns are designed to lure people to buy things they don't need." That's about the extent of social commentary in this otherwise escapist entertainment fare. This was a good movie for the sleep-deprived to wake up to.

"The Mourning Forest" from Japan put us back on the "film as art" track. Panoramic and aerial shots of lush green forests and precisely trimmed rows of hedges that made for good hiding complemented the story of an elderly Japanese man approaching death and his relationship with a young woman. They go off into the forest for a couple day trek that has moments sweet and poignant. A second Japanese film "Dai Nipponjin" was less serious with godzilla-sized characters intermittently battling it out, toppling buildings and grabbing planes in flight, when the story line takes a break from following and interviewing in documentary style a long-haired guy who leads a fairly dull life.

The final screening in the Uncertain Regard category was the Romanian film "California Dreaming" that later that evening was named the best picture in this category of 23 films. If "Four Weeks, Three Months and Two Days" wins tomorrow night in the Competition category, it will make it a clean sweep for Romania. A platoon of ten or so U.S. Marines is stranded in a small Romanian town when the railroad station master won't let their train proceed without the proper papers. They are transporting communications equipment for NATO operation in Serbia. The film takes place when Bill Clinton is still in office. The hard-nosed station master says even if Bill Clinton himself showed up at the station he wouldn't release the train without the papers.

All sorts of pressure is brought upon him, but he stands fast. He harbors a grudge against Americans for their failure to come to the town's rescue at the end of WWII. He's been waiting for their arrival ever since. He's one of the few townspeople who speaks English and is well-versed in world affairs. He asks the marine in charge, "What's with Bill Clinton letting Monica suck his dick in the White House." Meanwhile, all the young women in the town are throwing themselves at the marines. The young men of the town don't appreciate the shenanigans at all. The town mayor throws a party in honor of the marines with an Elvis impersonator. The women seem even hornier than the marines. The Marines are commanded by a block-headed brutish sort who is inclined to intimidation to get his way. One of his young subordinates regularly has to intercede, insisting he be more diplomatic in his approach. The young director of the film, Christian Nemescu, died in a car accident shortly after the completion of the film, cutting short a most promising career.

There was a great mob outside the Arcades Theater an hour before the final screening of the festival before Repeat Sunday to see Greg Araki's "Smiley Face." The buzz on this Director's Fortnight film wasn't the reason for the crowd, just that it was the last and only film playing at the end of the day. This over-the-top portrayal of a pothead was quite a contrast to Araki's last film "Mysterous Skin." Anna Faris is stuck on a Ferris wheel at the start of the movie. She begins a monologue that flashes back to the start of her day. She has an audition to get to and also has to pay her electrical bill or else her electricity will be cut off.

She begins her day stoned and only gets worse. She is so pathetically self-destructive it is almost painful to watch. Her agent calls her several times to remind her to get to her audition. She is so desperate for money after burning up an ounce of pot she had purchased that morning from her dealer while trying to make some cupcakes, she tries to sell a spare packet of dope to the 50-year old woman hosting the audition. The woman is so appalled she immediately calls the police and then her agent. Her desperation to come up with some money to at least pay off her electrical bill and to give something to her drug dealer, she is willing to go out with a nerdy friend of her roommate so she can ask him for money. More crazy antics follow including coming into possession of an original copy of The Communist Manifesto. There was hardly a laugh from the audience, though the program called it an uproariously funny comedy.

Later, George

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Day 10

Friends: Two Argentinian films today, featuring women with troubles, included a quick glimpse of a carrot being sliced, which may or may not have had symbolic significance.

Its a semi-obese guy who does the cutting in "A Stray Girlfriend," as he prepares a stew for a woman who has several times rejected his advances. The woman is on an anniversary holiday she was expecting to spend with her boyfriend, but he abandons her before they reach the resort they are headed to after she harangues him as they travel by bus. She's very impulsive, trying to decide whether to stay for the four days they had booked or return home. She calls her boyfriend and harangues him some more. She nearly has a fling with a guy at the resort after a night of drinking, but he rejects her advances saying he has a girl friend. The obese guy takes her horseback riding along the beach the next day and tries his luck. She abandons him when he goes swimming, but feels guilt and before she leaves the resort tries to leave him a note of apology. He hears her sliding the note under his door and invites her in and once more tries his luck, to no avail. If carrot-cutting implies castration, so he may feel.

Castration is also an issue in "XXY" the winner of the best picture award in Critic's Week. It is a film about a 15-year old girl directed by a young woman, both of whom were on hand to gleefully accept the award in the ceremony preceding the film. The film starts with another teens-losing-virginity theme when the girl tells a 16-year old boy, who is visiting her family in their small Uruguayan fishing village, "I've never fucked anybody. Would you like to?" The boy is
shocked and doesn't know how to react. He initially resists the girl, but in time becomes enamored with her. This was far from standard fare and was most deserving of its award. The girl alone with her vitality is a delight (she has just been kicked out of school for punching out a guy), but she also is not entirely what she appears to be, allowing the movie to go off into rarely explored territory.

It was all too standard fare from both the Competition films at the Palais earlier in the day.
Catherine Breillat of France, notorious for her explicit, sex-exploitation films, is relatively
restrained in her "An Old Mistress," a period piece taking place in the 1700s. A 30-year old libertine is about to marry and must give up his long-time mistress. When he has a final fling with her, the bride's grandmother, who has arranged the marriage, threatens to cancel the wedding. The libertine explains the history of his relations with his mistress to her in a long flashback. His frankness convinces the grandmother that it is over, and so thinks the guy. But the mistress is persistent and pursues the newly-weds to the isolated seaside village where they have taken up residence to be away from all the temptations of Paris. Ho-hum. Nothing special or unique, not even the occasional conjugal relations. This is simply fodder for those who like period pieces and more than casual cinema sex.

Brooklyn 1988, when drugs were rampant and the drug lords seemed to be taking over the city, provides the backdrop for "We Own the Night" by James Gray staring Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall and Joaquin Phoenix. Only the star power of the cast makes this marginally worth watching. Father and son, Duvall and Wahlberg, are high level cops leading the fight against drugs, while coke-tooting Phoenix is the wayward son running a night club where the Russian
drug lord they are trying to catch hangs out. Phoenix refuses to cooperate with his brother and father. No one at the night club, other than his Puerto Rican girlfriend, knows Phoenix's background. This was all too contrived and proceeds as expected.

"Night Train" gives an insightful view of present day China as it follows the travails of a woman
working with the Chinese criminal justice system. We see her cheap studio apartment and meet a few of her single-women neighbors. We see her on her job having to deal with those accused of crimes. But the focus of the movie is on a match-making service and some of the not so likable men she ends up with.

