Wednesday, May 30, 2012

French Newspaper Article

And the translation by Janina:

Meeting with an Enthusiast

There are meetings (or encounters) without importance, others that are unforgettable.  It is in the second category that it is necessary to classify this encounter that took place on the 7th of May at the home of Colette Fauchié, a  passionate bicyclist.  She and her friend Yvon Mevel—an Alsatian who is by birth a Breton born in Oran, speaking in English— entertained a friend of Yvon, George Christensen, an American from Chicago, Illinois.  They were also joined René Cumer, President of the local bicycle club.

During the last 26 years George has rejected all of what makes up an ordinary life including the constraints, the compromises and the lure of gain. His studies as a journalist bored him. He discovered three passions: libraries, the cinema and the bicycle. He establishes his itineraries around these three things: thus to be at Cannes by the 14th of May to see as many films as possible while camping near La Crosiette. After his arrival at Charles De Gaulle airport, he followed an indirect circuit to Cannes, which brought him to Degagnac (by chance via Tulle May 6!) to see his friend Yvon, and to pass by Graulhet later to see a memorial dedicated to Poulidor. He has promised to be on the Champs d’Elysseés for the arrival of the Tour de France.
In between? He will make a detour to Belgium to visit the memorial dedicated to Stan Okers, before attending the departure of the Tour de France at Liège.  Perhaps he will make a detour to the US where he gives university lectures about his travels, providing him his airfare and the 7 euros a day he spends on food which he carries  on his bike along with his tent and four panniers.

For each country he visits, his phenomenal memory allows him to remember the place where he slept (always outside), and the culinary specialties.  His preference is for Cassoulet, Cous-cous and Quiche Lorraines. His blog (which he writes every day in a library) is thrilling.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cannes Day Twelve The Awards

Though Carlos Reygadas didn't win the Palm d'Or, he won the next best thing, the best director award, an award that often goes to the best film from a divided jury.  This jury wasn't brave enough to go that far and went with the very safe choice of Hanake's "Amour," a very average film that any film-maker could have made. Reygadas could have been given the best director award here for his second film "Battle in Heaven" seven years ago, but he was too young and unknown for that jury to make such a choice.  But this nine-person jersey, spearheaded by three most accomplished directors, Nanni Moretti, Alexander Payne and Andrea Arnold, clearly recognized the brilliance of  "Post Tenebras Lux," the most distinguished directing of any of the films here.

Both Ralph and I watched it for a second  time earlier in the day and appreciated it even more.  It is a film that isn't so easy to piece together on the first viewing, though one can't help but be impressed by its great cinematic flair.  There is much more of a narrative to the film than we had at first detected.  And we will both be happy to see it again, hopefully at Telluride over Labor Day weekend.

It seems as if no jury at Cannes can get all seven of the awards it doles out right.  There is always at least one big surprise.  At first it looked as if it was going to be giving Ken Loach's "Angels Share" the Jury Prize for the third best film, the first award given out.  Although it is a fine film, it has little of Loach's usual social commentary and is little more than light entertainment. It is very unusual for a jury to give such a film an award. 

There were a handful of other equally entertaining films with much more substance and depth that could please multiplex audiences as well as those of the art house--"Rust and Bones," "Mud," and "Killing Them Softly," none of which were given awards.  The biggest surprise of those three was "Rust and Bones" being overlooked, especially with Emmanuelle Devos on the jury, who had starred in two of "Rust and Bones" director Jacques Audiard's films. "Rust and Bones" could have been given any of several awards--best actor, best actress, best screenplay or any of the three best films.

One can not deny jury favoritism. English actor Ewen McGregor no doubt pushed for Loach's film.  And Italian Morretic, president of the jury, no doubt had his way awarding the Italian feature "Reality" the Grand  Prix award for the second best film, a real shocker.  It certainly wasn't.  Its director Matteo Garrone was the beneficiary of similar  national favortism with his last film at Cannes, "Gomorrah," which also won the Grand Pruix.  There was a very strong-willed Italian director on that jury who saw to it that the two Italian films in Competition that year won awards, that and Sorrentino's "Il Divo." 

In the press conference after the award ceremony Payne was asked how he could overlook the seven films in Competition that had a North America influence, none of which won an award.  Payne shook his head in despair at the question, not wishing to accept the insinuation that he had a responsibility to award a film from his country.  National favoritism also is obvious in the reviews from "Screen" magazine's panel of ten international journalists.  The Brazilian was the only one to give fellow countryman Walter Salles's "On the Road" a four star review, with just about everyone else giving it two stars or less.  Lars Von Trier was similarly blessed with a four star review from the Danish representative a few years ago for  the much reviled "Antichrist," everyone else hating it.

