Friends: When I saw the title "Bear Nation" in the program I instantly knew this was a movie I'd want to see, figuring it might be another "Grizzly Man," or at least a study of those huge carnivores. Having had a few heart-pounding encounters with them during my two summers in Alaska and on various bike trips in bear country, they are a matter of interest to me. I also thought the title might refer to Chicago football fans, another species I am well acquainted with.
But I was quite surprised to learn from the paragraph description of the movie in the program that it was a documentary on a sub-culture of a sub-culture that I couldn't have imagined--burly, furry gay men. It is a large enough sub-culture to have a magazine and numerous web-sites and various gatherings. I wasn't sure if this was a subject I wanted to know more about, though it could qualify as the oddest, most perverse, movie of the festival, a good reason to give it a look. It had a single showing in a small hotel screening room.
A couple years ago the most outrageous film at Cannes honors when to "Zoo," a doc on men who like having sex with horses. That was well done and even was distributed. No one I mentioned "Bear Nation" too knew of the movie nor the concept or had any interest in seeing it, invariably reacting with repugnance. I was curious just to see what kind of audience it would attract.
There wasn't a bear in the audience of the seventeen brave enough to attend. The director of this American production, Malcolm Ingram, did nothing to sensationalize his movie. He found a good array of bears who were very articulate and frank. For some finding their community had been the best thing to happen to them, one even saying it had saved him from suicide. Many had felt like outcasts from the outcasts, not fitting the gay "well-groomed, twinky, limp-wristed stereotype," as one said. It touched upon the factions within the bears between the fat versus muscular "A-list" bears.
At the center of the movie was an annual gathering of bears from all over the world in Chicago that has been going on for fifteen years. They take over an entire down town hotel. The caterers love them since they eat and drink a lot and tip well and clean up after themselves. They have bowls and bowls of condoms and lube all about the hotel. This was well done and a fascinating study of people who had found themselves that I didn't mind having seen at all.
"Keep Surfing" was a German documentary on another odd-ball subculture--surfers who surf rivers. The sub-culture was launched in Munich in the '60s when it was discovered that a standing wave on a river through the city could be surfed. It is especially thrilling when the river is at flood stage and the police try to keep the surfers out of the water. Munich remains the center of river surfing, but it has spread around the world. River surfers are perpetually in search of more rivers that are surfable. One doesn't need to live near an ocean to surf.
"Mammuth" made a good companion piece to "Bear Nation." The mammoth Gerard Depardieu goes off on a vintage Mammuth motorcycle to track down places he has worked that failed to file the correct papers for his retirement benefits--bars, cemeteries, circuses, factories, churches. He has just retired from a meat-packing company and discovers that the government does not have records of all his employment. This dark comedy played at the Berlin Film Festival and is presently in commercial release in France. It has been a hit, but is looking for more distribution world wide.
This was one of two movies for the day that I had to stand to the side for until the last moment giving buyers priority. The other was the American film "The Company Men." I had no problem getting into "Mammuth," but the buyers kept pouring in to "The Company Men" drawn by the stellar cast of Ben Afflect, Tommie Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, and Kevin Kostner. The guardians of the door didn't let me and a dozen other non-buyers in until five minutes after the film had started.
We had to sit in the aisle for this tale of a huge ship building firm in Boston that is facing dire economic difficulties. Life-long employees are being laid off left and right and find it nearly impossible to find another job, even at half the pay they are accustomed to. Executives have to give up their Porshes and country-club memberships and even move in with their parents and take construction jobs. Try and guess who is going to commit suicide.
This was a very solid, well-crafted tale, but may have bit off more than it could chew. With such a cast it will have commercial appeal, but I wouldn't want to have been a buyer in the audience trying to estimate how many people would want to sit through a movie depicting the grim reality of what all too many people are suffering. It is most certainly a movie of our times, but maybe not a movie that people will want to sit through.
Those who like costume dramas and conflicted lovers will like Bertrand Tavernier's Competition entry "The Princess of Montpensier." It starts off as if it is going to be a war story with the Catholics and Huegenots in battle in 16th century France going at each other with swords and on horseback. I was counting on Tavernier to give a bit of a French history lesson, but he pretty much forgoes that to concentrate on a young woman given in marriage against her will to a man she doesn't know. She is so beautiful that any male who comes within her circle wants her. The self-destructive behavior by all parties concerned is all too predictable. Tavernier is such a beloved veteran French director though, he might possibly be given another best director award here if the quality of the Competition films is as thin as predicted.
For once there was no suspense in getting into the Debussy for its final screening of the night, the inconsequential Dutch "R U There" about a young professional video game player competing in a tournament in Taiwan. His arm goes sore, giving him the excuse to get involved with a young lovely who he thinks might be a prostitute. When they end up in the hotel's elevator alone he asks her for a massage. Initially she refuses, but then agrees to. He's a nerdy guy and she is older and much more worldly. He becomes infatuated with her, so much so that he pays her a hunk of money so he can accompany her when she goes to visit her family out in the country just to be with her though she gives him no encouragement whatsoever. Nothing much happens in this understated, but well-shot film.
There was more Sean Penn news today. He will be starring in Paolo Sorrentino's next film, "This Must Be the Place." Penn will play a wealthy former rock star who sets out to track down his father's prosecutor, an ex-Nazi war criminal now camped out in the US. Penn and Sorrentino met here at Cannes two years ago, when Penn's jury gave Sorrentino's "Il Divo" an award, a film that also received an Oscar nomination this past year.
Michael Haneke was also in the news. The Austrian director, who hasn't ridden a bicycle since his youth, was inducted into the French Legion of Honor here yesterday. It is France's highest arts honor.