Friday, May 29, 2009

Ajaccio, Corsica

Friends: Not once in the 107-year history of the Tour de France has the race ventured to Corsica, even though it has been a part of France since 1769, and lays just 100 miles off its coast in the Mediterranean. It is a four-and-a-half hour ferry trip from Nice.

Its rugged and spectacular mountainous terrain is a big tourist attraction and would make for some sensational racing. And Corsica is the birthplace of Napoleon. His grandiose tomb in Paris resides just across the Seine from where the Tour finishes on the Champs Elysees. A Tour dedicated to Napoleon could go from his birthplace to his final resting place and include many of his battlegrounds in between. It would be a natural. But The Tour has avoided Corsica, fearful of being being disrupted by the Corsican separatists wishing to bring attention to their cause. They still set off bombs and deface the French of the bilingual road signs, leaving the Corsican. The Corsican mafia too has its finger in much of what goes on in Corsica.

Yvon spent twelve days bicycling Corsica a few years ago. It was his third visit to the island, but he was so fed up by the meddling of the separatists and the mafia he vowed never to return. After just seeing the portrayal of the Corsica mob in my favorite film at Cannes, "A Prophet," I was a bit leery myself of what awaited me. But I have felt no intimations of unrest or danger in the four days I've spent here so far. The only hassle has been the defaced road signs, sometimes making it confusing which way to go. Otherwise, it seems like a tourist's paradise. And the tourists do come.

The roads are full of cars and motor homes and motorcycles from all over Europe and France. At first glance all the French license plates look the same, bright yellow with a row of eight numbers in sets of two. But the last two numbers indicate the department the car is from. There are 97 departments in all, including two in Corsica. I was seeing such a variety, my curiosity inspired me to jot down all the different department numbers I saw as I ate lunch one day. I came up with 42 different departments in less than an hour. If I had an easy way to check them off as I bicycled along, I'm sure I would have had the remaining 55 by dinner time.

One of the reasons I was drawn to Corsica is that I had never seen a Corsican license plate in my previous five years of bicycling all over France. Only 260,000 people live on this 100-mile long island, and few venture with their cars to the mainland. The Corsica department number is unique. It used to be the number 20, but in 1975 the island was divided into two departments, North and South. That is something else that doesn't sit well with Yvon and many others, as it means double the number of government offices for Corsica, even though the population numbers don't demand it. Rather than letting one half of the island maintain the 20 number with the other given a number in the 90s, the island's two departments were designated as 2A and 2B on their license plates, the only departments in France with a letter in them.

The 2B looks very much like 28, so there is a chance I might have seen one over the years, but probably not since I hadn't noticed a 2A. So far I have not seen a 28 here, at least that I know of. If Yvon were along he would be able to tell me the name of each department and its number and the region in France it is located. They are mostly in alphabetical order, helping somewhat to memorize them. The only ones I have committed to memory are those around Paris (75, 78, 91, 93, 94, and 95), as the Parisian drivers are notoriously bad. I have been warned to be on the alert for them and brace myself for some reckless driving and obnoxious behaviour if I should spot one.

Corsica is also a touring bicyclist's mecca. I have seen a handful every day, mostly French in male/female pairs. When a guy pulling a Bob trailer with a yellow Bob flag afurl passed me along the road, I thought I had seen my first American, until he greeted me with a "Bonjour Monsieur." An American wouldn't likely know enough to include the "Monsieur." The cycling with all its climbing is fairly demanding, but all the cyclists seem to be having a swell time. There are many campgrounds and fabulous beaches. Even though the island is only 100 miles long, it is nearly 300 miles of road with all the climbing and the ins and outs of the rugged coastline. The coastal views rival those of anywhere in the world--Big Sur, the Cape Peninsula of South Africa, the fjords of Norway. One bay is so stunning, surrounded by a cliff side road that climbs over 1,000 feet around it up into a pine forest, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I am continually uttering a spontaneous "Wow" when I come around a bend or cross a rise and look at another stunningly beautiful coastal view.

Corsica is the fourth largest of the Mediterranean islands after Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus and by far the most mountainous. There are mountains high enough for there to still to be snow on their peaks. It is a good training grounds for me. It will be a short hop to Sardinia. If I didn't have time restraints, I'd be tempted to squeeze in a visit to Africa, as Sardinia is actually closer to Africa than Italy.

Later, George

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cannes, Day Twelve, the Finale

Friends: The jury did not take the dare. Nine of the twenty films in Competition were acknowledged with some award or another. "Enter the Void" was not one of them. That Gaspar Noe did not receive the best director award was no shock, but giving it to Brillante Mendoza of the Philippines for "Kinatay" was the biggest shocker in years.

In recent history the best director award went to what was generally considered the second best film in the festival. Last year it was "Three Monkeys" by the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylon, who happened to be perhaps the most distinguished of this year's nine jurors other than the president of the jury Isabelle Hubert. Hanakae won best director a few years ago for "Hidden," Schnabel for " The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Gonzalez for "Babel." "Kinatay" had the lowest rating of any film in Competition from "Screen" magazine's panel of ten international critics.

There was a strong favor for Asian films from this jury. The Chinese film "Spring Fever" surprisingly was awarded the best screenplay and the Korean vampire film "Thirst" was given the jury award for third best film along with the English "Fish Tank." "Fish Tank" was the only one of those four that I was rooting to win something. Another of my rooting interests, "A Prophet," the French prison film, won the Grand Prix for second best film falling to Hanake's "White Ribbon."

Hanake gave Hubert a prolonged hug on stage, without kissing. She won the best actress award here a few years ago for her performance in Haneke's "The Pianist." From the moment the schedule was announced, Haneke was listed as a favorite to win the Palm d'Or, just as last year people speculated Sean Penn as president would show preference to Clint Eastwood's "The Changeling." Penn did give Eastwood an honorary lifetime achievement award. The extra, unnecessary lifetime achievement award this year went to veteran French director Alain Resnais for his film "Wild Grass."

Considering some of the jury's choices, this year's awards are not entirely credible. Both Charles and I were rooting for the French film "In the Beginning" to be recognized with something. It could have been given best screenplay or best actor if nothing else. But three of the nine awards were doled out to the French, perhaps their quota. The French also took the best actress award--Charlotte Gainsbourg for her agonizing role in Von Trier's "The Antichrist." This was the 8th film of Von Trier to play at Cannes, and the seventh to win an award. The best actor award went to Christophe Waltz in "Inglorious Basterds," a bit of a surprise, but not entirely undeserved. He gave the most emotional acceptance speech, thanking Tarantino for rescuing his career and Brad Pitt for looking at him eye to eye.

The three films I saw today before the awards on "Catch-up Sunday" all won awards. I left the campground at 7:20 this morning, my earliest departure of the festival, to get in line for "Inglorious Basterds." There were already 100 or so people before me, Tarantino devotees not put off at all by the tepid reviews. Most of "Screen's" panel gave it two stars. The lone four star rating came from Scott Foundras, the only American of the ten reviewers, standing up for his countryman, just as the Dane critic did for Von Trier's film.

If I gave out stars, I'd give it three. Evidently producer Harvey Weinstein, notorious for cutting films, has no power over Tarantino. Someone desperately needed to reign in Tarantino's dialogue. Verbal repartee went on interminably under the guise of tension building when in fact the tension was fizzling away with the climax to each scene blatantly obvious to all, even those jousting. I kept murmuring, "Get on with it Quentin, this is totally unnecessary." It was gab, gab, gab as if Tarantino was trying to make a French film. In a way he was, paying homage to the French here and there. At one point a young woman who owns a movie theater comments, "I am French, we respect directors in our country." That got applause from the audience.

The woman was a young Jewish blond who had earlier escaped her hiding place on a French farm when Christophe Waltz, a Nazi known as "The Jew-Hunter," tracked down her family, killing them all except her. It was a thrill seeing her on the screen, as I stood beside her for hour an hour-and-a-half waiting to get into Hanake's film, not knowing who she was, but suspecting that she was an aspiring actress. She was beautiful, though not strikingly so, almost a generic blond, but with a slight scar on the side of her face, that confirmed to me who she was when I saw her on the screen in a semi-starring role. She spoke French the entire time in line with a woman companion. If I had already seen "Inglorious Basterds" I would have had lots to ask her.

Tarantino proves once again that he can write dazzling dialogue, though not necessarily of much substance. This was almost a silly film of no magnitude.

Willem Dafoe may give his most boring performance ever in "Antichrist." He is a therapist trying to help his wife overcome her extreme grief over the death of their young son. She blames herself. She is hospitalized for over a month on way more medication than Dafoe deems necessary. He finally takes matters into his own hands and brings her home and then to their cabin in the woods. Dafoe is as stoical and restrained as a rock, somewhat condescendingly, as he tries to reason his wife back to normal. She is high-strung and resents his composure and arrogance, finally turning on him with extreme vengeance that was a horror to watch. Most of this film was sheer tedium, then agony. Some critics defended the film, saying even though people hated it, no one walked out on it. If the outrageous violence had occurred earlier, there would have been walkouts aplenty. People were just being respectful to Von Trier's talents, hoping the film would amount to something. Gainsbourg certainly deserved her award for best actress. She digs deep to express her despair and torment, though her performance is not enough for any but dedicated cinephiles to justify seeing this movie.

An older man discovers a wallet in Alain Resnais' "Wild Grass." He takes it to the police station and leaves his name and phone number so the owner, an attractive woman dentist, can call and thank him if she wishes. When she calls, he is upset she only offers thanks. He'd like to meet her even though he is seemingly happily married. He begins stalking the woman. She finally goes to the police to complain after he slashes her tires. But them she begins stalking him in this gentle, lightweight, fairly inconsequential, semi-absurd tale.

The closing night film after the awards ceremony was "Coco Chanel and Igor Starvinsky" a biopic of their affair in Paris 1913. The closing night film is usually something of little note that will disappear into obscurity. This French film was no exception.

So now it is off to Nice, 30 miles away and the ferry to Corsica. There are no ferries on Monday, so I have some leisure to recover from my 70 plus films in the last 12 days. I finally had a chance to talk to a couple of my campmates that were attending the festival. One was a 60-year old American from Memphis was is an actor. He flies out to LA every couple of months for something or other. He had a role in David Fincher's "Zodiac." He sacrificed work as a body double for Donald Trump to come to the festival. He was at the campground last year but we never met. It was nice to make his acquaintance, even though he only sees one or two movies a day. He attends the festival as a film-maker, submitting a short and then getting a pass for 90 euros.