Five of the seven award winners had all won previously at Cannes.  Only the best actor and actresses were first time winners, as is usually the case.   It was most thrilling to see the two young Romanian actresses from "Beyond the Hills" given the best actress award.  The jury really had to like that film to violate the taboo of giving a film two awards, as its director Cristian Mungiu was given the award for best screenplay as well.  It was the second award of the evening given out.  Mungiu was clearly disappointed in having to accept it, as he was hoping he had been invited back to the awards ceremony for another "Palm d'Or" to go along with his for "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days."  Pedro Almodovar had a similar reaction with "Volver," another film that won for its cast of actresses as well as screenplay.  That year "Volver" had the highest rating from the critics.  Rarely though does the film with the highest rating from "Screen's" panel win the Palm d'Or.  This year is an exception, though "Amour" was tied with "Beyond the Hills" with a 3.3 out of 4.

The biggest relief of the evening was that the jury did not give "Holy Motors" an award or pull a real surprise and give "On the Road" or Kiorstami's film something.  But I had faith in Payne to get things right and Moretti too.  Moretti had previously served on the jury in 1996.  Gilles Jacob, the festival's long-time director, wrote in his memoirs published a year ago, "Citizen Cannes," that Moretti stood up for a film that year that deserved the Palm d'Or against the initial wishes of the rest of the jury.  Jacob, sits in on the jury deliberations, though tries to keep his mouth shut, was very grateful for Moretti's strength and good sense.

When it came down to the last two awards to be given for the two best pictures we knew that Hanake was going to get one of them as he was most evident sitting in the audience. Since "Rust and Bones" had yet to receive an award, there was the possibility that this jury might right the wrong of several years ago when Hanake's "White Ribbon" was given the Palm d'Or over Audiard's "A Prophet."  But that was not to be.

When "Realty" won it meant I would have to skip the closing night film "Therese Desqueyroux" by Claude Miller starring Audrey Tatou, as "Reality" was coincidentally screening an hour later and I had yet to see it, just one of the two Competition films I had missed.  The other was the Opening Night film "Moonrise Kingdom."  I came within two minutes of seeing it earlier in the day.  People were still trickling into the Bazin theater for its 4:30 pm screening when I arrived 15 minutes earlier.  I quickly ducked into the bathroom next door.  When I came out the "Complet" sign had been posted.  I wasn't overly upset as it meant I could go upstairs to the Bunuel theater and see the Reygadas film again.  Intuitively I knew that is what I should have wanted to do anyway.  As always, I do not get upset when I am turned away from a film, rather accepting it as an opportunity to see something else.

Though I saw 73 films this year, including 21 of the 22  Competition films and 10 of the 20 in Un Certain Regard, there were a few I regretted missing.  One was "7 Days in Havana" a compilation film by seven directors including Gaspar Noe.  Ralph saw it, as he is an ardent Noe fan as well, but he couldn't recognize which of the seven segments was Noe's, so it didn't seem as if I missed anything of significance.  He said the only segment whose director he could identify was the one by Emir Kusturica, as he starred in his.  He played himself attending the Havana film festival and not wishing to fully participate in it. 

I was also sorry to miss an animated feature with Werner Herzog as the voice over and also a documentary on the foremost editor of film trailers narrated by Jeff Bridges.  But one can't see everything, though I certainly give it a good effort.  I had more seven film days this year than any year before, largely thanks to a more conveniently located Internet outlet for my daily postings. If I didn't have that obligation I would have watched "Amour" for a second time today giving it another chance to impress me.  As it was, it was only a four film day, the only day of less than six. 

"Amour" was one of four films scheduled to play in the 1,068 seat Debussy theater on repeat Sunday, the largest of the four theaters for the repeats.  The others have seating of 400, 350 and 300.  The top-seeded films were "The Angel's Share," "Holy Motors," "Amour" and "The Hunt."  Keller attended "The Hunt" screening.  He said there was a riot among those waiting to get in and horse-mounted police were called in and people were arrested. 

The lowest seeded films, the films the festival directors thought had the least  interest, playing in the 300 seat Bunuel were "On the Road," "Like Someone to Love," "Mud," "Post Tenebras Lux," and "In the Fog."

I began the day with "Beyond the Hills," one of the three films I was most looking forward to seeing when the festival schedule had been announced a month ago along the the Reygadas film and Dolan's film.  This true story of a young girl who comes to a small monastery to visit a friend of hers and take her away was not as powerful as the director's Palm d'Or winner, a near impossibility, but it was still a most impressive film. 