Only a five movie day, dropping my average back down to six a day, putting me at sixty through ten days, as I sacrificed a movie by attending the Critic's Week award ceremony thinking the winning film would be played immediately afterward, rather than in a separate following time slot. As the award ceremony dragged on and on, going for more than an hour, I was regretting I hadn't gone to see a documentary on director Lindsay Anderson with his frequent star Malcolm McDowell in attendance. I was taking a minor risk anyway on what would win the Critic's Week
prize as I had seen two of the seven films in contention. Neither were exceptional, but one never
knows about juries. It was a great relief that "XXY" won, just a disappointment that it wasn't shown immediately, preventing me from seeing "Mutum" in the Director's Fortnight later, or my back-up "Rio Bravo," in the classics category. Luckily I didn't end up at "Rio Bravo," as its two-and-a-half hour running time would have kept me in the theater until one a.m. Only once
have I been kept out so late, a night I didn't get to bed until two a.m., which meant a bit of cat-napping the next day when I had to be at the Palais six hours later. But I have yet to sleep through my alarm this year, unlike year's past. When some college students here for the first time asked me before the festival started what advice I could give, it was to have at least one good and loud alarm clock, and a backup as well.

Later, George

Friday, May 25, 2007

Day 9

Friends: Russian master and 1997 Telluride tributee Alexander Sokurov warned that his Competition entry "Alexandra" was unlike anything he had ever done. Considering the vast majority of his work is unlike anything anyone else has ever done and is often a challenge to comprehend, it was frightening to imagine what he might be offering up this time--something
inside-out or upside down or in swirls or an unintelligible language.

Shockingly, it was a fully comprehensible and accessible film of universal appeal that leaps right
up there with "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days" as a front-runner for the Palm d'Or. Its lead, opera legend Galina Vishnevskaya, as Alexandra, an elderly woman who goes to visit her officer grandson at his isolated outpost in Chechnya, becomes the favorite to win best actress honors.

The incongruity of a doddering grandmother among a small corps of weary, hardened soldiers at a rustic encampment of tents provides a captivating premise for a commentary on the insanity and inhumanity of armed conflict where "good guys collude with bad guys and saints become devils," as she says. As she looks after her grandson and wanders about the camp she makes simple grandmotherly observations, "It always smells of something here. I'm getting used to it,"
and comments of deep, sagely truth, "I'm sick of this military mentality. You destroy. When will you learn to rebuild?"

Though her grandson is a veteran soldier, who kills matter-of-factly as a job, there isn't a
single shot or act of violence in this film. He shares moments of astounding tenderness with his grandmother, hugging her as if she is the most valuable thing in the world, braiding her hair, speaking from the heart. This is a movie that speaks to our times and all times--a truly remarkable movie-going experience. One poignant scene follows another. It could go down as
one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever.

The day had a second truly momentous cinematic program--a nearly two-hour "Film Masterclass" conducted by Martin Scorcese and noted French film critic Michel Ciment in the thousand-seat Debussy Theater. Even before it started, the highly expectant audience went camera-crazy when Quentin Tarantino joined their ranks wearing a baggy black t-shirt with shorn sleeves. Scorcese was given a standing ovation when he was introduced. Festival director Thiery Fremaux acknowledged Tarantino, allowing the audience to applaud him as well.

Scorcese traced his career from a three-year old asthmatic who couldn't engage in sports or play much, finding fascination in the world of cinema growing up in a rough Italian New York neighborhood where his parents worked in the garment district. He reminisced about seeing "The Big Heat" as an 11-year old and viewing "East of Eden" about the same time multiple times trying to figure out how it succeeded in touching his emotions. His commentary was
interspersed with clips from six of his films--"Mean Streets," "Raging Bull," "After Hours," "Age of Innocence," "Casino" and "Kundan."

He revealed that Norman Mailer was responsible for the fight scenes in "Raging Bull." His original intent had been to make a boxing movie without any boxing. Mailer said he couldn't do that. Later Mailer told him he liked everything in the movie except the boxing scenes. Whoever was translating his remarks for those non-English speakers wearing headphones in the audience had to be very tongue-weary by the end of the session after trying to keep up with the fast-talking Scorcese. Ciment hardly need to ask him a question, as each he asked sent Scorcese off on a torrent of memories.

"You, the Living" by Swedish director Roy Andersson, whose "Songs from the Second Floor" won an award here a few years ago, was a lark of a movie whose host of characters might have been caffeinated escapees from a Kaurasmaki film. Many start out mopish and droll but explode into unexpected acts of zaniness in this series of hardly connected vignettes. A suicidal woman on a park bench suddenly breaks into song, a barber sheers a strip down the middle of the head of a customer who makes a disrespectful comment, a guy is sentenced to the electric chair by a trio of beer-guzzling judges for ruining a two hundred year old tea set when his table cloth pulling stunt fails, a naked guy on his back complains about his investments as his wife in a Viking helmet straddles him with her breasts bouncing about, a grade school teacher walks into class one morning and bursts into tears, stunning her students...

I was turned away from the animated Competition feature "Persepolis" at a market screening that was for buyers only. Both Charles and I passed on it yesterday, but the reviews were so great, we were among a hoard trying to see it today. It's about an Iranian girl who goes between Paris and Iran contrasting the cultures. The Iranian religious leaders are not happy about the film at all. Missing that I slipped into a market screening of the Iranian film "Rami." The Iranian film community has been upset that there hasn't been an Iranian film in Competition in several years. It is no wonder if this film is an indication of the present state of Iranian cinema, which at one point was at the forefront of world cinema.

"Whaledreamers," a very polished home movie documentary by an Englishman who befriends some Australian Aborigines and takes up their cause, was another waste of time. Julien Lennon is a backer of the film and was supposed to introduce it, but the man who explained his absence said he probably lost his pass and couldn't get into the theater.

"Liberation Day" gave a taste of rural Rwandan life. Two young men of the rival Tutsi and Hutu
tribes, that led to the massive genocide there, are traveling buddies. When they return to the home of one of them, the parents can't believe their son has struck up a friendship with someone of the rival tribe. They are having none of if and there is no hope for reconciliation. The film ends with a lengthy rap diatribe pleading for some humanity.

Three days to go, George

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Day 8

Friends: I was lured to see the market screening of "My Place in the Sun" from France, as its description in the festival catalog mentioned it began with a teenager riding his bike getting hit by a car, setting off a series of encounters. It didn't promise too much bicycling, but it was the lone bicycle reference in the entire program of the more than thousand films playing here, so I felt obligated to give it a look.

