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."