It was only fifteen minutes between the end of this film and Kiarostammi's "Like Someone in Love."  If I didn't get in I had no back-up film.  I would go fulfill my Internet duties and then see Hanake's film.  But there were barely 100 people who cared to see it.  This story of a Japanese student who moonlights as a hooker was very slight and dull.  It has an element of mistaken identity similar to "Certified Copy," but is a pale imitation.

I  had been turned away from "Reality" three times early in the festival. It was surprising there was so much interest in it, as the reviews had been very tepid.  It seemed hihgly unlikely the jury would award it anything, so I wasn't regretting very much that I had missed it.  Despite my low expectations, I found the film more enjoyable than I thought it would be, though still not worthy of the Grand Prix. It was one of two films I saw on this final day of the festival with someone going slightly mad.  One of the girls in "Beyond the Hills," frustrated at not being able to pry her friend from the monastery, goes into such fits that she is hospitalized.

In "Reality" it is a husband and father of two girls who becomes unhinged.  He has a very exuberant and outgoing personality even for an Italian.  He sells fish from a stand in a town square.  He thinks his winning personality will earn him selection to a reality television that will make him rich and famous.  He has an hour-long audition that goes very well.  He's so confident of being selected, he convinces his wife that he should sell his fish stand.  When he isn't selected, he suffers a great downward spiral.   It is an entertaining comedy-drama, but not as fine a film as "Rust and Bones" and a few others.

Once again Cannes was a great twelve days of cinema.  Even Keller came to agree that it was a privilege to be here.  This year did not have the greatness of last year, but still it was a reassuring testimony to the state of cinema.  There were a remarkable number of very fine films.  I'll be back and so will Ralph.  Not so sure about Keller though.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cannes Day Eleven

All went as planned with no excess crowds or unexpected circumstances preventing me from knocking off four Competition films in a row, two that received their premieres today and the two that premiered yesterday.  It was a risk to skip Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" yesterday with the hope that I could see its repeated screening today, but I got away with it.  If I had seen it yesterday though, it would have made for a pair of Competition films centered around a guy driving around a big city in a stretch white limo in a dream sequence of a movie.  Yesterday it was in Paris, today in New  York.  I didn't much care for yesterday's drive, nor today's either.  The script might have been sitting in Cronenberg's drawer for fifty years, dating back to the era of Ionesco and the Theater of the Absurd.

A young, big-time executive wishes to drive across a traffic-clogged, not-so-safe New York to get a hair cut.  He has security guards jogging alongside his car.  Rats are on the verge of becoming a unit of currency replacing the gold standard.  The guy stops a couple of times to have breakfast and then lunch in a small diner with his young wife who isn't as interested in sex as he is.  When he takes off his sun glasses she comments, "I didn't know you had blue eyes."  She asks him to tell her something.  He says, "When I was four I figured out how much I would weigh on each of the planets."  Several times during the movie  he comments about having an asymmetrical prostrate.

Keller and Ralph were awaiting me at the day's first screening of "Mud" by Jeff Nichols, winner of Critic's Weekly last year with "Take Shelter." I hadn't seen Keller in several days.  It was good to see he had stuck it out, rather than leaving early in frustration as he had been  threatening.  "Has Cannes won you over?," I hopefully asked.  "No, but I've made my peace with it," he said.  He had been spoiled by the ease of Telluride, the only other festival he has attended, and the quality of its films, with such a limited schedule compared to most festivals.  After ten days he had somewhat figured out the lay of the land here, but wasn't willing to admit to being a full-fledged devotee such as Ralph and I.

"Mud" offered up remarkable performances by.a pair of teen-aged boys who befriend a man wanted for murder played by Matthew McConaughey, who is hiding out at a secret spot of theirs on an island in the Mississippi.  He is awaiting the arrival of his girl friend payed by Reese Witherspoon.  He murdered her husband, rescuing her from a marriage gone bad.  Along with the police, a group of Texas vigilante friends of the murder victim are in pursuit as well.  The dialogue is crackling and the plot gripping.  Various sub plots are all cautionary tales on idolizing women.  This could win the award for the best screen play.

My two other Competition films were genre pieces from Russia and South Korea.  "In the Fog" takes place on the Western front during WWII amongst Russian peasants. One of them is arrested by the Nazis.  They threaten to hang him unless he agrees to a confession.  Against his better judgement he decides to live, but then is ostracised by his community for seeming to be a collaborator.  This is another of the Character in Deep Shit films that have come to dominate the festival.

