Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cannes, Day Ten

Friends: Four super-sized and super-enforced police vans were stationed in front of the Palais this morning. The riot-police were out in force to stem whatever protests there might be over the Algerian film "Outside the Law" that was screening at 8:30 this morning in the Palais and then at three and seven later in the day.

The film has been widely condemned by French ministers and others over its distortion of history in Algeria's fight for independence, some insisting that it shouldn't be shown at Cannes or in France at all. The film is directed by Rachid Bochareb, whose "Days of Glory" about Algerians who fought with the French during World War II won its cast the joint best actor award at Cannes four years ago and was a hit on the film fest circuit. This film stars several of the actors from that film.

A police officer, rather than the usual usher, searched my backpack even before I passed through the gate to the holding area for those of us without an "invitation." When he discovered my can of ravioli, he confiscated it. I asked for it back and proceeded over to the nearby back-up theater for the nine a.m. screening hoping for a less thorough search and better assurance of getting in to the movie. If I had been more pressed for time, I would have simply hidden the can in the bushes, and hoped to get into the earlier screening, but today I had time to spare. Yesterday, though, that half hour delay disrupted my timing and prevented me from seeing a movie I had hoped to see.

I was most disappointed in not being able to meet up with Charles in the balcony, as I hadn't seen him in a couple of days and wished to hear his always informed opinions, especially on "Fair Game." There was no Screen magazine this morning with its reviews and scorecard of ratings by its panel of critics. With the crowds diminishing yesterday was its last issue. Hollywood Reporter and Variety had stop publishing a day earlier. They had all been significantly thinner this year with a drastic cutback in advertising.

The authorities evidently weren't concerned by anyone disrupting the "Outside the Law" screening at the 60th Anniversary Theater. It was just the usual woman giving a cursory glance into my pack. Though the festival has suddenly turned into a police state, as an usher initially refused me entry to the Debussy last night for wearing sandals--"Its for the beach life," he said--, up until now the festival's search policy had been greatly reduced this year. Ushers don't even look into bags this year at the entry to the market screening complex, just waving a wand over everyone's body. I have no idea what people could be smuggling in on their bodies that they couldn't be smuggling in their bags, but I'm not going to ask.

"Outside the Law" was as nonsensical as that search policy. It opens with a grotesquely absurd slaughter without any provocation of hundreds of Algerians peacefully marching in Algeria on the day WWII ends demanding independence. Such an event did take place, but not to the extent it is portrayed. It sets the tone for this shameless propagandistic film that may delight the rabble of Algeria but will have no impact on anyone with any discerning sense.

Algeria and France have come to terms and are not at odds. There was no reason to rile passions with such a heavy-handed, simple-minded, one-sided film. There was more killing and violence in this film than in all the films I've seen these past ten days.

A most worthy film could be made about the Algerian fight for independence, especially with all the talent involved with this production, but this was not it. There is not much reason to protest the film though, as it obviously does not depict reality. But it is so blatant, it is understandable that some could be upset. The defenders of France can relate to at least one comment in the film. A French officer says, "I fight for the grandeur of France. Our empire exceeds that of the US and Russia. DeGaulle says so."

Pride in country was on parade down the main shopping avenue, Antibes, after I left the screening and headed to the Arcades Theater. A thousand or more marchers, men and women, some in uniform and many carrying flags and banners pronouncing "respect our history," quietly and peacefully ambled along.

I was joined in line to Frederick Wiseman's "Boxing Gym" by one of the directors of the Telluride Film Festival, Julie. It was the first I had seen her. She too had rushed over from the Algerian film and was shaking her head over it. She said she had liked "Fair Game," but wasn't sure how much. She had gone into it poisoned by insider Hollywood scuttlebutt that Penn looked old and haggard. Indeed, he was, just as was his character, but he was still charged with the energy of a bull. He lets nothing stand in his way in his principled fight for the truth, much as Jack Lemmon in the sensational Costa Graves film "Missing" from nearly thirty ago. Lemmon plays a father, rather than a husband, relentlessly trying to find his son who had disappeared in Argentina during a CIA led purge. "Missing" was an award winner when it played at Cannes.

Julie said no one on the Telluride team had wanted to see "Fair Game" and it was left to her. There were further doubts about the film, as its director, Doug Limon, doesn't have the greatest respect in Hollywood. She said many people didn't even think he directed "Swingers," rather that its star Jon Favreau had.

After all the senseless violence of "Outside the Law" I at first resisted the barbarism of boxing, but Wiseman, as masterful a documentarian as there is, soon won me over. The majority of the documentary is of boxers conditioning not fighting. The movie takes place entirely in a hard-to-find small New York neighborhood gym based out of a garage behind a Goodwill store. Anyone can pay $50 a month to use it. Some of the more interesting scenes are of potential customers, men and women, signing up. One woman buys a membership for her 40-year old husband. Several women with babies are clients. There is no narrative or featured characters other than the gravel- voiced owner, but it is most mesmerizing.

I ping-ponged back to the 60th Anniversary Theater for the repeat of the Competition film, "Our Life," from Italy that I missed yesterday. The frenzied performance of Elio Germano as a suddenly widowed 40-year old father of two redeems this not fully realized film. He works in the building trades but doesn't make much money. He uses blackmail to land a big job as a contractor that is way beyond his capabilities. The film greatly begs reality, but does lend a semblance of insight into Italian corruption and the drive of someone trying to make something of himself.

"Life, Above All" took me back to South Africa to a small town of blacks without a single white. Race was not an issue in this film. Not a single white is seen or even mentioned. Rather it is a story of lives of struggle and small-town prejudices, not particularly well or interestingly told.

I made my first appearance at the Critic's Weekly for one of its award winners, "Bi Don't be Afraid," by a young Vietnamese director, a film with minimal narrative. Its series of minor glimpses into daily life--a young boy being bathed, a man getting his hair washed, a guy eating an apple, boys sloshing through the mud playing soccer--were more mundane than riveting.

A young woman suffers a horrifying night of terror in an old two-story house in the forest in "The Silent House" from Uruguay. It was said to be inspired by a true story. The young woman and her father are alone in the house, or so they think. In the middle of the night the woman hears creaking in the floor above. Her father goes to investigate and doesn't return. The girl then goes in search. The house has no electricity. She carries a small lantern. She gives a formidably intense performance. I'd like to know what she drew upon to portray such terror, her face contorted in unspeakable horror for quite some time.

Later, George

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