Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cannes, Day Six

Friends: Rare is it for a film to come out of Greenland or Chad and rarer yet for such a film to be good. Yet today, Day Six of the festival, such a rarity struck. This delightful pair of films weren't merely windows upon life in Greenland and Chad, but offered good solid stories with insight into the people and the culture of these countries.

"A Screaming Man" from Chad was worthy enough to be included in the field of nineteen films competing for the Palm d'Or, something that doesn't happen very often for a film from Africa. The acting and writing might not measure up to its competitors, but the story of father-and-son pool attendants at a luxury hotel was as gripping as any of the movies I have seen so far.

The movie takes place as rebel forces disrupt life in the country. New management has taken over the hotel and decides one person is enough to look after the pool. The father is relegated to a lesser position of tending to the gate. Just as his salary is reduced, it is time for him to pay his taxes, collected in an arbitrary and under-handed manner. He is faced with a huge moral dilemma of how to come up with the money to pay his taxes.

The lead character in "Nuummioq" also has a dilemma. He learns he has a serious case of cancer just as he falls in love with a woman. He finds it extremely difficult to tell her. The stunning ocean and mountain scenery of Greenland make this a visual, as well as cinematic, treat.

Cancer also figured prominently in the day's first film in the Palais, Alejandro Gonzalez Innarritu's "Biutiful," perhaps the most anticipated film of the festival, what with Inarritu having won best director honors the last time he was here four years ago with "Babel" and the star of the movie, Javiar Bardem, having won a best supporting Oscar for "No Country for Old Men," which premiered at Cannes a year after "Babel." There had been buzz that this movie was Oscar worthy. I didn't even bother to get in the line for non-ticket holders for its 8:30 a.m. Palais screening, knowing that was a hopeless cause, but went straight to the back-up theater where it would play half an hour later. At eight a.m., I was the fourth person in line.

By 8:25, the Palais was "complete" and hoards of press and ticket-holders began descending upon the back-up theater. The only worse frenzy I've seen in my seven years here was last year for Tarantio's "Inglorius Basterds." I was in a secondary line and had to watch all the press and ticket-holders storm past me. They were already clamoring and climbing over each others' backs trying to get in.

The festival anticipated this and had three burly gendarmes at the top of the stairs to manage the mayhem. They had learned from last year's "Basterd's" mini-riot. A few people were turned back for not having the proper credentials. Rather than going to the back of the line, they stood aside ahead of us. That set off screams of protest. Most of those in line had to have been festival regulars and ought to have known enough that no movie is so important that it has to be seen immediately, but they weren't behaving so.

I was resigned to not getting in. At least there was a Laura Linney film playing at ten a.m. that I wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to see. I felt as if I was wasting my time lingering, but I was trapped and couldn't escape and was enjoying my ringside vantage of all these people desperate to see this movie. But miraculously after 25 minutes of this crush, there was no more press and those of us with lesser credentials were allowed in, not everyone, but several dozen.

As "Basterds" was a mispelling, "Biutiful" is the misspelling of beautiful by the young son of Bardem, a rambunctious kid who causes him and his off-and-on wife no end of trouble. That is just one of the many story lines that is left dangling and is never fully developed. Drugs and illegal immigrants and marital strife and dying from cancer are all woven into the ambitious plot. Unlike Inarritu's previous films, the movie isn't fully splintered into separate stories, though it could have been. At least it all takes place in one location--Barcelona.

No one will like this movie more than Guillermo Arriaga, Inarritu's screen-writer on his previous three pictures. The two had a widely publicized split. This will vindicate his claims of deserving more credit than Inarritu was willing to give him. Screen magazine's panel of nine critics gave it the second worse score of the eight Competition films screened so far, though the Hollywood Reporter critic called it "a home run with the bases loaded." He seems to be in a distinct minority.

I put my credentials to full use today ducking in to movies after they'd started and slipping out of some before they'd finished to catch something else. Every day is a bountiful smorgasbord of films begging to be sampled. Documentaries don't necessarily need to be seen in their entirety to be enjoyed. I saw most of "Mind of the Demon" about drug-addicted motocross legend Larry Linkogle, who sets a world record 255-foot jump in Australia in the film. Hardly a single one of the talking heads who knew him can speak a sentence without the f-word.

I only had time for thirty minutes of "Oceans," the latest doc from the creators of "Microcosmos" and "Winged Migration." This too was spectacularly shot. It opens with waves crashing upon rugged sea shores, then shows creatures emerging from the ocean on blissful beaches, before diving into the ocean and its world of many creatures. It would have been a relaxing 90 minutes to have stuck with it, but I limited myself to just a sample.

"What's Going On?" wasn't a documentary, though it could have been. This was another film from a country that doesn't produce much cinema--Lebanon. It was a poetic ode of a guy wandering around Beirut having exchanges with assorted women. When I stopped by the theater 15 minutes after it started I was surprised to see the number 39 flash on the scanner of the guy who let me in after waving it over the bar code of my credentials. I didn't expect to see more than two or three others in the theater, but word must have gotten out that this was more than pedestrian fare.

A documentary I did see in its entirety was "How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?" about the British architect Norman Foster. The title comes from a question posed to him by Buckminster Fuller, a friend and great influence. I passed one of Foster's most acclaimed projects on my ride to Cannes, the world's tallest bridge through Millau. Several minutes of aerial views of the breathtakingly beautiful bridge, whose pylons are virtual sky-scrapers, are featured early on in the film.

I flew out of one of his more recent buildings this past December, Beijing's international terminal completed in time for the Olympics. It is the world's largest building. Foster gushed astonishment and praise over how hard-working the Chinese were and diligent in accomplishing grand projects. Three crews that worked around the clock for several years were housed on site to complete the project.
Skiing and bicycling are Foster's two leisure activities. He is shown doing both. He said some of his best ideas come to him when he's bicycling.

Melanie Laurent, one of the stars of Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds," stars in "The Roundup," also a Nazi WWII movie. She plays a nurse who tends to the Jews who are rounded up (kidnapped/taken hostage) in Paris July 16, l942 and taken to the indoor winter velodrome for several days before they are trained to a holding camp and then sent to Auschwitz. Before they are rounded up the Nazis realize they must establish an anti-Semitic consciousness among the Parisians so they won't interfere. However, enough do, that they prevent the Nazis from meeting their quota of 24,000 Jews, only getting 13,000. The Nazis are pleased though that the round-up didn't spark rioting and only four suicides.

Laurent accompanies the Jews to their mini-concentration camp and tries to help them as much as she can, assisting a couple of boys to escape and trying to improve their food. The film is meant to be a defense of the French, emphasizing their effort to stand up for the Jews.

At the half way point of the festival we were still waiting for a great film. My favorite is "Chongqing Blues" the first of the Competition films to be screened. Screen magazine's panel does not agree. They liked Mike Leigh's "Another Year" by a full point more, by far their top film.

The weather remains ten degrees cooler than normal thanks to the volcanic ash. So many people are concerned about flying out that one paper reported "train reservations are more popular than pommes frites."

Later, George

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