A young administrative assistant in "The Taste of Money" wallows in at least shallow shit after he allows himself to be seduced/raped by the 70-year old woman who runs a huge family corporation.  Corruption and sex dominate this slick, but irrelevant film.

Ralph, Keller and I slipped into the awards ceremony for Un Certain Regard before dashing to the Director Fortnight's Award winner.  Jury president Tim Roth lamented the impossibility of selecting the winners because the films were all so good.  They always say that, but it was quite true this year.  The three of us were rooting for the Mexican film "After Lucia,"  which won. Roth gave an extra award to "Le Grand Soir" the French black comedy.  He thanked Thierry Fremaux for including a comedy in the schedule, complaining there were so many heavy dramas.

The Director Fortnight's jury must have had a similar reaction, as its winner was the French light-hearted comedy "Camille Rewinds."   It started out like an all too-typical French film on a film set, but then veered off into slightly original territory when the lead actress, a 40-year old, returns to her parents home and slips into a time warp going back to being a 16-year old.  She goes to school as her 40-year old self and connects with her classmates who are still themselves.  She doesn't want to have anything to do with her old boy friend, knowing how he treated her, abandoning her after accusing her of being his ball-and-chain.   This was a refreshing dose of lightness after the many heavy films, but not necessarily exceptional cinema worthy of an award.  At least she rides her old bicycle on occasion, but my enjoyment of the movie was deflated by  a couple of crashes, once hitting a car and  another time just having the bike slip out from under her, giving me a start and a gasp each time.

The traditional final screening of the festival before Sunday's repeat of all the Competition films and the Closing Night film was a Director Fortnight's film at the Arcades at 10:30 pm.  "Fogo" was a largely dialogue-less documentary on a mostly barren, rugged  island off the coast of Newfoundland with just a few residents and their dogs. This was a very questionable example of minimalism with very little explanation of what the movie was about.

We were all eager for Sunday's schedule of Competition films.  I couldn't have been happier with the line-up as the four I have not seen are all playing in different time slots, allowing me to see them all.  Ralph was not so lucky. Two of the  three he missed are playing at the same time and at the same time as the Reygadas film, which he wanted to see again.  And that will be his choice.  Its hard to believe the festival is drawing to a close.  It flew by faster than ever.  As Ralph and I walked along Antibes after "Fogo," Ralph commented on how much he loves this experience, every aspect of it, and will most certainly be back next year for his third time.  I will be celebrating my tenth.  Yes it has been another fabulous immersion in the world of cinema.

Cannes Day Ten

Today's matching set of films were two films  in Competition that were a series of episodes rather than straight forward narratives--a sublime Mexican film "Post Tennebras Lux" from Carlos Reygadas and the rather ridiculous French entry "Holy Motors" by Leos Carax.

One of the many characters in the Reygadas film asks "Will Mexico ever win the World Cup."  If he had asked the question, "Will a Mexican film ever win the Palm d'Or?," this film could be the answer.  Reygadas came close with his last film "Silent Light," losing out to "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days."  "Post Tennebras Lux" is easily the most ambitious and original of the Competition films screened so far and will be hard to top.  From the very opening scene with a little girl running through a field of cows, this is a film of wondrous images and poignant slices of life, each segment dealing with a concern that weighs upon someone or is of importance to them. The segments include an AA meeting in a shack, a sex club in a high-tech setting, trees falling, dogs fighting, prep school boys playing rugby.  Its lack of narrative flow drew boos, Ralph said, at the press screening in the Palais, but there were none from my audience.

An aging actor drives around Paris in a stretch white limo putting on various costumes complete with facial masks and then slipping out into public to put on an outrageous performance in "Holy Motors," a hallucination of a movie.   He dresses in a vinyl suit with luminous white bulbs and performs a crazed dance. He joins up with a troop of accordionists in another segment.  In another he runs through a cemetery like a deranged centaur eating flowers and biting off the hand of a woman interrupting a photo-shoot. The photographer likes his beastly look and recruits him for his photo-shoot, but he ruins it by running off with the model.  It was sensely bizarre.

My day also included a matching set of Un Certain Regard films, both most wrenching, anxiety-ridden portrayals of characters in deep shit, not unlike the kindergarten teacher and student yesterday in the  Danish and Mexican films.  After seeing them back-to-back I was almost ready to call it a day.   "Our Children" opens with a woman in a hospital bed asking if the corpses of her four young children can be sent to Morocco.  The conclusion of this film is no secret, a mother so overwhelmed by her life, she kills her four young children.  She is transformed from a young woman very much in love, happy to be given a wedding proposition, to a slave of a wife.    Her husband is Moroccan and she is Belgian.  They live in Belgium.

