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