In another tent was a young Englishmen. Like the American he was here more to network than to see movies. He saw 22.

Later, George

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cannes, Day Eleven

Friends: The jury could have quite a dilemma on its hands deciding the merits of Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void," a wildly audacious and inventive hallucination of a film. Its doubtful they'll have the courage to give it the Palm d'Or, but best director honors would not be out of order at all, unless its explicit, unjudgemental portrayal of sex and drugs is too much for the woman dominated jury (5-4). At least it's light on the violence, especially compared to his two other films "I Stand Alone" and "Irreversible."

The film opens with a giant, bold, vibrating "Enter" with abrasive music. The rest of the title isn't given until the conclusion of the movie. In between, for more than two hours and forty minutes, ten minutes longer than its announced running time, we are taken into the dark disturbing world of a somewhat innocent young American dealing drugs in Tokyo until he is murdered. Then we relive his short life and follow the aftermath of his murder, mostly the effect on his dancer sister, from a camera drifting above, usually just above the action, but sometimes higher and all without any commentary from the brother or insinuations that his spirit is involved at all.

The brother and sister made a pact when they were young children after their parents were killed in a horrific automobile accident, which they survived, never to abandon one another. The pact didn't last long, as they are given different foster parents. The boy ends up in Japan as a young adult. He starts dealing drugs so he can afford the plane ticket for his sister to join him. He gets deeper into the drug selling. He entices women he picks up to become clients. One woman is reluctant to try the drugs he offers. "Isn't it dangerous?," she asks. "No, its a drug. Its a vitamin," he says.

Noe must have spent months editing this film of flashbacks and hallucinations and camera swooping about night-time Tokyo, delving deeply into its seedy side. Some may discount the film for some of unnecessary antics. The camera looks down upon an abortion and zooms in for a close-up of the tiny fetus, defiantly lingering on it. The camera peers out from a vagina as the head of a giant penis, filling the screen, penetrates it. The hovering camera also finds many many copulating couples. The screen is filled for minutes at a time with the fireworks that go off in the head of someone on heroin. This is a truly extraordinary film. As always, Noe does not hold back, and as always, goes way too far for most. The jury will have to decide if it is perversion or masterpiece.

This was one of two films in Competition to take place in Tokyo. The other was "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo" by Spanish director Isabel Coixet. Sergi Lopez owns a wine shop in Tokyo. He is in despair over the suicide of his girl friend. He takes up with another woman who comes into his shop, who is a part-time assassin and has been hired to kill him. They go to love hotels. She doesn't have much to say, nor does the movie, though their chemistry and intrigue keep it interesting.

Two other Competition films I saw today were by veteran directors repeating themselves with films that had no narratives, just a hodgepodge of incidents, comical and dramatic. One of the recurring scenes in Tsai Ming-Liang's "Face" is of a director making a film in France. Another is of a woman taping up a window. Mathieu Amalric pleasures himself with a man in a forest. A deer butts heads with his mirrored reflection in a forest. A woman cleans out her refrigerator. What it all adds up to can only be guessed at. This film gets the honor of being the most walked out upon film of the festival.

Elia Suleiman in "The Time that Remains" once again comments on the difficulty of life in Palestine. He portrays it with a comic underpinning as he did in his last film"Divine Intervention." This seemed lightweight fare compared to "Ajami" and "Amreeka."

A still from "A Town Called Panic," a Belgian animated film, was featured on the festival program listing all the films playing. Usually its one of the smaller films in Competition. This Out of Competition offering may have been put on the cover in keeping with the festival's acknowledgement of animation becoming a vital force in cinema, what with an animated film opening the festival for the first time--"Up." This was a special presentation at the end of the festival. The film was adapted from a cult animated series of the same name. The three main characters are a horse, a cowboy and an Indian who live together and go by those names. Their zany and cleverly-depicted antics were amusing.

"Polytechnique" will not be the only French-Canadian film among my top ten for the festival. "I Killed My Mother," also in the Director's Fortnight, will be there. This is an extraordinary and most audacious film written and directed and starring 20-year old Xavier Dolan. Dolan plays Hubert, a high school junior. He truly, truly hates his mother, not enough to kill her, though possibly so. He writes a short story with the title of the movie--"I Killed My Mother." The two of them are repeatedly at each other's throats, shouting and yelling barrages of scornful, hateful remarks at each other. Hubert can put on the charm when he wants his way, but it doesn't last long. He thinks he has achieved a solution to appease their turmoil--getting his own apartment. She at first agrees, but then reneges, making him explode even further. This was a daring, original film with unrestrained brilliant performances, especially by Hubert.

And tomorrow I'll finish off the festival with "Inglourious Basterds" and "Antichrist" and a couple others. Tarantino's film plays at nine a.m. Last year I showed up at eight a.m. on repeat Sunday for "Che," though I needn't have. But for "Basterds" an hour early might not be early enough.

Later, George

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cannes, Day Ten

Friends: A mundane tussle between the village school teacher and the local midwife over a bicycle is one of the more dramatic scenes in Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon." The 31-year old school teacher has borrowed the bike to go visit his teen-aged fiancé in a nearby village and the midwife desperately needs it to go to the nearest police station, as she thinks she has discovered the mystery of who has been terrorizing the village. The tussle doesn't really amount too much, as can be said for the film itself.

The incidental acts of terrorism that have the villagers on edge are quite tepid compared to what one would expect from Haneke in this black and white period piece taking place just before WWI. Though evil lurks in many guises in this isolated village, there isn't the deeply ominous tone of doom that Haneke ordinarily inflicts upon his audience. The more disturbing scenes are men in authority (the local doctor and the local pastor) telling off women and children and a couple of brooding, semi-delinquent boys. Maybe having to wait an hour-and-a-half in line, an hour less than its running time, diminished my ability to fully appreciate it. I actually found myself nodding off from time-to-time, unheard of for a Haneke film.

I had the time to get in line early for Haneke as there weren't even half a dozen market screenings to choose from today to fill in the gaps between the major films. I slipped into "Someday Love Will Find You" in the market not realizing it was a compilation of shorts. After half an hour I abandoned, heading over to the 60th Anniversary Theater to make sure I got in to the Haneke film. Turns out I needn't have. Patrick McGavin said he showed up 15 minutes before the film was to start and got in.

But I had an "International Herald Tribune" to read for the first time. I made the great discovery that one of the hotels that puts out all the daily trade magazines each morning in its lobby also gives away free copies of the "Herald Tribune" and the "Financial Times." I will certainly take advantage of that in the years to come, though there is ordinarily so much to read about the festival I don't have time for news of the world. But now that the festival is winding down, "Variety" and "Screen" and "Hollywood Reporter" have stopped publishing. It was good to see that the swine flu is no longer front page news and there is no epidemic consuming the world.

The "Herald Tribune" had a story on Cannes focusing on Palestinian films, though it didn't mention "Amreeka." Elis Suleiman's Palestinian film played in Competition today that I will see tomorrow. But I did see the Palestinian "Ajami" this morning, the closing night film in Director's Fortnight. It was told in five chapters interweaving several stories of despair and hopelessness. Violence and intimidation rule in this world. Women are mercilessly ordered about. Struggling young men with little future resort to selling drugs. This was an unsettling, true-to-life portrayal of life in Palestine and Israel.

I'd purposely seen only one film in the Critic's Weekly sidebar during the festival, maximizing my chances that I wouldn't have seen tonight's screening of its winning film. But with only six in its competition it was still a risk. There were only two other screenings in its 10:30 pm time slot, a Sam Raimi horror film and a Mexican film with French subtitles at the Arcades Theater. Two of my previous five Cannes, I had already seen the Critic's Weekly award winner earlier in the week, but not this year. It was a French comedy, "Farewell Gary," with a meandering plot about a guy who has recently been released from prison. Not even a chuckle from me. The Chilean film in this category would have been a much more worthy choice.

Nor did I appreciate the French "Ashes and Blood" by French actress Fanny Ardent. This too had its criminal element. Two rival clans settle their differences with violence in this film largely shot on a country estate. Ardent was more interested in the composition of her shots and lingering on facial expressions than dialogue or plot. I made the wrong choice in seeing this special Out of Competition screening. I should have gone over to the Arcades for "Bad Boys Cell 425" a French/Polish documentary about prison life. The director actually gained permission to stay in the prison for 10 days with the inmates. With the glut of prison and ex-con movies at the festival, it would have been a fitting choice, but since the Arcades does not offer digital subtitles I could have been lost in this film. Plus the Arcades frequently doesn't start on time. It would have jeopardized my Critic's Weekly screening.

With huge gaps between films today for the first time in the festival, I was able to watch some of Gaspar Noe's press conference on the festival cable network after the screening of his film. The questioning was surprisingly restrained, nor was the press conference well-attended, indicating his film might be a dud. I hope to find out tomorrow. The questioning centered mostly on the spirituality of the film. Noe said he was an ardent atheist and that he didn't consider his film to be spiritual. He said he considered "2001," his favorite film, to be a truly spiritual film.

Sunday's schedule of films was released today and it was great news for me. There is no conflict between the films I'd like to see. The 20 Competition films will be scattered throughout five theaters. The Debussy with 1,000 seats, more than twice as large as any of the others, is the largest of the five theaters where the screenings will be held. What is programmed there is an indication of what is most in demand to be seen. Its three screenings are "Inglorious Basterds," "A Prophet" and "Fish Tank". The Awards Ceremony, taking place in the Palais, will be shown on its screen. I will be there rooting for "A Prophet."

Later, George

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cannes, Day Nine

Friends: Today the wonderful world of cinema took me to the deserts of Iran, the jungles of Thailand, the mountains of Columbia, the Camino de Santiago de Compestela in Spain, an economically depressed French town and back home to Illinois, even passing through customs at Chicago's O'Hare airport. It was another fabulous day of cinema.