A car salesman with a conscience is caught up in horrible mess when he flees the scene of a hit-and-run accident that leaves the victim in critical condition in the French film "3 Worlds".  He makes the idiotic decision to visit his victim in the hospital.  He is in a coma.  A woman who witnessed the accident, but didn't get his license number is at the hospital at the same time and finds his visit strange so tails him and guesses who he is.  She confronts him in his office at the car dealership where he has just been promoted to run by his soon-to-be father-in-law.  The plot gets more and more complicated with moral dilemmas left and right, but they all are credibly developed.   This was surprisingly plausible and most gripping.  It was another movie about a character caught in a predicament that one wouldn't wish on anyone except his worst enemy.

Colombian street youths in "La Playa DC"  are also caught up in lives of desperation.  This was a most realistic portrayal of their lives focusing on three brothers.  One has just returned to Colombian after spending some time in Canada as an illegal immigrant.  He says whenever he returns to Colombia he wants to leave almost as soon as he arrives.  His younger brothers would like to accompany him as he does by stowing away on a freighter.  They are trying to save the money by various hustles.  This was another film affirming the great relevance of cinema and its power to  insert others into worlds they know nothing about.

The same could be said for "Aqui Y Alla" a Mexican film that won the award for the best film in Critic's Weekly.  It could be the first of three Mexican films to win their respective categories along with "After Lucia" in Un Certain Regard and the Reygadas film in Competition, and none of them focusing on the drug cartels that dominate the news out of Mexico these days.  This was a very quiet, understated film taking place in a Mexican village with a cast of  non-professionals all playing themselves.  A 40-year old father of two teen-aged girls he hardly knows has just returned from a prolonged spell of working in the US.  He became a musician while there and tries to make a career of it back in his village.  Its not so easy, so he picks up whatever menial work he can find.  In the mean time he and his wife have another child.

Along with all the day's Great Cinema was a sensational "Master Class" on directing conducted by the highly respected French film critic Michel Ciment interviewing Philip Kaufman, attending the festival with his film "Hemingway and Gellhorn;"  Unlike yesterday's Master Class with Norman Lloyd this one played to a full house, with people turned away.  Kidman was among those attending.  When I walked past her sitting in the first row I was immediately stunned by her remarkable aura, unlike any I've experienced.  I've had close contact with quite a few actress at Telluride--Laura Linney, Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Rampling, Penelope Cruz, Catherine Deneuve, Meryl Streep-- but none had such star power.  It was a stark contrast to Kaufman, a most regular guy. Ciment actually commented on what a pleasant fellow he was, in contrast to the stereotypical assertive, forceful director personality.

This two-hour session including clips from many of his films--"The Right Stuff," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "Henry and June" and his latest.  It began with a clip from his first film, "Goldstein," which won an award at Cannes in 1964.  The clip showed an older Jewish man dancing out on a pier in Chicago.  Kaufman grew up in Chicago and attended the University of Chicago, wishing to be a history professor.  He found that career too stifling so went to Europe to be a novelist.  There he discovered French New Wave cinema and returned to Chicago to make his own version with 40,000 dollars.  Once again I was thrilled to have sacrificed a movie for this extraordinary and enlightening session.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cannes Day Nine

Today was highlighted by a pair of first-rate, deeply unsettling films, each featuring a decent individual victimized by a malicious assault on their character that turns an entire community against them in a most vile and reprehensible manner.  One was a 40-year old, somewhat depressed, divorced guy who teaches kindergarten in a small Danish town.  The other was a teen-aged middle-class girl who has just moved to Mexico City from Puerto Vallarta with her father after her mother is killed in an automobile accident.

The Dane is falsely accused of molesting the daughter of his best friend in Thomas Vinterberg's "The Hunt" that screened in Competition several days ago.  The community furor slowly builds, with all but one or two of his friends standing by him, along with his teen-aged son who pays an unexpected visit.  He's driven out of the local supermarket beaten by the burly butcher, one of a gallery of Nordic Viking types with rugged, chiseled features that make up the town's population.  A rock is thrown through his window while he's preparing a meal in his kitchen with his son.  His dog is killed.  He evicts his new girl friend from his house when she expresses her doubts. It gets worse and worse.  The little girl regrets the holy terror she has unleashed and tries to retract her accusation, but no one will let her.  No one would want to be in his predicament, but how can he escape it?

The Mexican girl suffers a similar hell in "After Lucia" when a classmate films the two of them having sex and then posts it on the internet.  Every student in her private school sees it.  Boys and girls make her a pariah.  Two girls wrestle her to the floor and cut off her hair.   A couple of guys follow her into the school bathroom and force their way into her stall with dropped trou and recorders going on their phones.  Unlike the Dane, she has nary a defender.

