Friends: There is no denying now at this point, deep into the festival, that Cannes 2008 will be remembered for its less than stellar crop of films. There has been much to like, but no real standouts. For the first time ever Sony has found nothing worth acquiring. Last year it picked up "The Counterfeiters" and "The Band's Visit." I was hoping they'd find at least "Tokyo Sonata" to their liking, as Sony's films generally end up at Telluride, but evidently this Japanese film does not have enough commercial prospects for them. Miramax too has found virtually nothing worth its while, only acquiring the opening night film "Blindness."
In my desperation to find some hidden gem I was less patient today with lackluster efforts, bailing out early several times, upping my total for the day to eight films. I was helped by failing to gain entrance to the Tarantino master class, a 90-minute conversation with a French critic on his career, including clips from his films, in the 1,000 seat Debussy. Last year's subject was Scorcese, and it was one of the highlights of the festival. Getting in line 90 minutes ahead of time wasn't quite enough. But being shut out of that allowed me to slip in a couple extra films. If I'd only abandoned "WC" after 45 minutes rather than an hour to get in line for Tarantino, I would have gotten in, as I came within 40 people of gaining entrance.
I actually should have left "WC", an Irish drama about two wash room attendants one male, a recent ex-con, and the other female, a Russian immigrant who had been forced into prostitution, after 15 minutes. It was clear from the start that what I hoped would be a captivating oddity was a waste of time. The cast was riddled with actors impersonating, rather than submerging themselves, into their characters.
It was a stark contrast to "Ballast," an American independent whose African American cast in a small southern town all looked as if they could have been playing themselves, and with passion. A 40-year old guy who has just lost his twin brother and business partner to suicide can't find the will to get up and tend to their business--a small gas station and market. He doesn't even care when his brother's 11-year old son comes around with a gun demanding money for his crack habit. The boy's mother loses her job when she is beat up by the drug dealers her son owes money to. These three lost souls struggle to get their lives back on track.
"Wendy and Lucy" is another American independent, though with a bigger budget and the backing of Larry Fessendon, with first rate performances all around. Wendy is a young woman on her way to Alaska from Indiana with her dog Lucy to work in a cannery. She's stuck in a small Oregon town when her car won't start and Lucy has gone missing while she has been booked and detained for shop-lifting. She is befriended by a security guard.
I aborted "Confession of a Killer" after 45 minutes so I could make sure to get into a documentary on Nick Nolte. "Confession" was exactly that, a hired killer giving a confession to a priest. This American independent by a young French American director/actor was stylish and hip with fast-editing and split screens and upbeat music that I could have endured to the end, but I was most concerned about seeing the Nolte doc. I wasn't expecting Nolte to be there, so I was startled when my reading was interrupted as I awaited the start of the film when someone asked if they could take a picture of the grizzled, pink-faced guy sitting in the aisle in front of me. It was Nick himself. He didn't bother to announce himself before this market screening in the one-third filled 150-seat Bory theater. I was the first one to be seated, 45 minutes before the screening was to start.
Nolte, wearing a Panama hat, interviews himself, wearing an open-necked white shirt. The questions aren't all softballs either. Twice he brings up his arrest for drunk driving and his famous mug shot, considered the "Best celebrity mug shot ever." Nolte doesn't want to respond to the question. Nolte the interviewer says, "Don't get pissed off, I'm just asking the questions." Later he tells the full story. He tells how in the '80s cocaine was considered an acceptable drug in Hollywood and that he'd snort it on the set off the script as he was prepping his lines. Early in his career he was considered the next Brando. Brando was a friend. Nolte's performance in "Q & A" was one of Brando's favorite of all time. The film is interspersed with comments from actors and directors he worked with, including a bit too much of Ben Stiller trying to be funny. He flashes the People magazine cover that declared him the "Sexiest Man Alive," as if he was forced to, as he tries not to take any of this too seriously, while giving a good illumination of his career and what makes him tick.
With the crowds thinning, as Thursday is a getaway day for many after spending a week here, there were spare seats in the Palais for the first time since last Friday for the morning's competition screening of "Frontiers of Dawn," a star vehicle for French heartthrob Louis Farrel directed by his father. Garrel plays a photographer who falls in love with an actress during a shoot in her apartment. Her husband of six months is off in Hollywood working on a film. She explains,"I got married on impulse. I often do stupid things." That's a forewarning of things to come in a film that goes on and on in fairly predictable French fashion with a lot of blah, blah blah and a dollop of surrealism thrown in. The screen goes blank from time to time as the plot jumps forward. After about 90 minutes, someone applauded after one of these breaks, implying he anticipated the credits to follow, though he well knew they wouldn't. He earned laughs from the audience, appreciating his gesture. There was more applause after the next break and the next. And then as if to spite the end-craving audience, the director ended the movie with a much unanticipated and unappreciated conclusion.
If the film had only ended at that 90-minute mark, I would have been able to see "Able Danger" over at the Grey in its entirety. Instead I had to miss its first 30 minutes. I wasn't too concerned, as the only reason I wanted to check out this Brazilian-financed American independent about a journalist in New York City uncovering a 9/11 plot was because the blurb in the program mentioned the journalist "has to cycle like a maniac" to escape his pursuers. I assumed that would be towards the end. But I was rewarded with cycling throughout the movie, as that is how the young journalist gets about the Boroughs, regularly crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. This semi-campy effort, shot stylishly in black and white, actually had some appeal. With luck, it could turn up at Facets.