An overweight, divorced Palestinian mother and her teen-aged son come to America to live with her sister and husband and young daughters in a small Illinois town in "Amreeka," a film so real they become our neighbors for an hour-and-a-half. The mother is quite high strung and strong-willed. Her English isn't as good as her very bright, but meek, son. The son is thrilled by the opportunity to come to America, but he quickly learns its not exactly the promised land. He is picked on at school, though his sharp-tongued cousin tries to look out for him. She advises him what clothes to wear, telling him he can't wear the pants he'd like as he'd look like he was "F.O.B." "What's that?," his mother asks, "Fresh off the boat." "What does that mean?" "It means that he won't have any friends."

The mother and son are dealt one adversity after another. Much of the film is in Arabic, contributing to its stark realism. This fully-realized, highly-accomplished film earned its young woman director a deal to make more such films.

If "In the Beginning" hadn't opened with the disclaimer that it was based on a true story, I would have been shaking my head at the nerve of the director to concoct this story about a small-time con artist just released from prison who gets involved in an absurdly grandiose con involving a whole French town constructing a highway. This Competition entry by Xavier Giannoli starring luminaries Francois Cluzet and Emmanuelle Devos with Gerard Depardieu in a contributing role was incredibly gut-wrenching. It had me in knots over the great despair all the town's people would feel when they discovered they'd been had.

I kept waiting for the con artist to make his escape with the thousands of euros he had scammed in bribes and funds from the bank. The con artist realizes he has gotten in way over his head. It doesn't help that the town's female mayor takes a liking to him, even though at first she thought he was incompetent and pathetic. I didn't know if this would leave me feeling further disenchanted with the perfidy of man or if somehow it would offer something to be inspired by. It took a while to recover from this original and most engaging film.

An older man traveling by donkey in Columbia on a mission to return an accordion in "The Wind Journeys" was another unique film experience. The guy is a legendary virtuoso, but he is very selective about who he plays for, refusing to play for people he doesn't like, even though he is desperate for money, and even food. He occasionally engages in accordion competitions that are as intense as poetry slams as the accordionists duel each other and the audiences root for their favorite. He is way too head strong for his own good.

A guy just released after 14 years in an Iranian prison in "The Shell" also goes on a journey, at first on foot, then by van and finally by train. He is pursued by the driver of the van, who at first didn't want to pick him up, but is forced to give him a ride when his van gets stuck and he catches up to him. This was a minor film, but still decent fare for the market.

"Les Doigts Croches" was the second film in the market on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. There is a lot of slop in the market and this French Canadian film was deep in it. It didn't even go on location to the Camino, giving no feel whatsoever for the experience. There wasn't a single bicyclist as the pilgrims in the movie, five bank robbers, walked the path. The robbers, moronic, one-note dufuses, are forced to make the pilgrimage after they've been released from four years in jail at the demand of the robber who held the two million dollars they robbed. They refer to their heist as "the crime of the century," another example of how clueless this film is. He says they can have the money after they've completed the pilgrimage. None are happy about it. They are all too-bit criminals who can not shed their criminal ways, robbing a bank along the way. They are continually at odds with one another. The movie didn't care in the least about the Camino. It just wanted to be thriller. It was as two-bit as the criminals.

A married couple goes off to the jungles of Thailand in the "Nymph." The husband disappears after the woman declines to have sex with him in their tent. She is quite distraught over his disappearance. Strange things are happening in the jungle, more mysterious than we at first realize. This was well-done.

The pickings become slim after today with few market screenings. It will be a battle to get into the Hanake and Noe films, both two-and-a-half hours long. I am already nervously awaiting the line-up of Sunday's replay of all the Competition films, hoping there isn't too much conflict among the films I haven't seen.

Later, George

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cannes, Day Eight

Friends: Bus loads of fully padded, helmeted and visored riot police were called in to safeguard the festival from protesting power workers yesterday. The strikers managed to cut off the electricity to several of the major hotels and prevented an afternoon screening at the Director's Fortnight. The battalions of gendarmes kept them off the Croisette, the main boulevard in front of the Palais and along the sea front that is mostly a pedestrian way during the festival. They marched down Antibes, the main street a couple blocks over.

The festival nearly needed to call back the riot police for the next morning's screenings of Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." The entry ways to the Palais were mobbed with a flood of people streaming towards the theater even before eight a.m., half an hour before the film's start. And there was the largest gathering I'd seen already at the 60th Anniversary Theater for the nine a.m. screening. I felt confident though that I would get in until for the first time at this theater special preference was given to press and those with credentials better than mine. When they began charging in through the side, great nervousness broke out among us early arrivals.

Brazen and belligerent budging and circumventing the ropes erupted. People left and right were circumventing the line and making a run behind the guards when they weren't looking, dashing as frantically as if it were a prison break. There were shouts for security, but the three guards at the entryway couldn't give up their positions as they had their hands full, checking credentials and trying to keep a semblance of order amongst those trying to push past them. By 8:30 the guards were only letting people enter in dribbles as the theater neared capacity. One middle-aged guy who had been let in came back down the steps and grabbed a woman several people deep in the mob saying she was his wife. There were howls of protest. A shout of "Papa" from the back turned the howls to laughter. There'd only been about 20 people let in from the line I was in and there were at least 50 people still in front of me. I would have to wait to see the Basterds until later.

It allowed me to see a Japanese film I had put a check by in the program, "The Two in Tracksuits." It was one of many films in the fest about people who retreat to a cabin in the woods. Most of them were of the horror genre, including Von Trier's much-maligned "Antichrist," which I have yet to see. In Von Trier's film it's a husband (Willem Dafoe) and his wife who go off to the woods. In this film it is a father and son. The father is 54 and the son 32. Neither are on the best of terms with their wives. They sleep side by side for a rare heart-to-heart talk, as they don't share much. The son is enraged that is father never told him that he once saw John Lennon and Yoko Ono walk down a nearby trail. This didn't amount to much other than some nice pastoral scenery, including a smoldering volcano and fields of cabbages.

This was a day of catching up on Competition films whose first screening I had missed. The first was "Kinatay" from the Philippines. It was another gritty portrayal of every day life in the big city by Brillante Mendoza. A 20-year old police cadet complains he doesn't even have enough money to afford a bicycle. He's just married his pregnant girl friend and is desperate enough for money to compromise his integrity. He is a party to a horribly grisly murder, making this another of the many blood-splattered films in Competition. They're saying the red carpet up the Palais steps is a most appropriate color this year.

The Italian "Vinere" had received such good reviews after its Competition screenings the day before, I feared being turned away at its repeat screening in the 60th Anniversary theater this evening. But evidently the word-of-mouth wasn't so enthusiastic, as half the theater's 400 seats were empty. Marco Bellocchio tells the story of Mussolini's secret first wife who he had a son with. He denies her existence and has her hidden away in a mental institution. This was powerful material, but as with Jane Campion's "Bright Star," it doesn't go much beyond the ordinary.

"Eyes Wide Open" was the third film of the fest for me about a straight guy who discovers he has gay tendencies, about two too many. The others were "Spring Fever" from China and "Dare" from the U.S. This was the most tolerable of the lot, largely for its milieu--an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. A married butcher with three children gives in to the advances of his young male assistant. There are whispers in the neighborhood of what is going on. Friends urge him to desist. He is told, "Nothing good can come of this. People are talking." He persists. Someone posts notices, "There is a sinner in our neighborhood. You've been warned." A rock is thrown through the window of his shop. His rabbi tries to reason with him.

Veteran, acclaimed French director Claude Miller ventured to the U.S. last fall to do a documentary on the presidential election and two marching bands in Virginia, one from a largely white university and the other black. The vast majority of both band members are ardent Obama supporters. One would have thought he would win in a landslide based on this film. One can't go wrong filming marching bands at football games, nor filming the election night revelry of Obama's victory, but this was more proof that making a noteworthy documentary takes more than a good subject and letting people talk into a camera.

Making an interesting film about a lonely 83-year old man who spends his days playing chess with himself and sitting in the park is no easy task. "Thomas" from Finland does not succeed.

Later, George

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cannes, Day Seven

Friends: Thanks to the no-show of "Moon," an English sci-fi production with Kevin Spacey and Sam Rockwell, I made the great discovery of "Polytechnique" playing in the same time slot in one of the six festival theaters at the Olympia. I knew nothing of this last second fill-in for me other than it had a running time of 76 minutes and there was a "QR" besides its title, meaning it was part of the Director's Fortnight sidebar.

I had just enough time before the lights went out to page through the program and read its one sentence description--"A dramatization of the Montreal Massacre of 1989 where several female engineering students were murdered by an unstable misogynist." This small gem of a film, shot in black and white, opens with the killer writing his suicide note. He is quite perturbed by feminists demanding equal rights even though women are not equal to men. If the Olympics didn't have separate categories, he writes, women would win no medals except in the grace events. Women becoming engineers makes no sense to him.

The film interweaves the stories of two of the survivors of the massacre, one male and one female, between virtual documentary footage of the killing spree. The massacre starts in a classroom of engineering students. The killer evicts the men, then guns down the women, huddled in a corner holding hands. Then he wanders the halls of the school killing women, 14 in all. The film closes with the woman survivor writing a letter to the mother of the killer telling her she is about to be a mother and her hopes for her child. This chilling and very moving film is among the best of the nearly 50 films I've seen so far along with "A Prophet," "Fish Tank," "End Game," and "Phantom Pain." I'll be hoping to see it again Labor Day weekend in Telluride.

Another Telluride possibility is the Romanian "Tales from a Golden Age," five short films by five directors, all written and one directed by Palm d'Or winner Cristian Mungiu ("Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days"). He shows with this that his prize winner from two years ago was no fluke. They are all somewhat humorous, but very telling, looks at the trials of living under a communist dictatorship and what people are reduced to trying to get by. In one segment a young man and woman concoct a scam make a fortune collecting glass bottles to redeem for their deposit. The young woman is desperate to buy a car. In another a couple in a large apartment building has the dilemma of how to kill and butcher a huge pig they have been given by a friend in their cramped apartment.

One film that won't be making it to Telluride is the Albania bicycling movie "East West East--The Final Sprint." It is barely worthy of a bicycle film fest. As in three of the four bicycling movies I've seen here, this wasn't a tribute to the bicycle, but rather the use of a bicycling element to dwell on other issues. The issue here is the isolation of Albania. It is so rare for Albanians to travel outside their country, one member of the five man team is celebrated by his village with a ribbon-cutting ceremony as the first person from the town to ever leave the country.