The other exceptional cinema event of the day was a conversation between 97-year old Norman Lloyd and Todd McCarthy with Pierre Rissient sitting in.  Lloyd is celebrating 80 years in show business after getting his start in the theater in New York in 1932.  His first film role was in Hitchcock's "Sabateur" in 1942.  There were no film clips as usually included in these "Master Classes" as there was no holding Lloyd's stories back of working with Hitchcock and Welles and Elia Kazan and Chaplin and Kubrick and countless other cinema legends.  He was a tennis playing partner of Chaplin's before he recruited him for "Limelight."  Also in the audience at this seminal event were Alexander Payne and Abbas Kiarostami, both introduced by Thierry Fremaux.  McCarthy's fellow critic and Telluride regular Scott Foundras also knew this was an event not to be missed  even though the the 300-seat Bunuel theater was only two-thirds full.

I sacrificed seeing "Beyond the Hills" the Romanian film I'm eager to see for it, putting that off until Sunday.  I did catch up though with two other Competition entries, "The Paperboy," which had its debut today and "In Another Country."  "Paperboy" was the fourth film with Hollywood connections in Competition, the most in a while, all very stylish and full of star-power.  This too oozed with lots of pizz-azz and sterling performances by Nicole Kidman as a gorgeous bimbo who has fallen in love with the creepy John Cusak, imprisoned and facing the death penalty for killing a cop.  Two reporters from the Miami Herald have come to this small  very racist southern town to try to save Cusack.    Every character is given outrageous eccentricities that go way too far, undermining the credibility of the story.

Rather than outrageous, over-the-top behavior, the characters in South Korea's Sangsoo Hong's movie are  always awkward, semi-buffoonish nebbishes.  That was the case once again in "In Another Country."  Even Isabelle Huppert, who is featured in the three separate segments of this film, is forced to behave in such a manner.  There is an occasional laugh and commentary on the human condition, enough to make Hong's films Competition regulars.  Like Kaurasmaki films his are an acquired taste for his small cult of devotees.

I squeezed in "Le Grand Soir" after Gary mentioned that it has a delightful cameo from Gerard DePardieu playing a seer who predicts the future peering into cups of sake.  Its not a Cannes festival without seeing Depardieu,  and I had managed to avoid him in the over 50 films I have seen so far.  He was a delight in this dark comedy of two brothers of polar opposites, one a mattress salesman and the other an unemployed punk with a mohawk haircut who goes around terrorizes innocents begging for money in supermarket parking lots, even hopping into their cars and refusing to leave until they give him some of their food, even a mere container of yogurt.  His brother suffers a breakdown and is fired from his job and joins in his brother's antics.

"Sightseers" was an even darker comedy.  It would make a good companion piece to "God Bless America."  A British guy and his new girl friend go off in a camper and become serial killers.  It was quite humorous until one of their victims is a touring cyclist, though one who was pulling a space age capsule trailer that he sleeps in.

This over-the-top comedy was quite a contrast to the Cannes Classic reprisal of George Launter's French '60s gently spy spoof "The Great Spy Chase."  Launter was wheeled on stage for a lengthy introduction.  It almost went on so long that Ralph and I were among the last handful of people to get into "Sightseers" immediately afterwards over at the Arcades to end another Great Day of Cinema.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cannes Day Eight

The films continue to come in pairs--yesterday two on trash, today two Belgian road movies.  One was a last minute market addition that I wouldn't have known about if I had found Ralph in the 60th Theater for the "On the Road" morning screening.  He was 30 people ahead of me in line, having arrived at 7:30 to be the first so he wouldn't have to contend with line budgers and the subtle positioning that goes on while everyone is waiting to be let in.  I prefer an extra half hour of sleep, trying to get six hours.

There was a several minute gap between the time Ralph was let into the theater and I, as it was filling fast with press spill-over that had priority over us.  It was down to letting us  second class citizens into the theater in increments.  Ralph and I always sit in the upper left hand corner of the theater for a quick exit, but I didn't spot him when I entered as the theater was nearly full and he missed seeing me.  So rather than having a debriefing while we waited for "On the Road" to start I was able to read "Screen" magazine and discovered "Torpedo."  Its brief synopsis described it as a 35-year old guy, whose life is in disarray, wins a dinner with Eddy Merckx.    All of a sudden "Torpedo" replaced "On the Road" as my most anticipated movie of the day.

