Monday, May 19, 2008

Day 5

Friends: For the first time in my five Festivals de Cannes I sat in the aisle for an entire screening, and in the Palais no less. Those of us in the last minute line for the 8:30 a.m. screening of "Gomorrah" weren't admitted until 8:28. Two minutes was not enough time for us to scamper up the red carpet, have our bags checked, get scanned and find a seat before the lights went dark. Rather than sending us up to the balcony, we were let in on the main floor. It was packed. I found a nice little nook by an emergency exit and could just see the subtitles of this Italian film over the heads of those properly seated.

There was enough padding under the carpet that I survived this two-hour plus saga of the Napoli syndicate without squirming. It wasn't that the movie was so good. Maybe my two weeks of sleeping on the ground has toughened me up as well. This was a very realistic portrayal of the stranglehold the mafia has on Naples and how a great number of people in the community are drawn into. It follows five or six different stories, using professional and non-professional actors. The depiction just rambles along without any strong narrative until a couple of kids who think they are tough guys get hold of a stash of guns and think they can have their say. It was too bad there were not more scenes of originality such as that of the guys in their underwear along the beach shooting off the guns, including a rocket launcher.

My day-long pre-fest close dissection of the program revealed a market screening of an Aaron Eckhardt film called "Meet Bill." It was one of the rare films that had no description, not that they are all that crucial, as most descriptions aren't more than a sentence or two. One of my great festival experiences was seeing the film that launched Eckhardt, "In the Company of Men," at Sundance in 1997. I am happy to see him in anything after that. There were a couple dozen others who joined me in the small Gray theater for this American independent. Eckhardt plays a sorry sap working as an executive in his father-in-law's bank. He hates his job and his life. He munches on candy bars at every opportunity and has developed quite a gut. His wife is having an affair with a local newsman. This feeble comedy was about as sappy as Eckhardt's character.

Nor could the star power of Julia Stiles, Danny Glover, and Angela Bassett rescue "Gospel Hill" directed by Giancarlo Esposito. Its a long shot that this film about racism in a small southern town will make it to the multiplexes. I was drawn to it not only to see Stiles, but that one of the plot strands was about the locals protesting the development of a multimillion dollar golf course in the community. There was very little about battling the evil developers.

"Restless" by Amos Kollek was another of the small nuggets I discovered in the program receiving no attention whatsoever but that was among the films I was most excited to see. It had just two screenings in small market theaters. I so wanted to see this I was afraid to mention it to anyone else, not wanting the word to get out that Kollek had a film here. Thanks to his remarkable "Sue" starring Anna Thompson from ten years ago, he and she have a strong cult following in France and Germany, enough so that his film "Fast Food, Fast Woman" starring Thompson played in Competition here several years ago. But this Israeli-American's
films rarely get much distribution in the U.S. though they are generally set in New York and capture the gritty side of life with tough characters finding some way to survive life's many adversities.

Thompson wasn't in this film, but it was still a most satisfying idiosyncratic film, starring a 50- year old Israeli poet just scraping by in Manhattan. He's three months behind on his rent and his landlord threatens to have him deported, as he's been in the U.S. for 20 years illegally. The poet attacks him with a brick, saying he's mourning the death of his wife. The landlord is evidently accustomed to such behavior and doesn't retaliate. He recites most heart-felt poetry at an Israeli bar about the travails of life and the decline of Israel that would make Bukowski proud. He's a womanizer. He has affairs with a 70-year old and a 40-year old bartender. There are also flashbacks to Israel where his 20-year old son, who he has never met, is just finishing up his three years in the army. This film was a nice discovery and made my day.

"Man on Wire", a documentary about the Frenchman who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Towers in 1974, was another great discovery. The English filmmakers, who also did "Wisconsin Deathtrap," sought out all the principles in the endeavor, "the artistic crime of the century," to recount this amazing, death-defying stunt. This was a documentary just waiting to be made, like yesterday's on the origins of the Che photograph. This too played in a small market screening room and had no mention in the trade papers. I have learned over the years of coming to Cannes that there are many such unexpected delights to be found. Milos of Facets said the filmmakers had sought Facets to distribute it. He wasn't interested, thinking there couldn't be that much to the story. The tightrope walker spent months planning it and had a crew to assist him in hauling the wire up to the roof and to secure it and extend it the 200 feet from one building to the other. He'd previously walked tightropes across Notre Dame in Paris and the Tower Bridge in Sydney.

I had hoped to see an Isabelle Huppert movie about a Swiss family coping with the construction of a highway in their back yard playing in the Critic's Week section, but there was too much of a mob when I arrived. So I zipped a mile down Antibes to the Star theaters for "Cloud Nine" a German film that had played earlier in Un Certain Regard. I arrived just in time to get one of the last seats just as a 66-year old woman was disrobing on screen and crawling into bed with a 76 year old. The woman had fallen in love with the guy after doing some sewing for him, even though she was semi-happily married. The film examines the sex life of the elderly, proving that the interest doesn't wane with the years. Her husband of thirty years isn't happy about her affair, but she can't help herself. It is love and she can't help but give herself up to it. Her lover still rides a bicycle and is a fan of racing. They have one rendezvous at a velodrome, though we see little racing and mostly just their longing looks at each other, he in the infield assisting with the racing and she in the stands. Some are calling this a courageous, ground-breaking film. There is too much sex and not enough character development.

Films fit well enough today that I was able to have my first seven film day of the festival. My 31st film of the festival was "Being W" a French documentary ridiculing Bush. My screening was its world premiere. The director had delivered the print from Paris this day, a print still with the time-codes on it and no credits. A Bush impersonator narrates his life story intercut with all his speaking plunders that have been played and replayed countless times. He seems so foolish and pathetic, he almost becomes a sympathetic character. It was the first film that put me to sleep. Enough already. The trade papers have all had two page ads promoting Oliver Stone's soon to be shot film on Bush seeking distributors.

And tomorrow I have a Paul Cox film awaiting me, another film under the radar.

Later, George

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