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

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