It wasn't long into this hodgepodge of miserable characters, who made anyone watching the movie feel miserable, that I began seething at the absolutely unnecessary mention of the bicycle in the description, leading me to being there. The movie does start with a kid joyously riding his bike, celebrating his sense of freedom, just before he is hit by someone pulling out of his driveway without looking, but there is no more biking in the movie, nor even the kid, only the
older driver who is one of the lost souls of this prototypical French film of characters bemoaning their meaningless lives, looking for lovers and ruining their lives in the attempt.

The perils of getting laid was also the theme of the French film "Just About Love?" This one focused on teens who were desperate to lose their virginity. The film opens with two girls walking along, talking about a classmate who lost her virginity the day before and how they ought to make a resolution to do the same before the end of the school year. "But that's just a week away," one says. "How about by September." They both succeed in getting laid much
more hastily than they anticipated, leading to all sorts of misery and despair. Van Sant's "Paranoid Park" included a similar story thread, but was high art compared to this run-of-the-mill, rambling, but probably all-too-true, story.

A third French film for the day, "A Lost Man," included a series of encounters with prostitutes in the Middle East by a vagabond French photographer who enjoyed photographing his amorous encounters with one hand as they were transpiring. At the center of this true story was the photographer befriending a mysterious male and trying to figure out his past. He is very evasive and combative at times, but the photographer is relentless, even hiring a prostitute to learn more about him. At least this film took place in an interesting environment.

The Competition category offered another exceptional film that is making this year better than
most. "The Edge of Heaven" by the German/Turkish director Fatih Akin splits its time between Germany and Istanbul following six characters (two sets of mothers and daughters and a father and son--four Turks and two Germans). The spellbinding, continually evolving plot includes the unfortunate, accidental deaths of two of them.

The linear plot, which doesn't try to interweave multiple stories simultaneously, but just proceeds relentlessly ahead, follows a Turkish/German professor of German to Turkey, where he tries to track down the daughter of his father's live-in prostitute. Ironically, the daughter has come to Germany to track down her mother. The daughter is involved with a militant group in Turkey and seeks asylum in Germany. She is befriended by a good-hearted young woman who
has recently returned from several months in India. Her mother does not appreciate the intimacy of their friendship.

The day's other Competition film, Hungarian Bela Tarr's "The Man From London," wasn't quite as well-received. It was by far the most walked-out upon movie to play so far. His fans, however, will be delighted with this moody, murky, black-and-white affair that begins with a signature, snail-paced, 12-minute pan of a ship in harbor at night. It takes all one's powers of concentration to figure out what is going on. A night watchman at the ship yard recovers a suitcase full of money that a man from London has come to retrieve.

The only movie I could squeeze in between Bela Tarr and the bicycle movie was "Summer Love," reputed to be the first Polish Western. It would most likely be a waste of time, which it was, but one never knows.

I also squeezed in thirty minutes of the final installment of Ken Burns' "War." There had been three four-hour programs over the last three days preceding this last two-hour segment. I was hoping Burns might be there to introduce it, giving me the opportunity to let him know his favorite Telluride Film Festival staffer, Lyndon, had recently married. Burns hasn't missed a Telluride Festival in twenty years and is one of its strongest supporters.

Burns was indeed there, but he was late in arriving, and was hurried directly to the stage. And
as is required by all directors at such special presentations, he was obligated to sit and watch his
film so he could be applauded by the audience at its conclusion, preventing me from having a word with him. If it had been crucial, I could have sat through the film and caught him on the way out, but that would have meant the sacrifice of two other movies. There were only about 50 people in the 300-seat Bunuel theater, so it would have been no difficulty talking to him afterward. Ken will just have to wait until September to find out, if he hasn't already.

Later, George

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Day 7

Friends: When "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" opened with the blurred vision seen through the eyes of someone waking from a 20-day coma, totally paralyzed including the ability to speak, only able to blink, and begins an inner narrative peering out at the doctors and nurses trying to communicate with him, I kept a sharp lookout on the audience in the packed 2,400 seat Palais
theater anticipating the most walked out upon movie of the festival.

But this French feature quickly becomes stunningly captivating, keeping everyone glued to their seats. Mathieu Amalric's performance as the 43-year old stroke victim could easily win him the best actor award here, even though the bulk of his performance is spent laying in bed with the single facial expression of a lop-sided, contorted lip, peering about and blinking his lone healthy eye. The film is interspersed with flashbacks of his life as the editor of "Elle" magazine and father of two with a mistress. His therapist is exceptional too, teaching him to express himself by blinking when she speaks the letter of the word he wishes to express.

One of the first sentences he contrives is, "I want death," enraging his therapist. Though he never regains the ability to speak, he does regain the desire to live and eventually begins the arduous and remarkable effort of writing a book about his experience, blinking out each letter. The movie is based on the book of this true story.

A Mennonite father of six in northern Mexico having an affair is the unlikely subject of Carlos Reygadas "Silent Light." Reygades proves he can make a remarkable film even without graphic sex, as riled audiences and marked his two previous films "Japan" and "Battle in Heaven." Like those, this is another understated portrayal of a character with painful inner turmoil. The father treats his attraction to another woman like a disease and asks others, including his father, what he should do about it. Everyone remains even-tempered and sympathetic. When his father calls his affair "the work of the enemy," his son replies, "Talk to me like a father, not a preacher." He tells his father he has told his wife about it all from the very beginning. His mistress is equally as rational as one can be about such things. The film is also highlighted with a ravishing sun rise
opening and sunset close and vistas of the countryside.

Charles, Facets programmer, who has been my seatmate two or three times a day as we alternately save an aisle seat for each other for the all-important quick-getaway at a film's conclusion, warned me that he saw the largest mob of the festival before the two o'clock screening of Harmony Korine's much anticipated "Mr. Lonely." We were both planning on
attending the 10:30 pm screening, when Korine and the cast would be present. I left "Riding With the King" early to get in line by nine. I was among the first 15, but there were soon mobs gathered.

It was almost a relief to escape "Riding With the King," a most amateurish minimal-budget production, based on the true story of Elvis's step-brother as his bodyguard. He joined Elvis on tour as a 16-year and eventually learned karate and became one of his bodyguards. He was quite shocked when he boarded Elvis' private jet for the first time to see his personal doctor aboard. He was told not to question, when he asked what he was doing there. The movie doesn't shy at all from his drug use. Early on Elvis asks him to give him an injection before he's about to go on stage.

A Scottish castle inhabited by celebrity impersonators, including the Three Stooges, Charlie
, Marilyn Monroe, the Pope, Madonna, Sammie Davis Jr. and Michael Jackson, along with nuns jumping out of airplanes prodded by Werner Herzog over the jungles of Panama, promised great hilarity that could rival Korine's masterpiece "Gummo" from ten years ago.
The movie's opening number of a helmeted character in a bird suit on a mini-bike to the tune of Mr. Lonely brought resounding applause from the audience, as did two more early-on outrageous sequences that only Korine could have devised.