A former champion racer, twenty years retired, is hired to put together a team. His four prospects can't even keep up with the local postman on his bike when they're out training. So the postman is recruited. His girl friend is thrilled that he will be going to France. She demands that he bring her back a real bra and red knickers. There is little evidence that the director knows much about bicycling other than naming one of his riders Gimondi, an Italian great. But he is replaced on the team by the friend of a big wig, even though the guy is even less of a cyclist than everyone else on the team. When they go out training they complain that the coach pushes them too hard, saying, "Why, this isn't a race." Their equipment is so old and shoddy that their helmets aren't even ventilated. When they are forced to bicycle back to Albania from Italy when their funding falls through one of the riders uses two of their helmets as buckets for milk from a cow in a field at night while they are camping. When two of the riders momentarily disappear, the coach's first reaction is that they've defected.

My day began with the Competition screening of the latest Almodovar/Penelope Cruz collaboration, "Broken Embraces," which has already opened in Spain. There was no need whatsoever for it to be here other than to have Penelope promenade up the red carpet. Its intricate plot with a series of surprise revelations towards the end hardly made it worthy of Competition if the criteria for such a film is boldness and originality, advancing the art form.

"Tomorrow at Dawn" dove into the fascinating world of those obsessed with reliving and recreating old military battles. In this U.S. they would have been Civil War buffs. But this was a French film, so the Napoleonic era was their prime interest. An older brother tries to rescue his younger brother who has become overly obsessed by his passion, but he gets sucked into this world as well, and it takes over his life. He is a pianist who has been stagnating, but is rejuvenated by the the intensity of his brother's passion. Director Denis Dercourt keeps the tension simmering as he did in "The Page Turner," another movie featuring a pianist. The title refers to a duel between two of the film's protagonists--a showdown with pistols from the 1800s. These guys take their passion way too seriously. Too bad the story line wasn't a little better conceived. The subject matter was A material, its execution barely a B.

I had to rely on French subtitles to follow the Romanian film "The Happiest Girl in the World," as this was a rare instance when a film was not also accompanied by English subtitles to go with the French. The story was simple enough that I was able to. It could have been a film from the golden age of Iranian cinema about a seeming trivial incident that is greatly magnified. A 16-year old girl wins a car. She goes with her parents to take possession of it. Part of the deal is that she film a commercial. It takes her multiple takes to get it right. In between her parents are trying to convince her to sell the car and give them the money to invest. They say she can't afford to keep it. She is adamant about not wanting to give up the car, as it has made her a hero back in school. She has promised friends to drive them to the sea. But the father in particular is insistent, finally saying he will never speak to her again if she doesn't sell the car. And in between all this haranguing she has to film another take with a smile and guzzling a bottle of a soft drink.

No Von Trier for me today. When I arrived for the screening the theater was already filled 45 minutes before it was to start. But that allowed me to see "Polytechnique." Hopefully I'll get to see Von Trier's highly controversial film on Sunday. Of the ten critics on Screen magazine's panel published daily to determine an average score for each film in Competition, seven gave it one star. If the Danish critic among them hadn't given it the highest rating of four stars, it would have come out with the lowest average of the 12 films screened so far in Competition. That distinction goes to "Kinatay" from the Philippines by the director of last year's "Serbis," which was the lowest rated film then. I missed "Kinatay," but will try to see it tomorrow after Charles from Facets said he liked it much more than "Serbis" and that it had merit. And tomorrow will be the battle to get into Tarantino's film.

"A Prophet" stands atop the poll with a 3.4 average. "Bright Star" is next at 3.3. "Broken Embraces" 3.2.

Later, George

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cannes, Day Six

Friends: Soccer has traditionally been the dominant sport film at Cannes, both among features and documentaries. But not this year. In years past it's been a given that there would be a handful of documentaries focusing on a player or a team or the sport in general, but this year there's not a one.

One year there were two alone devoted to French star Zidane.   He is the object of attention in an Indian film in the market, "Little Zixou," about a soccer-obsessed boy driven by the dream of enticing him to Bombay. Fixation on a soccer star is also at the center of Ken Loach's "Looking for Eric" in Competition featuring retired Manchester United star Eric Cantona, a man of French heritage. Love of the game is just one of the themes of this only marginally "socially realistic" film from the master of the genre. Realism is out the window when the film culminates with a crowd-pleasing, extravagant, fantastical revenge scene even beyond Clint Eastwood's wildest imaginings.

Cantona is one of two Erics in the movie. The other is an unraveling 50-year old postman. Cantona is his hero. He has a life-size poster of him in his bedroom amidst a galaxy of soccer memorabilia. He lives with his two teen-aged step-sons, who are not on the straight and narrow. They are hiding a gun for a friend of theirs. Eric the postman does occasional baby-sitting duty of his grand-daughter, as his daughter is busy completing her college degree. It forces him to become re-involved with his first wife, contributing to his turmoil. But his mates at work and his fellow soccer buddies are continually looking out for him. This was surprisingly gentle fare for Loach. All predictions are it will be his greatest commercial hit.

The publicist for the Bulgarian bicycling film "The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around" warned me before the screening that it was more of a backgammon film than a bicycling film. She said the director was hosting a backgammon tournament at the Bulgarian pavilion the next day between six and eight. I would have gladly attended if he'd had any kind of bicycling awareness. Even though the latter part of the film is a tandem ride from Germany to Bulgaria by a grandfather who has come to Germany to rescue his grandson, who is recovering from an automobile accident that erased his memory, there is little reality to their ride.

It was painful to watch the pair riding on a tandem that was way too small for them, preventing them full leg extension. Their knees would have been shot. Plus they wear long baggy pants. The grandfather won the Bulgarian Tour in 1954, but there is no evidence of that in his riding or his comments on bicycling. All the truths in this film are devoted to backgammon. But since I was once a devotee of the dice, the film was not a disappointment. It has played in quite a few film festivals, including Moscow, and was the audience favorite at another.

A parallel story line is the very realistically portrayed escape from Communist Bulgaria by the grandson as a seven-year old with his parents interspersed throughout the move. "Endgame" was an even more realistically told story of political events. I might not have sought it out if I hadn't recently spent two months in South Africa, but I was very glad that I did. It recounts the secret negotiations by representatives of the outlawed ANC party with Afrikaners in an English villa in the late 1980s seeking Nelson Mandela's release. William Hurt plays a South African philosophy professor integral to the negotiations. His accent and performance were most convincing. This film was so riveting, at one point as I was munching on a cheese crepe, I had to remind myself I was in France and not South Africa.

The program described the German film "Kaifeck Murder" as a thriller. It was more of a horror film about the murder of six people in a small Bavarian village in 1922. A photographer and his young son happen upon the village and then try to solve the mystery. I was regretting that for the second time I had been turned away from the Sundance mumblecore hit "Humpday" about a couple of guys who decide to make a gay porn film starring themselves, forcing me to see this.

I could have also done without "Dogtooth," a Greek film in Un Certain Regard. It was an absurdest tale of parents who hold their three grown children hostage in their villa, protecting them from the world. The father blindfolds a woman and brings her to his son periodically to fulfill his sexual desires. A cat is graphically killed. There are other surprise flashes of violence, a sister slashing her brother, one of the sisters clobbering herself violently several times trying to knock out her dogtooth, as when they lose their dogteeth they can learn to drive and go out into the world.

I made up for my no documentaries yesterday with two today, one on the Free Masons and another on a Swedish version of a Rainbow/Burning Man gathering. "Masons" was a Spanish production by a young woman whose father was in the Masons. Her film is a quest to understand the organization and also to join up. The Swedish annual gathering of 1,000 seekers occurs three miles north of the small town of Molkom in a forest alongside a lake. The movie takes it titles from the location, calling itself "Three Miles North of Molkom." It focuses on a handful of the participants. They include a young Australian rugby coach who has been invited to the gathering by a friend. He hates it, not relating at all to the "touchy-feely tree-huggers." But he is won over and doesn't want to leave.

I didn't make an attempt on the mid-day Palais screening of Lars Von Trier's film "Antichrist", awaiting the next day screening. If I fail to get in tomorrow, it'll have to wait until Sunday. And tomorrow is the screening of the final bicycling movie, the one from Albania. Always something exciting to anticipate.

Later, George

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cannes, Day Five

Friends: Where a film took place (location) was the determining factor in my choice of three of the seven movies I saw today. Two of those locations were places I was at when the film was shot, keeping me on extra alert as I watched the film to see if I was caught on camera in the background somewhere.

"The Road to Santiago" is one of two films playing in the market on the Christian pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compestela in Spain I bicycled last year after Cannes. This was a Spanish comedy about a group of six couples who pay 2,000 euros to hike the last six days of the 500 mile trail with a friar of a sort who is helping them to reconcile their relationships. One of the couples is a photographer and a writer assigned to do an undercover story on this guy. They are not a couple and didn't know each other until they met on the day the group set out. But they aren't complete strangers to one another, as they had had an unpleasant encounter in a restaurant shortly before when the woman sabotaged the attempt of the guy and a friend to seduce a couple of bimbos. They are shocked to see each other again.

I happened upon the shoot of this film in front of the cathedral in a small town a day before I reached Santiago. It didn't seem a very professional production, but indeed it was. Though this film isn't likely to make the art circuit in the U.S., it will have a life in Spain. It does a fine job capturing the pastoral beauty of the the route. It was a rare cinematic treat to have bicycles laden with panniers frequently in the background passing the hikers on the trail. The film is more silly and buffoonish than profound. A fast-riding, careening cyclist three times crashes into the group. Once was legitimate, but he would have been riding at such a faster pace than they were walking, he never would have encountered them again.

I didn't realize a film was being shot during last year's Cannes film festival. It was "The Making of Plus One," a U.S. film about a fast-talking, maniacal young producer trying to put together a deal during last year's festival. He goes around telling financiers and distributors that he has lined up the two Kates (Blanchette and Winslow) for a film about two sisters from London who live in LA. The pitch is that one is an aspiring singer-songwriter and the other is just a hanger-on. She is the 'plus one' on the list for parties. He doesn't have the Kates signed, though he has talked to their agent. They command a salary of $10 million dollars each, but he only has a budget of $7 million. But saying he has them brings him more money. He gets increasingly in over his head. He hosts a party on a yacht to promote the movie guaranteeing the press that the Kates will be there. He lines up a couple of look-a-likes for the paparazzi. They fall for it, and the movie deal is a cover story on the next day's "Screen" magazine. The Kates' agent goes berserk.

