Friends: Twice yesterday and twice today I succeeded in gaining entry to the Palais Competition screenings without an Invitation (ticket) by taking advantage of the last minute entry line. Five minutes before the screening is to commence we unholy ticketless souls are let in if there are any seats remaining in the 2,300 seat theater. Unlike years past my credentials do not entitle me to Invitations. It was always a time-consuming hassle to acquire those Invitations, so this is working out better so far. I don't know why, but the balcony hasn't even been half full for the Competition screenings. It could be attendance is down due to the woefully weak dollar, or it could be the screenings so far haven't had much appeal.
Yesterday's two very worthwhile films were by not so well known directors. Today's were by accomplished, well-recognized directors, known for their slow-paced, minimally plotted fare with appeal to few. Starting the day off at 8:30 with Arnaud Desplechin's two-and-a-half hour "A Christmas Tale" was going to be an early test in the festival of whether I've been getting enough sleep. Mathieu Amalric of last year's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" was among its array of French stars in another movie featuring someone with a very serious medical problem. It isn't him this time, but rather his mother, Catherine Deneuve. She seems perfectly fine, showing no signs of the cancer that could claim her within months unless she receives a bone marrow transplant. The problem is she has an extremely rare blood type. Her doctors have been searching far and wide for a donor. Amalric is a prospect but he had been banned from his family five years previously, so isn't so eager to cooperate. There are no earth-shaking plot twists, just a French movie with a lot of conversation that remarkably maintains interest. This movie won't win any prizes, just the affection of French audiences.
"Three Monkeys" by Nuri Bilge Ceylan of Turkey, however, is a good candidate to go home with an award. Unlike his previous two Competition entries, "Distance" and"Climates" this Turkish film has more than a bare-bones plot. Things actually happen and there is more than one or two characters of substance. A politician enlists his driver to take the fall for a hit-and-run accident he is responsible for just before his election. The driver serves his nine-month sentence in exchange for a chunk of money. His wife and son make a mess of things while he is serving his time. The lies cause everyone much anguish.
A car accident also leads off the Swedish "Suddenly," involving a family of four. The mother and younger son die. How the father and 17-year old son cope follows. They don't do so well, and the father less so than the son. They go off to their summer home on a remote Swedish island. The father drinks a lot and the son broods. The son is befriended by a local girl who works at the market and likes to go swimming topless at the same isolated bay that the boy favors. This film did not have any cinematic grandeur to it as characterizes the films in the competitive categories, but it gave an excellent portrayal of Swedish life and culture, including the local celebration of the solstice. I was glad to have stumbled upon it.
I was also happy to have noticed "Running the Sahara" in my thorough perusal of the program, a documentary that had two showings in the small Gray Hotel
screening rooms. It followed three men (two Americans and a Taiwanese), who take 111 days to run 4,500 miles from Senegal on the Atlantic to the Red Sea just past Cairo. They pass through Timbuktu. They had hoped to complete the run in 80 days, but they had problems getting a visa to run through Libya, which they acquire at the last minute, and have to alter their route. Their other options were to run through Chad and Senegal, but they were both too dangerous. The desert scenery is spectacular and their tribulations many. There is conflict among the crew and the runners and physical woes demanding IVs. They are using the film to raise money to dig wells for the isolated nomads. Water shortage is a subject of a handful of films here. The film concludes with an appearance of the three runners on Jay Leno's show.
It was a two sport film day for me, the other "Tyson" by James Tobeck, playing in the Un Certain Regard category. Both director and star were on stage to introduce it. Tyson received a standing ovation. The film covers Tyson's career from his day as a kid thief to his final fight in 2005 not avoiding any of the unseemly events in his career--his marriage to Givens and the Barbara Walters interview with the two of them, his three-year prison term for rape, beating up Don King, biting the ear of Holyfield and his great promiscuity. Tyson is a garrulous interview subject. Tobeck embellishes the film with artistic flourish. There are a handful of other films in the market on boxing, including a feature film on Sonny Liston starring Vince Rhymes.
I encountered Patrick McGavin, formerly of the "Reader" and the "Tribune," and presently of "Screen" magazine, at the day's first screening. He recommended "Summer Hours" by Olivier Assayas in the market. I hadn't been planning on seeing it, but knowing that Assayas can be interesting, I altered my day's schedule to include it. It was a surprisingly bland, yet typical, French film about three siblings, one of whom is Juliette Binoche, who have to divide the estate of their 75-year old mother. Assayas must have just gone through the experience himself. It was palatable, but nothing exceptional.