Danger signs appear, however, when the Michael Jackson character, while doing a routine in a Paris park with a cup for money in front of him, keeps repeating himself and doesn't approach the shocking weirdness that Korine is known for. Same with the next scene when he talks with his agent and then when he goes to perform at an old people's home.

When he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who invites him to the Scottish enclave of impersonators, I expected all hell to break loose. That too was shockingly dull. Only a profane Abe Lincoln could enliven things at all. Otherwise the others were lackluster pale imitations of their characters. The enclave desperately need a Groucho Marx prancing about, wise-cracking with brothers Harpo, Zippo and Gummo, certainly GUMMO, in tow. Or a Hamony Korine
impersonator of the enfant terrible of ten years ago. Korine admits to having been in rehab and holed up in a Paris apartment, as well as wandering around the Amazon, these past years when he has been notably absent. Could he possibly have suffered a lobotomy somewhere along the way.

Although "Mr. Lonely" painfully fails to come close to "Gummo's" freshness and spontaneity, and can be considered a flop to a degree, it certainly isn't of the proportions of last year's "Southland Tales," the "Donnie Darko" follow-up. This doesn't need to be salvaged. It can be released as is and will find some support. People weren't exiting the theater in droves as they did for "Southland Tales." Most everyone stayed to the end and gave him a fairly prolonged applause. The film does have its moments, but its mostly a huge missed opportunity. The
producers have to be nervous about recouping their 8.2 million dollar investment.

I was able to squeeze in three other films for my first seven film day on the seventh day of this year's festival after being held to six the first six days. Eight could be possible on day eight if I didn't have to take time to send out these missives.

There are a dozen or more films on soccer here. I saw my first today, "The Power of the Game" by Michael Apted of "7 Up," "14 Up," "21 Up" fame. He used the excuse of wanting to make a documentary to gain entrance to last year's World Cup. He also ranges to Argentina and Senegal and South Africa, pursing soccer stories there. An Iranian woman journalist covering the World Cup is another of his subjects. This will please those craving anything soccer, but he doesn't
offer anything fresh or new.

If "Outlaw," about vigilantes seeking justice in London, ever gets released, the media will have a
heyday condemning its portrayal of men seeking justice through violence, when the legal system has failed them. With Bob Hoskins in the cast it might have a chance despite its senseless plot.

"Silent Light" ran 20 minutes longer than the 122 minute running time listed in the program, so I missed the first half hour of Canadian Guy Maddin's "Brand on the Brain," but that didn't much matter, as experiencing a Maddin film is more important than whatever plot it might have. As expected, this was an assault of images unlike any other on offer here--a black and white recreation of a silent era style film in twelve chapters with no dialog from the characters, just short, clipped subtitles. It is accompanied by fast-paced, foreboding music with Isabella Rossalni as an Interlocutor. It was relaxing to sit back and simply enjoy.

Later, George

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Day 6

Friends: Gus Van Sant proves once again that he understands teens in "Paranoid Park," based on a novel about a high school skateboarder who accidentally kills a railroad security guard as he attempts to pull him off a freight train he's hopped aboard as a lark.

The teen is a marginal suspect, but manages to keep his cool, though he's driven to do things out of character, such as read the newspaper. The movie, with an array of well-drawn, sensitive, fully-realized characters, including a few parents, is more a portrayal of teens struggling to deal with life than about the crime. This is a hopeful picture and not without Van Sant's usual dazzling flourishes.

Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart" is another incisive, spot-on portrayal of real people, and these are really real. This movie is about the kidnapping and beheading of "Wall Street Journal" journalist Danny Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. It is based on his wife's book. Angelina Jolie gives a most credible performance in the role. Winterbottom brilliantly captures the frenzy of Karachi and the search for Pearl.

A shot of a woman's posterior from Ulrich Seidl's "Import/Export" graces the cover of the festival program. Today we finally learned why she was in that pose. She is one of a handful of characters who are the focus of this movie reduced to desperate measures trying to cope with life. She sits in a room with a camera upon her doing whatever some Internet client asks her to do. It would be hard to say which of the cast of woeful characters is mired in the most humiliating of circumstances. There is a woman who has come to Austria from the Ukraine seeking a better life to support her child back home. She lands a job as a live-in cleaning woman, but is fired after her first day when the ten-year old boy of the house loudly berates and accuses her of stealing his cell phone. There is a young thug of a man who loses his job as a security guard. He owes all sorts of people, including his step-dad, money, who want it right now. He tries terrorizing people on a subway platform saying they owe him money from a drinking binge earlier in the week. Seidl, a some time documentarian, is known for his confrontational, disturbing films and this is no exception, though this is more uneven than some of his other work. He could make it more riveting by trimming some of its 135 minutes.

"The Counterfeiters," also from Austria, is another true story. It is based on the largest counterfeiting ring in history--the Nazis at a WWII concentration camp. Chief counterfeiter is a Jewish prisoner who had been imprisoned for counterfeiting before the war. He's the head of an operation of prisoners counterfeiting English pounds and U.S. dollars. The prisoners don't want to assist the Nazis, so delay their success in counterfeiting the U.S. dollar as long as they can despite threats from the Nazis. They succeed early on in duplicating the pound, producing
132 million dollars worth of them. They finally give in to the Nazi threats and start doing the same with dollars, but very near the war's end. I was glad to have stumbled upon this film in the market.

I was also glad to have seen "And Along Come Tourists," another film about a concentration camp, Aushwitz, except in current times. This slight, but captivating film, is about a German who comes to work at Aushwitz to do odd jobs including looking after an 80-year old survivor of the camp who still lives and works on the premises. The German is doing this as civil service rather than serving in the military back home. The survivor doesn't particularly welcome the
German, but in time they develop a respect and friendship for one another. The survivor gives
speeches, to not always appreciative or attentive audiences, on what it was like to be in the camp. This was the first of half a dozen films I've seen in the Uncertain Regard category that refreshingly wasn't weighted down by trying to be stylish. Instead it let the characters and story carry the movie.

I was the only one of the thousands here who cared to see what the catalog called "Kris
Kristofferson's greatest performance to date" in "Disappearances"--a market screening in the 32- seat Gray 4 theater in a hotel just off the main boulevard along the beach front. Gary Farmer and Genevieve Bujold were added reasons to give this a look. It takes place in 1932 Vermont just after a harsh winter that has left Kristofferson without any feed for his animals. He is forced to return to his past vocation of being a whiskey-runner. A hooting white owl early on forebodes of death says Bujold, hoping it is her own. The movie has other surreal elements, some intentional and others not, justifying everyone else for not having any interest in it.