The mountain scenery drew me to the South Korean film " Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells." The scenery was spectacular. The screenplay was about five pages long of a South Korean businessman who brings the ashes of a Nepalese factory worker back home. He has a dreadful time adjusting to the high altitude.

A French chef goes to Hong Kong to avenge the murder of his daughter and her two small children in Johnnie To's "Vengence," a Competition entry. The chef recruits three hitmen and says they can have his restaurant on the Champs Elysees and his mansion if they track down her killers. He accompanies them. He asks for a gun. They wonder if he knows how to use a gun. When one presents him with an extra gun, he checks it out and says the spring is loose on it. Another of the guys gives him his. That is better. He disassembles it and then challenges the guy who gave it to him to a blind fold test putting it back together. They are impressed. They do some target practice on an abandoned old bike, setting it in motion and shooting at it as it rolls through a field. This was a classic Hong Kong shoot-'em up with a series of outlandishly ridiculous arty shootouts. Fans of the genre will love it.

There are at least half a dozen movies in the market on boxing, some with obvious boxing titles ("Bare Knuckles," "The Tender Hook," "Two Fists One Heart"). "Knockouts" was not one of the boxing movies. Two Paris Hiltonish blonds are not only knockouts, but they go around knocking out male hunks they'd like to have sex with, bringing them back to their house along Venice Beach, sympathetically nursing them back to consciousness, hopping in bed with them,then discarding them. This role reversal movie is not much more than an exercise in T 'n A. The blonds are in bikinis for just about the entire movie. Tom Arnold plays the father of one of the girls. He is dating one of their classmates, another blond bimbo. This was a genuine waste of time.

The Russian film "Tsar," a historical drama from 1565 by Pavel Lungin, was superbly executed, but didn't have enough of a story to keep everyone in their seats. It was my first Un Certain Regard screening that wasn't packed.

I went to see "The Cop" from Italy as the program said it was a "unique docu-fiction feature" using actual footage of an undercover narcotics unit. The star of the film spent a month working with a four-man unit. In the movie he plays a television journalist who is inspired to investigate the drug culture after his teen-aged son dies from an overdose even though he's a good kid and not a drug user other than this once. It is edited at an unrelenting fast-pace, barely more than five seconds per cut, trying to make up for the rather flimsy story line.

Have a Ken Loach film to look forward to tomorrow and the Bulgarian bicycling movie.

Later, George

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cannes, Day Four

Friends: For the first time in five tries this year standing in the last minute line for a Competition screening in the Palais I was turned away. Not a one of us was allowed in. When the "Complet" announcement was made there was a mad rush towards the three-year old 60th Anniversary Theater right around the corner. I didn't realize that the Competition film was being shown there half an hour after its start in the Palais, as it wasn't listed in the program. That is good news, even though it delayed the start of my movie-going by half an hour and forced me to alter my second film for the day. The 60th Anniversary Theater is almost a more pleasant film-going experience than sitting in the far reaches of the balcony of the Palais.

So I was able to see "A Prophet" unmarred by reviews and experience its power and grandeur without any hype or expectation. This French film is the first great film of the festival. Directed by Jacques Audiard, who also did the art house hit "Read My Lips" a few years ago, this is an unflinching look at prison life and the gangs that run them, focusing primarily on a Corsican gang. The prophet is a 19-year old Arab new to the prison who is recruited by the Corsicans to carry out a hit on an Arab informer. He resists, but has no choice. He can neither read nor write, but he is bright and ambitious and tough and quickly matures. He learns Corsican without letting the Corsicans know until he is fluent enough to reveal it to the Corsican godfather who essentially runs the prison. The Corsican lackeys are extremely racist, despising all Arabs, but tolerate him as their boy.  He makes them coffee and does their bidding. The Godfather recognizes him as someone to groom. The film is a near epic. No complaints on its two-and-a-half hour running time.

The greatness of this film carried me through the day despite less than five hours of sleep. It had me so invigorated  I didn't feel overly disappointed by the idiocy of the day's bicycling film "On Your Bike." It was a bicycling film in name only with only a couple of token, inconsequential actual bicycling scenes. The film is not so much about bicycling but rather about a Belgian bicycle factory that has been bought by a conglomerate and the corporate mentality that it imposes turning life into hell for the company's 45 employees.

A young woman is brought in to run the company. She hires a couple of consultants with stop watches and cameras and personality tests. The company produces between 100 and 150 bicycles a week on two assembly lines. She announces that one of the assembly lines will be shut down and to determine which one, they will have a competition for a month to see who can manufacture the most bicycles. The two lines became hated rivals, sabotaging each other, putting ex-lax in the coffee of one of the lines, paying off the parts dispenser to give defective derailleurs to the other line, stealing each other's tools and on and on. There was little of bicycling authenticity in this film. The featured bicycling poster in the office of the boss is of Coppi, the Italian, rather than Merckx, the Belgian great.

"Yuki and Nina" was a pleasant diversion, a slight, but sometimes poignant, tale of the friendship of two ten-year old girls in Paris that is disrupted when Yuki's parents decide to separate. Yuki's mother is Japanese and she decides to move back to Japan taking Yuki with her. The girls try to get the parents to reconcile. They send Yuki's mother a letter from a marriage fairy that brings her into convulsive tears. It almost works, but her French husband is too much of a bastard to give the marriage another try. At one point the two girls run away to the forest.

For a while the South Korean "Mother" seemed to be an irrelevant story of a somewhat daft older mother looking after her goofball, semi-mentally deranged 27-year old son. When he is arrested for the murder of a young woman, his mother goes into overdrive trying to prove his innocence, at last making this more than superficial entertainment.

"Dare" was just filler for me, an American teen comedy-drama that I ordinarily avoid, but with Sandra Bernhardt in the cast, it was the most appealing of films in its time slot glutted with horror films. If I weren't eating my meals in the theater, it would have been a perfect time slot to have skipped a movie and gone to a restaurant. Bernhardt has just one scene as a therapist for one of the three featured teens. She isn't reason enough to see the movie, but the unconventional, serious story line that develops did make it an interesting film. Two of the three teens, all in their senior year, are aspiring thespians. A professional actor of some renown attends one of their rehearsals. A girl afterward asks him for advice. He recognizes that she is a sheltered suburbanite who has little life experience and berates her unmercifully, reducing her to tears, for thinking she can be an actor without any inner turmoil or failures. That inspires her to switch from being a "good" girl to being a "bad" girl.

My documentary for the day was "Plastic Planet" by a Belgian whose grandfather was one of the pioneers of plastic. The film opens with an idyllic natural scene with the pronouncement "Once there was no plastic on earth." It was in 1907 that plastic was invented and the planet hasn't been the same since. The director can't get a single company that manufactures plastic to allow him to film the process, as none want to reveal their secret ingredients. Not only is plastic a plague upon the planet taking centuries to decompose, but it is also full of carcinogens. Nearly everyone has plastic in their blood.

The movie starts as a straightforward examination of the topic, but as the rather reserved, tepid director gets more and more frustrated and infuriated but what he learns, he turns into a Michael Moore, stalking the president of a leading European plastic manufacturing company and going into supermarkets with a megaphone blasting, "Plastic causes cancer" and "Plastic causes infertility." He puts stickers on food in the supermarket with similar warnings. He makes the valid point that packaged food must reveal its ingredients, but not the type of packaging, which can be as unhealthy as what goes into the food. I will limit my plastic use after seeing this alarming and worthwhile film.

Besides "A Prophet" my other highlight of the day was running into two of the directors of Telluride's film festival, Julie and Gary, and learning who this year's guest director will be. It won't be announced for a couple of weeks, but it is another inspired, exciting choice who will enliven that Labor Day weekend in the mountains. Julie also said there is a chance Slavoy Zizek, last year's guest director, will be back, also good news.

Later, George

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cannes, Day Three

Friends: I biked into the Palais this morning in a hard rain blowing in off the Mediterranean, by far the worst rain I've experienced in my six visits to this festival. The rain began in the middle of the night and was rapidly forming pools in the campground. Luckily my tent was on a bit of a mound and wasn't swallowed by a lake, as some were.

My deluxe Gore Tex jacket kept my head and torso dry on my ride in, but my legs and shorts were soaked. In my pack was a spare pair of shorts and a neckerchief to towel off. I didn't wholly mind the downpour, as it promised to thin the mob that would want to see this morning's premier of Jane Campion's "Bright Star," greatly increasingly my chances of gaining entry.

I didn't expect to see anyone waiting in the last minute line for those of us without invitations, but there were already 50 ahead of me when I arrived a little after eight, nearly half an hour before show time. At least the guards were letting us stand under a tent rather than out in the open. I hoped they'd show further mercy and let us in before the usual five minutes before screening time. They did not, and they only let in a first bunch of 25, and then a second bunch of 25. The guard stuck his arm out right in front of me as I was at the tail end of the second group, but I wasn't going to be denied and continued on through his arm as if it were a swinging gate.

I scampered up the steps of the red carpet, had my badge scanned, charged up another flight of stairs inside to the balcony, had my bag searched and body scanned and then went up another set of stairs inside the theater, plopping down into a seat as the lights went out. The bright star of "Bright Star" is the poet John Keats, though he wasn't much of a star in his time. He couldn't sell enough books to support himself nor to afford a wife. He relied on the generosity of various benefactors. He is a kindly, gentle soul who attracts the attention of a young flirtatious, sharp-tongued woman who lives on the estate where he is staying even though she has no appreciation for his poetry or poetry in general. She likes him enough though to ask him to "teach" her poetry. He likes her too, but it is less than a great passionate love, similar to hers for him.