And after the disappointment of "On the Road"  I knew it could be the best movie of the day as well.  I've read everything Jack Kerouac has written and many other books on the Beats and have lived the life and know all the characters well.  Walter Salles has been working on this movie for years but he failed to capture the manic energy of Neal Cassady that drew Kerouac and many others to him.  Kerouac writes of their benzedrine-fueled conversations that went on and on as they drove cross country, often through the night, thriving on the joy of being on the road and their freedom from the constraints of the mainstream. There was none of that here.

Kerouac sought out mad characters and the madness in life. And he succeeded, though Salles did not. This was a most drab portrayal of their lives.  It was almost as if Salles was at pains to demystify the Beats, portraying them as characters to pity rather than to emulate or admire.  Sean Penn much better portrayed the zest of being free and on the road living all sorts of different experiences in "In the Wild" than this did.  Kerouac was a writer seeking experience and continually jotting notes.  He had to be thrilled to be living the life he was, collecting material and meeting up with Cassady and many of his friends.

When the representative of "Torpedo" handed me a flier for the film, as often happens at the small market screenings, I asked him if Eddie Mercix was in the film.  His English wasn't good enough to understand my question.  I was happy to see in the opening credits that Merckx was given thanks for his participation and he is seen early on at a furniture store that is conducting the contest to win a dinner with him.  There is a catch to winning it though and the guy who thinks he has won the dinner is denied his dinner.  He was so much looking forward to it, he goes to extremes to get it, kidnapping the store owner and driving across the country to Merckx's next appearance.  He enlists the help of a former girl friend to pose as his wife and grabs a ten-year old neighbor to be his son.  When the kid tells him he doesn't know who Eddie Merckx is, he can't believe it and  says he ought to be arrested. Ample homage is paid to Merckx throughout this comedy for it to qualify as a bicycle movie even though  the only bicycling is teaching the ten-year old how to ride a bike.

The other Belgian road movie was two hitch-hikers who link up.  One is a mysterious young woman with blank eerie eyes who admits she has recently been released from "a loony bin."  The other is an aspiring actor who is captivated by her, even though he has a pregnant girl friend.  She leads him into all sorts of mischief.  She is a very unsettling character.  He tails her for  a while and then she turns the tables and tails him back to his girl friend. 

"Hold Back," a most realistic French film about Algerians and blacks in Paris and racial stereotypes, also had unsettling characters who had me wondering "what next."  The movie opens with a black man proposing to an Algerian woman.  No one in their families is in favor of their marriage, though none of the family members have met either of them.  The Algerian has many brothers.  They are so upset a friend offers to kill the black. I was lucky enough to see this fine film as I hadn't been able to get in to "7 Days in Havana," a movie I much wanted to see as Gaspar Noe was one of the seven directors who contributed an episode.

The most entertaining movie of the day was Ken Loach's "The Angel's Share," an almost whimsical tale of English working class blokes in trouble with the law who pull off an incredible heist of some whiskey worth a million pounds.  There was some grim darkness to this, a subject  Loach can not avoid, but it was largely an enjoyable fairy tale that offers hope for humanity rather than the usual despair that Loach dishes up.

"Journal de France" was another movie I was greatly looking forward to, as it was described as the photographs of six years of travel around France by noted French director Raymond Depardon.  That was only an incidental part of the movie, as it was mostly a retrospective of his decades of documentaries of trouble spots around the world, mostly in Africa.  They included an interview with a French woman who was held hostage for a couple of years while she was being held, an interview that got him in trouble with the authorities.  There was also 60 seconds of silence from Nelson Mandela shortly after he was released from prison.  There were only a handful of set shots of small town France and several short segments of driving on winding rural roads that I know so well. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cannes Day Seven

I made my first dabble in to the Critic's Weekly and Director's Fortnight sidebars today in repeat screenings, one recommended and the other because I was shut out of the Debussy at the end of the day and had no other choice.  I didn't realize "Augustine" was a Critic's Weekly selection otherwise I would have waited to see it on awards night, as it could well be its winner.

But seeing it now adds another film to the emerging festival theme of inappropriate, or, at least, ill-advised, sex.  Augustine is a young French servant girl  in the 1800s who has unexplained epileptic fits. She is being studied by a doctor.  He puts her on display for colleagues, inducing her fits by hypnotizing her.  He wishes to disprove the theory that such fits are evidence of being a witch.  The two of them give into their animalistic urges and fall into each other's arms and go all the way, leaving the doctor very disturbed.

If I had the time for a think piece I could write about all the other instances of such behaviour in the close to 50 films I have now seen--a priest and a social work in the Argentinian film "White Elephant", an undercover cop getting a blow job from a prostitute he is investigating in "Code "37" and his superior, a woman, having sex with a witness to a crime she is investigating, all the flabby 50-year old women in "Paradise" having sex with young Africans...