Later, George

Monday, May 21, 2007

Day 5

Friends: By 9:30 this morning, an hour into the compilation film "To Each His Own Cinema," I felt as if I'd had a full day of cinema already, so rich were the three minute shorts by master directors celebrating the 60th Anniversary of this festival. There were 33 segments, each a story unto itself, most taking place in or at a movie theater. There was sex, violence, tears, laughs, purse-snatching, singing and more than a few bicycles.

Chen Kaige's piece featured a quartet of Chinese boys astride bicycles powering a projector in the plaza of a small town showing a Chaplin film. The faster they pedaled the faster Chaplin shuffled about. A Japanese movie-goer suffers the worst fate one can experience at the cinema in Takesi Kitano's contribution. When he leaves the theater his bicycle has been stolen. And while in the theater twice the projector breaks down, once in the middle of a scene with a young man on a bicycle. Aki Kuaurasmaki's segment included the Lumiere brother's first film with people pouring out of a factory, some of them on bicycles. Hou Hsia-hsen included a few bicycles
parked outside a theater as well as a bicycle rickshaw going by. Walter Salles' show-stopper of two men singing a duet of what they imagine Cannes must be like was bookended by passing bicyclists. Wim Wenders included a passing bicycle wheel in close, close foreground at the start of his segment, which took place in Africa.

Lars Van Trier characteristically had the most shocking segment, Roman Polanski's was prurient, Loach's rife with social commentary and the Coen brothers was hilarious as a cowboy tries to decide whether to see "Climates" or "The Rules of the Game," two consummate art films that he couldn't hope to tolerate. It was a great start to the day. The only question was why weren't Tarantino or Jarmusch included, two Cannes regulars and favorites. And another question is, when will someone commission the world's great directors to do a similar project with the bicycle as its theme.

My other exhilarating movie for the day was "Brando," a two hour and 45 minute documentary that played on cable earlier this month. It was a privilege to see this on the big screen. An honor
role of actors and directors and producers spoke in awe of his incredible talent, going back to his
theatrical breakthrough on Broadway in the play "Truckline Cafe," a couple years before he truly
exploded on the scene with his stage performance in "A Steetcar Named Desire," overwhelming one and all. Old-timers, including Karl Malden and Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman, who knew him back then, spoke how in "Truckline" he absolutely stunned audiences as well as its cast with his performance, leaving them wounded and empty. Film historian David Thompson says no one in the history of cinema has had a string of such over-powering performances starting with "Streetcar" and including "On the Waterfront" and "The Wild One." The doc was liberally sprinkled with clips from his movies.

Also on the schedule here is the 14 hour Ken Burns documentary on WWII that isn't scheduled to play on PBS until September. I'll wait until Telluride to see some of that. The same with a documentary on Pierre Rissient by Todd McCarthy called "Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient." Rissient is one of the linch pins of Telluride and had a theater named after him there last year.

Two of my day's feature films were from China--"Blind Mountain" and "You and Me." "Blind
" could have been as devastatingly unsettling as the Romanian abortion film, still standing head and shoulders above anything else that has played here."Blond Mountain" is the story of a recent college graduate who is kidnapped and sold as a wife off in isolated rural China. It was lushly photographed, but barely scratched the surface of the woman's horror, which included being raped by her husband as his parents hold her down. She tries to escape several times, but without much forethought or credibility. She continually gives letters to the postman to send to her parents without trying to be secretive about it at all. Whoever wrote this script didn't give it much thought. Every letter is, of course, intercepted by her husband. Finally she does get a letter out.

"You and Me," about the friendship between a woman college student and her 80-year old landlady, also had an short-sighted script and was a missed opportunity for something of significance. The two women spend more time yelling and screaming at each other than truly bonding and getting to know one another and sharing their pasts. This film has deservedly won awards for their performances.

"Psalms" was also burdened by a script that left much to be desired. A father disappears in Jerusalem leaving behind a wife and two sons, one a teen and another a pre-teen. It seems as if it is of his own devising when he drives his two sons to school and goes by the school, not dropping them off, then goes the wrong way down a one-way street and crashes. He sends his older son off to get help. When he returns, the father is gone. Later the younger son finds a cookie container full of cash in the kitchen cupboard, which they suspect he has withdrawn from the bank so his wife can collect money from the state.

"My Brother Is An Only Child" from Italy was also saddled with a half-baked script about two brothers of opposite political beliefs in a small town in the '60s and '70s. One is an aspiring fascist and the other a communist. It tries to be light-hearted and serious. When their sister is upset with a boyfriend, she asks her fascist brother to beat him up saying, "A fascist in the family is always handy, like a doctor."

Later, George

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Day 4

Friends: No worries about having to endure a retread when it comes to South Korean Kim Ki-duk. In "Breath" his wild and often perverse imagination doesn't go beyond the beyond as it can, but it does go out there. He orchestrates a love affair between a house wife in Seoul with a high profile death row inmate. She may be upset with her husband's infidelity or perhaps is simply responding to a general malaise.

She flees her husband one evening and takes a taxi to the prison, claiming to be an ex-girl friend of the prisoner and asking to visit. She is initially denied but the director of the prison likes the look he sees of her over his closed circuit camera and tells the guard to call her back and let her in. The prisoner can't speak, as he has recently attempted suicide by stabbing himself in the throat with a sharpened toothbrush. She visits several more times until her husband tails her to the prison and attempts to put a stop to their affair, which is becoming increasingly intimate. With each visit she decorates the visiting room with different wall paper of the different seasons (spring, summer, fall) and dresses accordingly. She also brings a tape recorder and sings him a song each time. It doesn't get as bizarre as it might, but it is still plenty out there.

Kim ki-duk would no doubt enjoy the documentary "Zoo," inspired by the 2005 death of a Seattle man from having his colon punctured while letting a horse have intercourse with him. Zoo is the slang term for zoophiliacs, people who have a love relationship with an animal other than their own species. The film features four such men who provide the voice over for this fascinating study that avoids sensationalizing the issue. There is just a brief flash of a video of a horse humping a man. The movie lets these men explain why they are the way they are. One man asks, "Why am I this way, there has to be a purpose." They all claim to have a sincere love for their horses. One of the subjects was drawn to Washington, where until this 2005 case, there was no law against having such relations with animals. The men had an actual farm where they'd gather for their assignations. There are recreations with actors of many aspects of the story, including the gelding of the horse in question so that it could not be adopted by another

The extraordinary career of Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair photographer Annie Liebovitz was told in the documentary "Annie Liebovitz: Life Through a Lense." It included remarkable footage of interviews with her from her early days with "Rolling Stone," as well as footage of her on more recent shoots, including on the set of "Marie Antoinette." Most interesting was her commentary of several shoots of John Lennon, as well as on touring with the Rolling Stones back in the '70s when anything and everything went on. Her legendary shot of a naked John clinging to a fully clothed Ono was shot just a few hours before he was murdered. Her recounting of that shoot was just one of many most moving moments. It was exhilarating to hear her reflect back on a life well-lived. She was in the midst of putting together a book of her work. There was all too much to choose from, including many shots of Susan Sontag, who was her partner up until her death.

