Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day Eight

Friends: If "Tree of Life" hadn't been among the films invited this year, usurping all early attention after the announcement of the selections, Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia" would have been the most anticipated of films. Turns out it may have been anyway judging by the turn out for its unveiling this morning.

Ralph and I made our usual pre-eight a.m. arrival for its nine a.m. screening and unlike for Malick's film, where we were the first two in line, Ralph was number ten and I was ten spots behind him. I could have followed the trend here and budged ahead to join him, but I felt no need to do that. But after eight or nine people slipped ahead of me to join someone else I was very tempted to follow in the slipstream of the next and stop with Ralph. Ralph said if I had he would have given me a dirty look. He's even more irritated by the line-budgers than I, accustomed to politeness and order after having lived in Tokyo for fifteen years. Enough so to think about buying a tazar. "You know you can buy them here in France," he said.

When the spill over from the Palais screening began flocking over well before its 8 :30 screening I began to regret not having moved up in line, though it could still be academic. Ralph admitted to counting the people entering the theater ahead of us. When he got up to over 300, within 100 of the seating capacity, he knew it was over for us. Only once before in the five years since they opened this 60th Anniversary theater has it filled with press and invitees denying those of us with market passes entrance. That was for Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds."

So we had the chance to see a ten a.m. screening of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," the film we had gained entrance to in the Debussy and opted out of when we saw the chance to slip into "The Kid With A Bike" on the sly, a very good choice. I've been less conscientious this year than in others about seeing French films, so this gave me an opportunity to make up for that. Ordinarily when I've had openings in my schedule a French film has generally been my choice as filler, happy to soak in whatever elements of the culture I may, knowing and appreciating it so much. But this year more films than usual reached out to me instead.

"Kilimanjaro" did not fail to give me occasional moments of recognition of things that make me like being in France so much, comments about Jean Jaures, their favored Socialist who was assassinated that many streets and plazas are named after, kids thrilled to being given Nutella when their destitute father comes into some money, and the usual French gabbiness and social consciousness.

An older dock worker and union leader loses his job along with 19 others. One of the others is much younger and just scraping by and has a couple of younger brothers to look after. He is driven into robbing the departing gift the union leader is given. By a wild coincidence the union leader discovers who the thief is and then has the moral dilemma of turning him in. Both he and his wife are life-long idealists who try not to feel guilt for almost becoming middle-class. They have sincere debates about what their lives have become and what they should do in their dilemma. The husband suffers an initial rage that surprises both himself and his wife before the questioning begins. I was very happy to have been able to see this, knowing I will have a chance to see "Melancholia" Sunday.

Next followed a pair of films about promiscuity--"The Slut" from Israel and "The House of Tolerance" from France. The slut is a thirty-year old woman with two daughters working on a chicken ranch who gladly sleeps with the many men she comes into contact with. The first is a guy who repairs her bicycle. She attracts the attention of the local veterinarian. He falls in love with her not knowing her reputation and takes up residence with her and her daughters. He is a perfect mate, but she can't resist her dalliances. This had the Sundance Institute stamp of approval on it. This was a capable film, but far from essential viewing.

"The House of Tolerance" debuted in Competition a few days ago and had the lowest rating from "Screen's" panel--1.1 out of four. Not even the non-stop parade of bare breasts in this story of a French brothel in 1899 could win critical approval. It started out like a well-researched doctoral thesis on what life in a brothel was like but it has a weak plot and goes on for well over two hours. I did appreciate an off-handed comment about the Dreyfuss Affiar early on, a seminal event in French history that indirectly led to the founding of The Tour de France.

A movie with Eric Stoltz and Seymour Cassell, two actors always well worth seeking out, set beside a NAZI POW camp in Wisconsin during WWII based on a true story sounded like a movie that couldn't miss. Stoltz is a barber with a heart condition preventing him from enlisting and Cassell a preacher in "Fort McCoy." Rather than centering around their lives or the POWs, the movie focused on a mundane love affair between Stoltz's daughter and a soldier recently returned from Italy. This was directed by the woman who plays Stoltz's wife. She had no idea what she was doing, though when she introduced the film she said it was based on events that happened to her family. I pitied Stoltz and Cassell being mired in this awful nonentity of a movie.

The lasts two days I've seen docs on actors Belmondo and Rampling. Today's cinema figure documentary was "Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel." Roger Corman and his wife and Peter Fonda were there to introduce it. Many great luminaries whose careers Corman launched glowingly lauded him--Nicholson, Sayles, Scorcese among them. Nicholson said he worked exclusively in Corman pictures the first ten years of his career. At one point he is so overcome with emotion saying how much he means to him that he breaks into tears and covers his face to hide his crying.

This was an exceptional film that was entertaining and highly informative. It reveals Corman to be a true titan of cinema and not just an exploitation schock meister. He graduated from Stanford with a degree in engineering and got his start in cinema by workings as a messenger. He graduated to script reader and when a script he approved and made improvements on was made into a successful movie and he was given no credit he decided to make movies on his own. His one serious movie and master piece "The Intruder" about race in the South starring William Shattner in his first role is his only movie not to have made him any movie. When it initially bombed it was rereleased as "I Hate Your Guts," and still couldn't attract an audience.

When Gary from Telluride, a man who has been attending Cannes since 1972 joined Ralph and I for "Days of Grace" at ten pm my expectation for the film immediately rocketed. I knew that Gary with all his connections would only go to something that had been recommended. I wasn't sure though at first when this Mexican drug film, the second of the festival, failed to establish a coherent story line. But it was early evident that the action scenes were first rate. Gary stuck with it for its entire two hours and fifteen minutes, won over by the exceptional film-making, though he too like Ralph and I couldn't separate the multiple story lines around the World Cups of 2002, 2006 and 2010. With some editing this could have been an award-winner.

Later, George

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