Though this is a very solid film, it lacks the emotional depth and intensity of Campion's Palm d'Or winner of 16 years ago, "The Piano." Their love for one another doesn't seem to be anything more than they just happen to be neighbors, making it hard to care as their love has its ups and downs. During one of Keats' prolonged absences she greatly pines for letters from him. When its been a while since she received one, her kid sister goes to their mother and asks for a knife. She wants to know what for. When she replies her sister wants to kill herself, the audience in the theatre chuckled. Such is the tone of the movie. It should have been a pained, rather than comic moment, if the audience were truly drawn into this love story. The movie is far from a failure. Most will call it a great return for Campion, but it goes easy on the audience, not making them feel the torment that the characters are experiencing.

"Precious" had a similar failing. Precious is a 16-year old beyond obese girl in Harlem in 1987. She is pregnant for the second time by her abusive father. Her mother harangues her unmercifully, holding her virtually hostage other than allowing her to go to school so she can collect as much welfare out of her and her babies as she can. This was harrowing material, and though it does have some harsh, poignant moments, it is largely a feel-good movie, as Precious rebels and tries to make something of herself.

I went to see the Korean vampire movie "Thirst" only because it was in Competition. As is the standard for Competition films, it was a very polished, assured, "good-looking" film. As with virtually all the films in Competition this year, it was over two hours long. When I encountered Milos of Facets on Wednesday he was harping on the long running times even before the festival had started. "They could all be easily cut my 15 or 20 minutes," he said. This was two hours and fifteen minutes. It should have been 90 minutes.

A young Catholic priest becomes a vampire when he goes to Africa to volunteer for medical program. He is the only one of its 50 subjects to survive. A blood transfusion he receives turns him into a vampire and also stirs his lusts, which he turns on a young woman he knew when he was growing up. As I squirmed through this film I was wishing I had opted for a Norwegian film about a retired ski racer who takes a snow mobile trip through the Norwegian Arctic that was playing at the same time in the market.

I was having similar regrets about making the wrong choice as I sat through "Bare Essence of Life" from Japan. This was a comedy about a goofy, mentally disturbed young man living with his grandmother and helping her with her farm. He starts spraying himself with insecticides to cure himself. He takes a liking to a young woman who comes to their town to fill in for the grade school teacher who is on maternity leave. There was a Japanese mountaineering film playing at the same time I would have much preferred to have seen, even though it was nearly two-and-a-half hours long.

Both Japanese films were back-ups after Charles from Facets and I were too late to get into a French documentary by Michael Gondry about his mother's life as a rural school teacher. Even though we arrived 20 minutes before the screening in the 300 seat Bunuel theater there was a mob down two flights of stairs waiting to get in for it. While we decided what to see instead a New York critic friend of Charles came along. Charles preferred networking to squeezing in something he was unsure of.

If we had gotten in to the Gondry film it would have been my second French documentary of the day. The other was about the small South Pacific island of Nauru, also the title of the film. In the 1990s it was second to Kuwait for the highest per capita income in the world thanks to its phosphate mines. The island is only 12 square miles. The inhabitants all live along the coast, as the elevated interior is where the phosphate is mined. The mining has presently slowed to a trickle, and now the island's residents are destitute. The island's bank and government went bankrupt. The director couldn't get anyone to really bemoan their fate from riches to rags. The few he talks to all revel in their heyday of great wealth. It effected the eating habits of many. Nearly three-fourths of the island's 30 and 40 year olds are afflicted with diabetes. The material deserved better treatment than it received from this bare bones effort.

Today was the day of my first bicycling movie, "Phantom Pain" from Germany. For 30 minutes it was the quintessential bicycling movie, a full-fledged tribute to the bicycling life, and as fine a bicycling movie as has been made The gregarious, long-haired, 40-year old lead, who bears a likeness to Klaus Kinski, not only travels the world on his bicycle, but is also an avid racing fan. He takes his 10-year old daughter, when its his turn to have her, to the local velodrome. He goes to a bar to watch racing. When a waitress says she doesn't care about racing because they're all doped," he says, "Only a sissy like Armstrong dopes. The real cyclists swallow their pain."

The classic black and white poster of Coppi and Bartoli sharing a water bottle adorns his apartment. He has trouble keeping a job as he's so free-spirited. The one thing the movie lacked was him working a stint as a bicycle messenger. But he does work part-time in a bicycle shop in sales until he is fired for offering a pretty young woman a bicycle for a ridiculously low price. She goes home with him. "You travel the world on your bicycle?" she asks after seeing a handful of his photos laying about. "Only places that have mountains," he says, though he has yet to bicycle the Tourmalet in the Pyrenees, one of his dreams. When she discovers his journals, she hounds him to write more, and arranges a meeting with an agent friend of hers. One of his comments she likes is, "The best thing about traveling solo is that there is nobody to point out your happiness is unfounded." After their first night together, he goes off on his bike first thing in the morning. "Its raining," she protests. But that doesn't deter him. "It will break up soon," he says.

He's not so devoted to his bicycle though to also have a motorcycle. He crashes into a car one night and severely damages his leg and has to have it amputated just above the knee. At least while he is in the hospital the Tour de France is going on so he can watch it from his hospital bed. He is greatly depressed, but makes a slow recovery thanks to a great friend and the love of his daughter and his persistent girl friend and eventually gets fitted with an artificial leg and resumes his bicycling. The end credits included snapshots of a similarly handicapped cyclist, who the movie was evidently inspired by and dedicated to. The Warner Brothers logo preceded the film, so there is hope that this superb film could have some life beyond Germany and bicycle film festivals. It will be hard for any of the three other bicycle films here to match this one. I get to see the next tomorrow, the Belgian "On Your Bike." The only flaw I noticed was road graffiti on the Tourmalet of "Pantani Go Go Go." I've never see "Go" written on the roads in Europe. It should have been "Allez Allez Allez."

Later, Geroge

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cannes, Day Two

Friends: The producer to the market screening of "The Open Road" was at the door gathering business cards from everyone who entered. He glanced at mine and said, "Sorry, but the North American rights to the film have already been sold."

"That's all right," I said, "I was interested in seeing the movie anyway."

If Joan were here, this would have been the movie she would have wanted to see more than any other in the festival as the cast included two of her all time favorites--Jeff Bridges and Lyle Lovett. Lovett has just one scene as a bar tender at a fancy Memphis hotel and doesn't sing or even hum, though Bridges does get to sing and among his many wise cracks, one refers to humming. Bridges, along with Justin Timberlake, star in this father-son reconciliation/road movie. Bridges is a retired baseball star and Timberlake an aspiring major leaguer. They haven't spoken in nearly four years. Timberlake flies from Texas to Cleveland, where Bridges is attending a baseball convention signing autographs, to convince his dad to come to his ex-wife's hospital bedside before she undergoes major surgery.

They meet in the autograph line. Bridges is a rollicking, fun-loving, out-going raconteur who thrives on inter-acting with his fans. He loves telling stories of his ball-playing days. Timberlake is very reserved and moody. Bridges does agree to return to Texas with his son, but when they get to the airport, he discovers he has lost his wallet and ID, so they won't let him on the plane. Timberlake's girl friend, who came along, suggests they drive. So they hit the open road in a Hummer of all things. Bridges said back in his day a hummer was someone in the church choir who couldn't sing. Bridges, as usual, delivers a solid, convincing performance with seeming ease, and like Woody Harrelson in "The Messenger," very much carries the film. I wouldn't guarantee though that this film will have much of a commercial life.

The same can be said for the "Fish Tank," the first of the 20 films in Competition to be screened, but not because it was a so-so effort, but because its subject matter and cast won't have much appeal beyond the art house and film fest circuits. It will be highly acclaimed in those realms. A single mother just scraping by, living in a cramped, high-rise, low-rent apartment with two rebellious, foul-mouthed young daughters, 15 and 8, brings home a warm-hearted hunk of a guy, charismatically played by Michael Fassbender. All except the eight-year old like to drink and party. The 15-year old is a bit surly at first. Fassbender tells her, "That's a charming personality you've got there." He eventually wins her and her sister's favor. The eight-year old tells him, "I like you. I'll kill you last." The 15-year old is a bit of a saucy tart that Fassbender takes a liking to. The question is how long will Fassbender and her mother remain a couple and how ugly will it get.

The day's second Competition entry,"Spring Fever" from China, will be welcomed at gay film festivals, but not much elsewhere. A young woman is not happy at all when she discovers her husband is having an affair with a man. Lucky for them she isn't there when they have a prolonged intimate shower together, just one of several graphic sex scenes that will probably prevent this movie from being released in its home country.

Documentaries on the environment proliferated the last couple of years at Cannes. This year it seems to be documentaries on man's spiritual state. Along with yesterday's rather lame doc on God, there was a documentary on the meaning of life, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." I missed its lone screening. Today, though, I saw "Revolution 2012," a German production maintaining that the year 2012 has great cosmic significance and could lead to an awakening for the planet's population as predicted by the Mayan calendar, the I Ching, and certain crop circles. Various physicists and philosophers comment on the supernatural and man's spiritual evolution.

The Swiss documentary "Nomad's Land" also tried to offer assurance that there is hope for the future. Last week it won a $20,000 prize from the San Francisco film festival. The film retraces the trek of Swiss writer Nicolas Bouvier from Geneva to India in 1953, based on his book, "The Way of the World." Unlike the director of the God Documentary, this director did not show himself once in the film, just providing a nonstop commentary of his trek through the mostly rugged wide open spaces of the nomadic people of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I slipped in two other features for another seven film day, one from Israel and the other from Chile. "The Debt" from Israel was a thriller about three young Israeli agents who captured a Nazi prison camp surgeon in 1965. It was quite a coup, but before they could return him to Israel for trial he managed to escape. They didn't want to admit it, so claimed that they murdered him in an escape attempt and disposed of the body, knowing that he would disappear into oblivion. They return to Israel as heroes. But 35 years later, the Nazi, who is living in a Russian nursing home, confesses to a reporter for a small town newspaper who he is. Before the story gets out and the three Israeli agents are humiliated, two of the three return to assassinate him. I was rooting for this tale of intrigue, flashing back and forth between the two eras, to be as good as "The Counterfeiters," which played in the market here two years ago after debuting in Berlin and went on to win the Oscar for best foreign picture. That is a high standard that it falls short of.