A simple-minded 40-year old man who works at a small gas station in rural Ireland made for an interesting subject in the Irish feature "Garage." Most of the people he comes into contact with are kind and gentle with him, but there are a few who ridicule his child-like nature. He develops a friendship with a 15-year old boy, who comes to work with him part-time when the owner of the gas station decides to extend its hours. They drink beer together behind the garage after closing. The boy even invites him to join him and other teens drinking out along the railroad tracks around a small fire after dark. The gentle calm of his life is thrown into disarray, however, when a trucker friend gives him a porno video.

There was some semi-commercial fare in Competition today--the Coen brothers "No Country for Old Men" based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, starring Tommie Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson. They all give sterling performances in this tale of a drug deal gone bad. Brolin comes into possession of a suitcase with a couple million dollars in. Bardem, as a most sinister bad guy, is in hot pursuit. Harrelson is in pursuit as well. Tommie Lee Jones is the local sheriff in the same West Texas countryside that was featured in his film "The Three Burials of...," which won him a best actor award here two years ago. Bardem and Harrelson have an impossibly incredible ability to remain on the trail, but overlooking that, the multiple confrontations and verbal jousting are extremely well-written and entertaining. They offered a good jolt compared to much of what has played so far. Unfortunately, it is undermined by a not very satisfying conclusion.

"Dream of the Night Before" was another French film recycling material that has been done again and again and again--the neuroses of a bunch of actors putting on a play. Chief neurotic was the 40-year old woman star of the play who has yet to have a child and knows her time is running short.

Later, George

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Day 3

Friends: For the second day in a row there was a film in Competition centered on abortion. This one was Russian, "The Banishment," the second film by Andrey Zvagintisay, whose previous film, "The Return," won top honors at Venice a couple years ago. When a woman tells her husband she's pregnant and not with his child, one expects the issue of abortion to be raised.
It doesn't happen for a couple of days, not until the husband and wife resume speaking to one another. The husband is involved with the mafia and doesn't consider his wife much more than chattel. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't even care enough to ask his wife who the father is. If he had, he would have received an unexpected answer.

Rather than discussing the matter with his wife, he asks his brother, also involved with the mafia, what he ought to do. He says he has two options, kill her or forgive her, and he tells him there's a gun in an upstairs drawer. A couple days later his brother brings an abortionist to their house off in the isolation of the country. This is a film of prolonged silences and studied profiles and sweeping landscapes clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, all symptoms of Art House Pretension.

Abortion was also raised in "Magnus," the first film from Estonia invited to Cannes. A father tells his 18-year old son, who he is trying to convince to keep on living, that he and his mother initially considered abortion when she was pregnant with him. They were unmarried teens themselves and not ready for parenthood. They decided to marry, which lasted only a couple of years. The father tries to bond with his son after his latest suicide attempt by doing cocaine with him and taking him to a whorehouse. This not very necessary movie was said to be based on a true story and closes with a monologue from the father's character explaining his behavior.

"In Your Wake" from France was also about a father and son involved in activities outside the law. This father too is trying to reconnect with his son, this one a few years older than the one in "Magnus". They are both struggling to get by, the son as a dish-washer, as he trains to be a boxer, and the father as an owner of a small bar. The father has a plot to rob the safe of an associate who owes him money and runs an illegal business on the side. He enlists his son to case out the joint and to be the driver and lookout for the operation. The third member of the venture is somewhat the brains behind it, but he's not much brighter than they are. They
are, of course, doomed to failure in some manner or another. The cast all give adequate performances, but this wasn't a film that needed to be made either.

Continuing the theme for the day, the same can be said of "Love Songs," a French entry in the
Competition field by the director of "Dans Paris" that played at the New French Film Festival at Facets last December after debuting here a year ago. This had a wacky air to it with the characters breaking into song from time to time. The trivial plot was that of a love threesome (a straight guy, a straight woman, and a lesbian, all 20 somethings). The straight girl dies of a heart attack and the guy takes up with a guy in his despair.

There is no shortage of interest in horror films. The market screening for "Black Sheep" from New Zealand was packed. Its single line blurb in the program stated--"There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand...and they're pissed off." This was campy and goofy and has some beautiful scenery. The sheep go berserk, attacking any human in the vicinity. A pair of animal rightists, one of whom goes by the name Experience, have come to the farm to protest the genetic engineering being performed there. They are a hoot with their blabberings, some that even make sense. Further comic relief is provided by one of the two sons who grew up
on the farm. He happens to have returned the day the animal rightists make their invasion. He's been away for ten years, as he developed a phobia to the sheep. His worst fears are coming to fruition. When the sheep turn surly his older brother sneers at him, "That will give you something to talk to your therapist about." This actually has distribution and could be coming to the U.S.

I had one deadly serious film for the day--the 135-minute documentary "Terror's Advocate" by Barbet Schroeder on the French lawyer Jacques Verges, who has made a career of defending terrorists and the seemingly indefensible since the '60s starting with Algerian bombers. He's now about 80, but as lucid and egomaniacal as ever. Among his clients have been African despots, Serbian warlords, the terrorist Carlos and Barbie of the SS. It was he versus 39 French lawyers in the 1986 grand showcase trial of Barbie. He says that meant each of them was only worth one-fortieth of him. When Schroeder asked him if he would have defended Hitler his response was, "I'd even defend Bush."

Later, George

Friday, May 18, 2007

Day 2

Friends: "Zodiac" led off the Competition screenings today at the Palais at 8:30. Having seen it Stateside already I was free to start my day with the market screening of "The Last Winter," a cautionary tale of global warning by award-winning actor/director Larry Fessenden, director of American independents "Habit" and "Wendego." He ventures to an oil drilling site in the Alaskan arctic for this supernatural thriller.

It could be the last winter, as global warning has it raining in the arctic in February and the
permafrost is melting and nature has unleashed certain evil forces in retaliation to man's desecration. It hasn't been cold enough to freeze the tundra so the oil drilling company can put down a road to bring in their equipment. There is an alternative method of bringing it in on rollers, but the on site ecological consultant must approve, but he's not disposed to do it despite the bullying of the swashbuckling, wise-cracking oil man in charge nor the urgings of the
number two person on site, his former girl friend who is now sleeping with the environmentalist hoping to sway him. The three are part of an eight person crew working in isolation at this encampment of trailers. The intrigue among the three is enough to carry this picture, but there is much, much more to it. When one of the oil workers runs off naked into the arctic night, they all realize there are forces manipulating them they can't fathom. They begin to realize the
earth is fighting back and they are at its mercy.