For my final film of the night I was in line for Francis Ford Coppola's "Tetro," the opening night film in the Director's Fortnight, but the line was so long and it was so late in getting started, potentially keeping me out until past one, I opted to slip over to the Critic's Weekly for the Chilean film "Huacho," another film about a family just scraping by, not always having enough money to pay for their electricity before it is shut off. It is a rural family. This could have almost been a documentary. It is a series of slices of their daily life--the husband building a fence, the wife selling cheese along the road to passing motorists, a kid in school, a mother working in a restaurant. If it weren't so well done, I could have nodded off.

Looking forward to Jane Campion in Competition on Day Three and the heavy weights Tarantino and Von Trier and Hanaeke and Noe in the days to come.

Later, George

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cannes, Day One

Friends: I thought I might have stumbled into a bicycling movie without realizing it when the lead character in the Dutch feature "The Butterfly Tattoo," a 20-year old guy, tells a woman he's just started to date, that Lance Armstrong is his hero and that he'd like to race, but he doesn't think he has the drive to do it.

There'd been a couple of earlier rather unpromising glimpses of him riding to his job and back home in long pants, and once with some urgency speeding past a couple of guys in Lycra out training. Later he tells his step-mother that he would like to ride his bike around France following the Tour de France. But such bicycling driblets were not enough to redeem this largely irritating film of the boy's and girl's relationship and some miscellaneous intrigue--the girl's low-life drug dealing roommates and the boy's boss in the witness protection program about to be tracked down by the guy he sent to prison. And though the film was by a Dutch production by a Dutch director it took place in Oxford, England and was entirely in English. Part of its allure for me was that it was a Dutch film. I should have stuck in the 76-seat Gray 1 theatre I saw my first film in for the Steven Soderbergh film, "The Girl Friend Experience.". There was a huge mob in the lobby of the Gray Hotel waiting to see it. They were letting us already in the theater stay, a rarity. Not even half of those in the lobby were able to get in. But I figured the Soderbergh film about a Manhattan call girl would show up back home, and it would not be a discovery, as is my goal here.

When I glimpsed the title "The Messenger" in the program, I was hoping for a courier movie, but the messengers in this movie were U.S. soldiers on Casualty Notification Duty. Woody Harrelson is training Ben Foster for the job. It was a most insightful and very well-written look into this duty by someone who did some deep research . The movie carries a great emotional impact, which the plot unfortunately did not match. Still, it was a worthwhile movie-going experience, especially after the ineptitude of "The Butterfly Tattoo." Steve Buscemi was one of the parents they have to notify. Like most of those learning the news of their son's or daughter's death, he does not take it well.

"Peter and Vandy," a romantic comedy that played in Competition at Sundance, starring Jason Ritter, was another American feature that worked. Peter and Vandy are a couple of young Manhattanites having an affair. The film is told in flashback and fast forward, keeping it a mystery whether their relationship lasts. They have a genuine chemistry but are continually bickering over where to eat and every other detail of their lives. There is a cataclysmic scene when Peter is upset that Mandy uses two knifes to make him a "PB and J" sandwich, one for the peanut butter and one for the jelly.

My lone sub-titled film of the day, "Legal Aid," starred Roscdy Zem, who shared the best actor award here two years ago for the French-Algerian WWII film. Zem is also the president of this year's Camera D'Or jury for the best first or second film. He was about the only worthwhile aspect of this French legal thriller. He plays a small-time lawyer who is recruited by a big-time lawyer to exchange places with a client of his who he resembles who is serving a ten-year prison sentence. He offers him two million euros, promising he won't have to serve more than 30 months. It was an interesting premise, but not very well executed.

Eight per cent of the films in the market are documentaries this year. I was way over average today seeing three and a quarter documentaries. The fraction was 19 minutes of "Freakonomics," the Morgan Spurlock (from "Super-Size Me") segment. That was all that was on offer. There was a considerable amount of interest in in. It was a very well down commentary on the significance of people's names--mostly black and white connotations. Spurlock reveals that people by the name of Tyrone are 33% less likely to have an otherwise identical resume responded to than someone by the name of Tyler. The Spurlock offering played along with "We Live in Public," an award-winning doc from Sundance about the miserable life of one of the founders of the Internet, Josh Harris. He was a classic nerd-genius, incapable of a genuine relationship, who went crazy with his wealth. He comes to his senses and retreats to nature growing apples, but can't resist the lure of the big-time and attempts a comeback.

My two other docs were both slick and stylish but largely vapid. "Oh My God" could be considered a vanity project by a guy who spent three years traveling the world asking people "What is God?" He had some fantastic shots of natural wonders--the Himalayas, canyons, Ayers Rocks, coastlines and more--that would have improved the film considerably had he lingered on them. The film probably wouldn't have been made if it hadn't been for 9/11. Way too much of the film is devoted to the Islamic/Judeo-Christian divide, including a prolonged visit to Israel and Palestine. He doesn't seek out many deep thinkers. Instead he interviews Ringo Starr and Bob Geldog and Hugh Jackman and David Copperfield and many people off the street who don't have much insight or have given the matter much thought.

While the Palais Theater was showing the Opening Night animation film "Up" in 3D, I was next door in the Bazin Theatre wearing 3D glasses watching "Oceanworld." Scuba divers will feel right at home. Other than the opening and close of the film, it is entirely shot underwater. A young turtle narrates the film as it drifts past eels and sharks and porpoises and whales and many other fish. His narration is rather condescending and youth-oriented, though he does throw in an occasional adult word, such as "flatulence" to explain the bubbles emerging from a manatee. Another time he blurts, "Look at this leviathan."

Tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. will be the first Competition film and potential masterpiece--"Fish Tank" from Andrea Arnold, who wowed Cannes two years ago with her first film, "Red Road."

Later, George

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cannes Prelude

Friends: As I sat on a couch in the lower level of the Palais, diligently annotating the 200-page schedule of the films playing here, a young man sat down beside me and said, "You look like you've been here before, can I ask you a few questions?" He was Lebanese and was shopping a screenplay.

It was his first time at the festival, and he was worried at how well organized the festival would be. There was still lots of construction and setting up of booths going on. To an uninformed eye, it might not seem possible that everything would be ready to go by tomorrow. I assured him that this was as well run a festival as there is in the world and that everything was under control. He acknowledged that no one seemed harried or concerned.

Still, he had made a sizable investment in time, money and effort to be here and he wanted to make sure he could make as many contacts as possible. He already had three appointments lined up with production companies, but he was hoping to be able to shop his conspiracy script about the Congo involving the "New York Times" to many more. He wasn't concerned in the least about seeing movies, and had no idea what was even on the schedule.

Many of the 35,000 people attending the festival are similar to him, so it makes it easy for those of us who want to see movies to see them. Most of the Competition films play two or three times in the 2,300 seat Palais and have a next day screening in a 400-seat theatre. They also show a couple times for the press and once again on the final day of the festival. Not even 10,000 of us will have the opportunity to see the high profile films, yet I am invariably successful in seeing them all. Taratino's film will be a challenge. I may well wait until the last day for that one. Same with Gaspar Noe's film.

But I have plenty else to be excited about. There is a glut of bicycle films, the most ever in my six years here--a phenomenal four of them. They are all in the market in screening rooms of less than 100 seats, though I am confident I will see them all. The best of the lot could be a Bulgarian film about a guy who goes off on a tandem in search of his real self, "The World Is a Big Place and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner." Another with equally great promise is an Albanian/Italian co-production by an Albanian director, Gjergi Xhuvani, who had a highly acclaimed film here in Un Certain Regard a couple years ago, "Slogans," that also played at Sundance. His film "East West East--The Final Sprint" is about an amateur cycling team from Albania that goes to France for a race, but on the way a revolution breaks out back home. I hope that doesn't mean that they don't get to race. I'll have to wait to find out until Saturday at the first of its two screenings.

Also on Saturday is "On Your Bike" from Belgium. Unfortunately, there is no description of the film in the program. The fourth cycling film is "Phantom Pain" from Germany. I'm not sure how much cycling there will be as it is the story of a passionate cyclist who loses his leg.

I noticed one film with a cyclist in the photo accompanying the description of the film--"Victoria Day." Its a Canadian film that takes place on the Victoria Day weekend in 1988 when Wayne Gretzy is playing in the Stanley Cup finals and Bob Dylan is in town for a concert. A 16-year old attending the concert witnesses a drug deal and it changes his life. Not sure if I'll be able to fit that film into my schedule. There is a usual bounty of enticing films, some wacky ("Hitler Goes Kaput" and "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell") and others topical, (a documentary from Belgium on the history of plastic and a US documentary on eco cars racing coast-to-coast across the US). .

I still have 30 pages and about 300 more films of the program to peruse. The films start at 9:30 tomorrow morning. Still not sure which it will be. Stephen Soderbergh has something in the market tomorrow called "The Girl Friend Experience." It is one of many films featuring prostitutes. There is the usual glut of films on serial killers and Nazis and heists and hitmen. A new category this year is films on obesity, including "Fatso," a huge box office hit in Norway.

Later, George

Cannes Year Six

Friends: After another marvelous week-and-a-half of bicycling France, I remain dumbfounded that I seem to be the only touring cyclist enjoying the unparalleled glories of pedaling the peaceable byways of rural France. I continually marvel at how much of this Texas-sized country is unfenced, pastoral farm land. It doesn't take long to forget one's woes and the all too many uncertainties of the daily grind bicycling in such a relatively unspoiled environment. One's worries are few--simply keeping the legs going, finding food and water and a place to bathe and a place to camp. And those are challenges easily met, especially camping. It is almost beyond belief the ease of finding a secluded place to pitch a tent, almost at a moment's notice.

Gliding past centuries old chateaus and cathedrals and castles is a sublime treat, but I am equally enamored by the many small touches that make France such a sanely livable place. Everyone seems committed to a beautify France project. Planting flowers is a national pastime. Many towns are designated a "Ville Fleurie" for their displays of flowers. Towns receive ratings from one to four flowers. Displays of flowers can be found everywhere, even on bridges across the countries many rivers and canals. It is common practice to mount boxes for flowers on the railings of bridges. Some bridges predate the automotive era and aren't wide enough for cars to pass. A stop light regulates the flow of traffic to a single direction at a time. Its not unusual at all to pass through towns so old that their main street likewise isn't wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic. A stop light allows traffic to pass from one direction at a time.

Round-abouts are huge palettes for artistic flourish with flowers or sculptures or objects of art. They offer another small but significant opportunity to beautify the landscape and please the eye and lift one's spirit. The round-abouts on the Tour de France route are often embellished with decorated bicycles or flowers arranged to form a bicycle. A round-about in Madelieu just before Cannes was adorned with four metal figures of golfers, promoting itself as a golfer's haven. In apple country, one might see a giant apple in the round-about. South of Vichy, as I approached the region of volcanoes, a round-about featured a pyramid. Another had a giant insect.

France is laced with hundreds of miles of canals dug out centuries ago, many accompanied by a bicycle path. Whether passing over or riding alongside them, I feel a surge of pleasure hearkening me back to simpler, saner, less hurried times. They further that sense of peace rural France is continually conveying.

The roads should be teeming with touring cyclists breathing free and regaining their equilibrium. In such unsettled times people ought to be flocking to the countryside on their bikes as relief from the tensions and travesties of current events and the urban cauldron. If they only knew the therapeutic effect of riding one's bike in a tranquil rural environment, each pedal stroke allowing them to unwind and unwind and revitalize themselves, they and the world could improve their health, physical and mental. But I have to be careful not to be too chagrined at this neglect, as it diminishes my joy of being at it myself.

At least I was able to share a couple days of the bliss with Yvon. It continues to mystify me that what seems so natural and obvious, so much so that it has become a way of life for me, remains unknown except to a select few. It need not be. I know that many have the inclination to go off on their bike. The website that catalogs bicycle touring diaries has a huge following.

Taking off on one's bike to ride across a state or country or around a lake or to visit grandma several hundred miles away is in our collective DNA. People hear of someone doing such a thing and they think, "What a swell thing to do." I'm continually told, "I've always wanted to do such a thing." And I continually hear from those who complete such a trip that it is their proudest accomplishment. The roads should be swelling with with touring cyclists. But why aren't they? Because it is takes effort and it is simply easier to remain in whatever rut one is swallowed up in. That's not living, as a rut is nothing more than an early grave.

Though the urge is there to break free and do something significant and out of the ordinary, to do something that one has long wished to do, it is quickly short-circuited by lethargy and one's deep-seated programming that places more emphasis on acquiring than doing. Owning a fancy car or deluxe condo or country estate is more appealing than climbing a mountain or cycling across a continent or fulfilling some other non-material fancy.

Advertising and peer pressure mount a non-stop campaign to make each and every one of us want things we don't need and aren't all that good for us. One becomes buried in dept, making him a virtual slave to the system, just as the system wants. It can't have people breaking free and doing what they would like to do. The system is an ever growing cancer that needs people to consume, consume, consume and work, work, work. I'm constantly told, "I wish I could be doing what you're doing." Whenever the media catches wind of my story they want to publish it, the latest in last Wednesday's "Le Journal de La Haute-Marne."

Good thing I'm not some crusader trying to win converts, otherwise I would have long ago given up. I am simply content to do what I do, knowing that it may be my calling, not deterred that many consider it a folly. Who in their right mind would take eleven days to pedal a bike 800 miles to Cannes when they could get there in a matter of hours by plane or train? I'm lucky I haven't been arrested for flagrant waste of time and energy.

Once again I'll no doubt be the only one of the 35,000 people attending this festival to have come by bicycle, though I would have had a co-conspirator if the pregnancy of a colleague at work hadn't kept Waydell on the job. There are usually two or three others at the festival with a fold-up bike, buzzing from venue to venue, but I have yet to see another bicycle equipped with racks for touring. If word got out how economical it is to bicycle from Paris, maybe I could win some recruits.

I spent less money the past ten-and-a-half days bicycling from Paris to Cannes than most people will spend for a nice dinner here. And to prove it, for the first time ever, I will share the expense account of my ride from Charles de Gaulle airport to Cannes. Not even the IRS has seen these figures. My expenses are somewhat skewered as I brought along a stash of food, all compliments of Dominicks discarding perfectly good food upon their expiration date. My front panniers were loaded with one pound of muesli, one pound of crackers, one pound of frosted shredded wheat cereal, half a pound of cashews, 50 cereal bars, 20 pop tarts, one 16-ounce can of Amy's vegetarian stew and a three-pound jar of peanut butter.

Day One: Thursday, April 30 from de Gaulle airport to just after Chailly-en-Brie, 50 miles, average speed 12.16 mph, no expenses

Day Two: Friday, May 1 to just before Dolombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 100 miles , average speed 13.37 mph. A holiday with all stores closed and no expenses.

Day Three: Saturday, May 2 to Dijon, 94 miles, average speed 12.39 mph. Hotel with Yvon, two for the price of one, his treat. Expenses: yogurt 1.16 euros and buffet dinner 8.53 euros

Day Four: Sunday, May 3 to after Charolles, 91 miles, average speed 11.99 mph. Breakfast came with the hotel and no expenses.

Day Five: Monday, May 4 to before Vichy, 53 miles, average speed 11.33 mph. (Slept 14 hours until 11 after not getting much sleep in hotel the night before.) Expenses: one kilo honey, bread, 500 grams couscous, 850 grams ravioli, one liter chocolate milk, 500 grams potato salad--8.64 euros.

Day Six: Tuesday, May 5 to after Ambert, 66 miles, average speed 12.42 mph. Expenses: internet 4.50 euros, yogurt drink, couscous, pate, quiche, raspberry drink syrup--6.12 euros.

Day Seven: Wednesday, May 6 to before Aubenas, 73 miles, average speed 11.99 mph. Expenses: yogurt, ravioli, banana--1.82 euros.

Day Eight: Thursday, May 7 to before Nyons, 77 miles, average speed 13.75 mph. Expenses: cassoulet stew, ravioli, bread, bananas, yogurt drink--5.97 euros.

Day Nine: Friday, May 8 to before Manosque, 83 miles, average speed 11.77 mph. Expenses: yogurt, juice syrup--2.67 euros.

Day Ten: Saturday, May 9 to before Vidaubven, 72 miles, average speed 12.70 mph. Expenses: Internet 2.50 euros, couscous, ravioli, pudding, yogurt, bananas--3.63 euros.

Day Eleven: Sunday, May 10 to before Mandelieu camping at summit of final col before Cannes, 30 miles, average speed 11.38 mph. Expenses: ravioli, bread--2.28 euros.

That comes to 46.80 euros in eleven days. It is about $1.30 to the euro.

But my expenses are shattered having to pay ten euros a night to camp in Cannes. I arrived two days before the films start to give me plenty of time to digest the schedule of over 1,000 films. Unfortunately, unlike in the past, credentials and schedules can not be picked up until tomorrow. I'll be there at eight a.m. when the office opens. I'll sit on a bench overlooking the beach all day trying to plot out my 12 days of cinema, hoping for another "Triplettes of Bellville" or "Hell on Wheels," rare bicycle movies that have screened here.

Later, George

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Brignoles, France

Friends: The presentation of each year's Tour de France route is a prime-time gala ceremony every October held in a Paris theater. It is attended by riders and team directors and press and sponsors and representatives of host cities and assorted dignitaries. It is a highly anticipated event not only by the followers of the sport, wondering what mountains and extra challenges will be a part of it, but also by everyone in France, wondering if the Tour might pass their very doorstep.

The unveiling of each year's Tour poster deserves equal pomp and ceremony, as it too will touch the lives of millions, and will live forever as the emblem of the year's Tour. It is invariably a master-work of art that can be commented on at length. It will be reproduced millions of times in newspapers and magazines and on t-shirts and billboards and posters along the 2,100 miles of The Tour route. It will exalt and capture the imagination of those inside and outside the sport.

This year's poster is another iconic image for the ages, comparable to the poster of two years ago that rearranged the continents on a globe to form a human figure on a bicycle. The 2009 edition is a golden shroud spun to form a cone of a mountain with a sharp pointed peak. It stands out from a range of mountains in the background. It's air of mysticism could have been inspired by the German mountain artist Caspar David Friedrich. There is not a cyclist to be seen, though on closer examination one can see the Tour de France logo near the summit of the peak and then recognize that the shroud is a veritable yellow jersey. Above the dramatic pointed peak is the slogan "Le Tour Toujours," The Tour Forever.

The mountains always define The Tour. It is there that the riders distinguish themselves or fall to pieces. The mountains are a cyclist's, and man's, proving grounds, a battlefield that test their fortitude. They can awe and inspire and give one something to meditate upon, as does this poster. The mountain on this poster bears no resemblance to this Tour's signature mountain, Mont Ventoux, the Giant of Provence, but it does bear testimony that The Tour is its mountains.

I just spent nearly a day in the presence of The Ventoux, as I approached it and circled around it, and could feel its power. It is a solitary hunk of a mountain, a behemoth mound separate from any range. It has no peak, but it is a long, steep, much-feared climb, longer and much more challenging than L'Alpe d'Huez, especially the final four miles above tree line on a rocky, semi-lunar surface that can be scorching hot.

I lingered in the town of Bédouin at the start of the foremost of the three routes to the summit, eating lunch in the town square beside a fountain with four spigots dispensing cold spring water. All the while cyclists stopped to fill their water bottles. Bédouin and The Ventoux are a cyclist's Mecca. The round-about outside the town on the approach from Carpentras features an iron cyclist on an incline with the actual summit of The Ventoux in the distance just over his shoulder.

Mont Ventoux is a regular feature of the week-long Daphine-Libéré race that precedes The Tour. The Ventoux stage will be June 11 this year, providing The Tour riders an early test. In both races the riders will pass Bédouin's fountain as they commence their climb. They will also pass, facing the fountain, a plaque on a wall to Tom Simpson, the English rider who died on Mont Ventoux in the 1967 race a mile from the summit with an excess amount of amphetamines in his system. There is a full-fledged monument to him on the mountain beside the point where he expired.

The tourist office in Bédouin did not have The Tour poster up yet. I first saw it in the tourist office in Aubenas, the arrival city for the stage before the Mont Ventoux stage. The tourist office had free Tour de France postcards advertising its status as a Ville Etape. The tourist office here in Brignoles, the arrival city for the first stage after the opening prologue in Monaco, also had the poster on proud display. There were also posters about town already, even though it is nearly two months until The Tour arrives.

It is less than 70 miles to Cannes.

Later, George