Later in the day I saw the Canadian documentary "Manufactured Landscapes," which carried a similar theme of the crime of the desecration of the planet, as seen through the lense of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. The film shows snippets of a Burtynsky lecture and also follows him in his quest to photograph mines, quarries, factories, dams, highways and other examples of the plundering of the planet. Much of the movie focuses on the vast construction
projects going on in China. This is an important and worthwhile film.

The highlight of the day by far was "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days," a Romanian film depicting the anguish and terror of getting an abortion to a greater depth than it probably ever has been. It takes place in 1987 Romania when it was a serious crime with heavy prison time to get or give an abortion. The college student seeking the abortion is four months, three weeks and two days pregnant. The film spans the day she goes for her abortion. She is accompanied by her roommate. The abortion is arranged through an intermediary and they meet the abortionist that day. He is extremely cold and insensitive and makes a shocking demand of both of them before he will perform the abortion. It is all portrayed with such staggering, gut-wrenching realism it is hard to believe that the two women hadn't been through such a horrific experience. There isn't a false note to this powerful film that will make Top Ten lists around the world come December.

The three other features that followed all seemed trivial by comparison, though they were all
had merit. "Waterlilies" by a young first-time French woman director was about teen-aged girl synchronized swimmers and their sexual urgings. They aren't all sure if they like boys or girls. The film focuses on a girl too young to be a part of the team who has a crush on one of the girls. The director originally intended to film this as a short, but the subject matter seemed appealing enough that she was given financing to make it a feature-length film. This was good enough to have a film-festival and small art house life, but probably not much more outside of France.

Juliette Binoche added some zest to Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon," but
otherwise this film, which takes place in Paris, would have been just a little more than tedium. The hook is a red balloon that bobs and drifts about Paris at the beginning of the film and a couple times later and then at the end. Otherwise, its Binoche's nanny making pancakes for her son, listening to his wretched piano lessons, hearing the piano tuned. Hou Hsiao-hsein said
he wanted to examine what life is like for a single parent and child--pretty boring.

An emerging theme of the festival is relationships in crisis. Binoche's husband was off in Montreal trying to write a novel. She has one angry phone conversation with him. In the Romanian film the girl friend who is helping her friend has several arguments with her boyfriend, not sure of where they stand. In "The Last Winter" there are a number of
arguments in its love triangle. Several films yesterday also dabbled with such matters, while it was the subject of the French movie about the shrink. And it was the focus of today's final movie, "The Milky Way" from Brazil. It was all about a professor who fears he's losing his younger girl friend. The whole movie is his obsession with this. He spends all too much time driving around Sao Paulo in near grid-lock having nightmares, real and imagined. A nice sound track and artfully done, but another minor film.

Later, George

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Day 1

Friends: I'll have to wait until the end of the festival when all the Competition films are rescreened to see Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai's Opening Night Film "My Blueberry Nights," his first filmed in the U.S. Both press screenings were packed with press leaving no room for us with Market passes and since I brought no formal attire I couldn't get into the two
official screenings. Early reports though are I didn't miss much, other than another sterling performance from Daid Straithern. He's been piling them up lately, since even before "Good Night and Good Luck." He would make a worthy tributee at any film festival.

That was the only film of any significance playing on Day One of the festival, so all my other choices were shots in the dark in the Market, most of which were misfires. Anyone can pay to have a film shown in the Market, unlike the four competitive categories, which are by invitation. In years past the market screenings didn't commence until mid-afternoon on the first day of the fest as the 35,000 attendees of the festival gathered. But this year the screenings began with a pair at 9:30, and then another 85 scattered throughout the day, about a third of what it will be

I was among six other eager beavers at the 9:30 screening of the American documentary "Rock the Bells" about a young gung-ho promoter trying to pull off a final concert performance of the Wu-Tang Clan with ODB. He was like an Internet entrepreneur that have been profiled in other documentaries. He had to mortgage his house without his wife's approval and get a loan from his mother. I only intended to watch the first half hour before slipping into something I had more desire to see unless it was something truly exceptional. I had few fears of that happening. The highlight was catching a glimpse of a yellow Livestrong wristband on one of the band members as he was making a call on his cell phone.

There was a considerably larger audience for "A Bloody Aria," as it was from South Korea, a national cinema that has a strong following. It began and ended with operatic flourish and in between was filled with menace and mayhem. A music professor has designs on a female student. She accompanies him on a drive out into the country. When he speeds through a red light, he comments, "Only fools abide by the rules." He's pulled over by a cop and protests, "You must be mistaken. I always abide by the rules." His lies and duplicity get the both of them in deep trouble when he gets his car stuck in the sand alongside a river, fails in his seduction of his student and a quartet of thugs happen upon him, two of whom have a hostage in a burlap bag
on the back of one of their motorcycles. With its oddball elements and bent to the macabre, it owes much to Kim Ki-Duk, who is the master of such films.

"I Hate My Job" would more aptly have been titled "I Hate My Life." This English production features five women, including Neve Campbell, who work in a semi-upscale restaurant. The movie opens with the monologue of the prep cook, who has been elevated to head cook that day even though she's ill-prepared for the position. She's an aspiring novelist who has just received a rejection letter from a publisher saying her novel reads like a saxophone solo in misery. The
same could be said for the characters of this movie.

I greatly anticipated "Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust," a Japanese comedy about a woman who
inadvertently invents a time machine. She decides to go back in time 17 years to save the Japanese economy from going bust, trying to persuade the government not to pass the legislation it did on March 30, 1990 that led to the Japanese bubble bursting. When she doesn't
return, her daughter, who works as a bar hostess, is sent to rescue her. She is almost helpless without her cell phone and is appalled by disco and has everyone telling her to pull up her jeans as they hang low exposing her navel. There is much commentary that only someone truly familiar with Japanese society would understand--references to upcoming writers and movie stars and sports figures. She tells a soccer player on the national team she runs into at a disco
what to do to avoid a defeat and win the World Cup.

Taking the risk to get into the four p.m. press screening of "My Blueberry Nights" and failing
prevented me from seeing another South Korean film, this one called "Bunt" about baseball and also a Danish film about a bank heist. There are lots of heist films in the market, so I'll have plenty of chances for another. So I had to settle for the French film "Please Don't Go" about a psychiatrist who discovers a patient of his is having an affair with his wife. This was hardly an original subject, though when the patient discovers he's been spilling the beans to the psychiatrist he withholds his knowledge and engages in a game of mental warfare on the couch,
that the psychiatrist soon realizes as well and continues the game. This was competently done and will satisfy French audiences who thrive on verbal byplay.

I feared it would be buyers only for Steve Buscemi's "Interview," a film he stars in as well as
directs. The sixty-seat theater nearly filled and was my biggest audience of the day, but there was no selectivity to who could get in. Buscemi plays a jaded reporter who is accustomed to covering worldly events, but has grown suspect with his editor for using unreliable sources and has been reduced to personality profiles. The interview of this 81 minute movie is with a young woman starring in a TV situation comedy and has also starred in a series of b-movies. Buscemi
isn't happy at all about having to interview her. He's greatly frustrated not to be in Washington pursing the latest Chaney scandal. His mood is soured even further when the actress arrives an hour late for their interview at a restaurant just a few blocks from her loft.

He begins the interview admitting he hasn't seen any of her movies or her TV show. That doesn't please her at all. As they become increasingly adversarial he admits he did see one of her movies on a flight but with the sound off. Even paying it that little attention he was so irritated by it he wished the plane would go down. She curtly cuts off the interview, but ends up taking him back to her loft when the cab he is in crashes, bloodying his head. She feels responsible because the cab driver was distracted by her walking by on the sidewalk and began talking to her, then slams in to a truck. The interview goes on for a couple of hours as they alternately bare their souls and start bonding, then reject each other and hurl invective insults. Buscemi is his usual brilliant self and Sienna Miller is quite good too.

I ended the day with "My Brother." Not even Tatum O'Neal as a seductress could save this movie. The brother is a mentally challenged (retarded) black man in his 20s. He lives with his older brother, who looks after him, and is an aspiring comic with virtually no talent. He is reduced into some criminal activity, which he bungles, sending thugs after him. The movie had the best of intentions, but fails miserably. As a misfire, it has barely enough gunpowder to dribble a bullet out of a gun barrel. Venessa Williams is the single parent who raised them,
seen in flashback, as she dies when they are pre-teens forcing the boys into separate orphanages.

Later, George

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cannes, France

Friends: Thanks to the easy pedaling and the time I gained following the Rhone River for a day-and-a-half, I was able to duck down to Marseille and give France's second largest city a look, something I had shied away from the past three years, adverse as I am to cycling through large metropolitan areas unless absolutely necessary. I could further overlook my urban-aversion, as it happened to be a Sunday, a day when traffic generally thins to almost sane levels, if motorized traffic can ever be considered sane.

I've known that I would have to give Marseille a look one of these years, as it holds a significant place in Tour de France lore. It was one of the six stage cities of the inaugural 1903 Tour and has been included many times since, though in the 1970s the mayor of Marseille vowed the Tour would never pass through his city again. He was incensed that the peloton arrived at the finish line an hour ahead of time, so few people were there to witness it. He had paid tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of having the Tour finish in his city. Eddie Merckxand a strong tail wind were to blame. Merckx went on a rampage that day upset that he had been attacked by the peloton the day before in violation of Tour etiquette when he had some difficulties. From the very start the day after, he and his team went on the attack in revenge to make everyone suffer trying to keep up.

Marseille was last a Ville Etape in 2003, the Tour's centennial year, when the original six stage cities were all included. A special prize was given that year for the rider with the best placing at each of those six cities--Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes and Paris. And Marseille is back this year, further reason for me to give it an inspection.

Marseille is France's second largest city with a population of 800,000, though Lyon is actually France's second largest metropolis, with a sprawl of over two million. I came within fifteen miles of Lyon on my way down and its traffic and network of roads was much more frustrating than those of Marseille. The arteries I chose to enter and exit Marseille held true. I didn't go astray once, as invariably happens in French cities of over 50,000. Before I knew it, I was at the tourist office at the heart of the city by the old port teeming with boats. I had come 27 miles from the patch of forest that had been my campsite.

I had two questions for the tourist office--where would the peloton finish and start their stages here and also how do I get out of the city? The Tour Village and start and finish area was near the city's velodrome about four miles away, more or less on my route east to Cannes, 110 miles away. I could follow the coast on John F. Kennedy Boulevard for much of the way. The coast line was mostly rugged cliffs with a few small pockets of beach. With it a Sunday, the beaches were well populated. I could look down and see that about one in ten of the fairer sex were topless.

I was hoping to see this year's Tour de France poster on lamp posts along the streets of this city, even though it is more than two months until the Tour arrives here on July 18, but there were none to be seen. Marseille will be both a Ville Arrivee and a Ville Depart. Stage ten starting in Tallard will end here and stage eleven to Montpelier will leave from here the next day. A lesser-sized city would already be proclaiming how proud it was to be hosting the Tour, but there is too much else going on in Marseille for the locals to get all hopped about the Tour's arrival just yet. It was disappointing though not to get another look at that poster with the continents arranged to form a bicyclist, easily the greatest Tour poster ever, and maybe the greatest poster of any kind ever. Every devotee of the bike will want to have one in every room of his house.

The velodrome in Marseille may be the biggest in the world, as it doubles as the city's football stadium, seating 60,000. It will make a great setting for the Tour Village, catering to the thousands of media and sponsors and support crew and dignitaries and fans such as myself that follow the Tour around France for three weeks. I am not sure if I will be here when the Tour arrives, but I am happy I'll be able to fully envision it if I happen to be watching it on television somewhere else in France as I try to catch up to the Tour as it heads to the Pyrenees from Marseille.

I thought I'd have a fast ride from Marseille to Cannes, expecting the winds to be with me, but they uncharacteristically blew from the east most of the way. Still, I arrived in Cannes earlier than I ever have, Monday afternoon, giving me ample time to rest up for the movie-marathon ahead that will commence Wednesday. I may actually have enough time to fully dissect the schedule of over 1,000 films before they begin. I hadn't expected to be able to pick up my credentials until Tuesday, but they'd begun giving them out today. This is the 60th edition of the festival. It too has an annual poster. It features about twenty film luminaries gleefully jumping into the camera with arms outstretched. One has to give it a close inspection to identify who they might me. Almodovar is front and center as well as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director of Babel. It pales compared to the Tour de France poster.

There were only three other tents at the campground I'm staying at four miles from the Festival, so I was able to pick a choice spot on somewhat high ground in case of rain. There were hints of some today as I followed the coast for the final 26 miles from St. Raphael to Cannes, a route I had never taken before. It would have been hard to wild camp along that stretch, as it was packed with hotels and villas. There were few on the beaches today. Still it was nice cycling despite the head winds. I was protected from the wind for a few short stretches by the mottle-barked plane trees that line the roads all over France, some times as a simple wind or sun break on one side of the road and at other times as a virtual arcade and canopy covering the road. There are young, recently planted trees and some ancient, going back to the time of Napoleon. They are among the many charms of bicycling through France.

And now I look forward to experiencing the world vicariously on the big screen.

Later, George