Sex got the illustrator Tomi Ungerer in trouble when this prominent children's book writer started also doing erotic drawing, resulting in all his books being banned from libraries in the 1970s.  He made for an extraordinary subject in the documentary "The Tomi Ungerer Story--Far Out Isn't Far Enough."  He was most articulate and has had an extraordinary life.  He grew up on the France/Germany border during World War Two before coming to America in 1956 with just 60 bucks in his pocket, making the most of the Land of Opportunity.  I was glad that Gary of Telluride recommended this. "Far out isn't far enough" was just one of his mottoes along with "don't hope, cope" and "expect the unexpected."

That was the first of four documentaries for the day.  I saw "The Last Projectionist" not by recommendation, but at the request of projectionist Kirk from Chicago. This UK production interviews a handful of long-time projectionists, five of them gathered around a table, and several others interviewed in their theaters, talking about their love of their dying profession.  They weren't as passionate or as interesting as Tomi Ungerer.  More than half the film is about the present state of movie theaters in the UK, focusing on a couple of small renovated theaters with deluxe seating.

I also saw a pair of documentaries on trash, one that had played earlier in the festival in an Out of Competition slot, shot by the German-Turkish director Fatih Akin, who won a best script award from the festival a few years ago.  "Polluting Paradise" didn't receive the best of reviews, but I had an interest in it not only for its subject but also its location, a small Turkish tea-growing town overlooking the Black Sea.  Akin spent five years following the story of a town converting an abandoned copper mine into a dump.  It faced opposition from the very beginning.  It put a stench in the air that revolted all the residents and even the fishermen at sea.

"Trashed" had even more star power behind it (Jeremy Irons) and was also granted a prized Out of Competition slot.  Irons not only narrated the film but also served as a roving reporter going to dump sites all over the world--one just outside of Beirut along the Mediterranean, Iceland, the huge swirl of garbage in the middle of the Pacific, Indonesia, San Francisco and elsewhere.  Irons was there to introduce the film, looking as suave as ever.

The star of the day though was Brad Pitt, on the red carpet for "Killing Them Softly."  I was there for its nine am press screening in the 60th Anniversary.  Pitt plays an enforcer who is summoned to New Orleans to find the people behind the robbery of a super high-stakes poker game.  Like "Lawless" earlier in Competition this is a very polished and sharply written genre piece with loads of stylized violence and entertaining low lives.  There was one tension-filled scene after another.

My seventh and final film of the day was the Director's Fortnight "3" from Uruguay.  It was at the Arcades, which meant no English subtitles.  I have one such experience each festival.  I could cope well with this film, picking out a few words of the Spanish dialogue and much of the French subtitles.  The dialogue wasn't too complicated in this story of a teen aged girl who is just awakening to her sexuality, giving hand jobs to her boy friend and flirting with somewhat dangerous guys a little older than her.  The lead gave a superbly convincing performance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cannes Day Six

Ralph and I were having our first fest pow-wow with film scholar extraordinaire Gary, one of the director's of the Telluride Film Fest, outside the Bunuel Theater after a screening of "Me and Me Dad," a documentary on John Boorman by his daughter, when a young man in a tuxedo recruited us back into the theater to contribute to an audience for a trailer for the latest Bond picture with the latest Bond girl in attendance.  We looked at our watches and told him we had fifteen minutes to spare before our next screening. 

Gary, Ralph and I had also been talking with the Scottish director of a documentary on Jack Cardiff that had played at Telluride and Chicago and River Run and quite a few festivals last year.  He had helped with the Boorman documentary.  He and I ended up sitting next to each other as we awaited the trailer.  He raved how much he loved being at Telluride.  He said that when he interviewed Scorsese and Terry Gilliam for his documentary they both had told him how lucky he would be if his film were invited to Telluride and what an exceptional experience that would be. 

He said they hadn't exaggerated in the least.  His first day at Telluride he found himself in conversation with Peter Weir and couldn't believe his good fortune being among so many significant directors.    I told him he ought to try to make it back next year for the 40th anniversary of Telluride, as it would be an extra day long and many of the guest directors from previous fests would be in attendance.  He immediately took out his phone and made a notation to give that high priority for 2013.

Gary had all sorts of recommendations of films for Ralph and I to see.  He said he had met with Boorman in London before Cannes at an annual get-together the Telluride directors have with English film-makers.  It is no wonder they are so well-connected and put on the best film  festival in the world. 

After fifteen minutes there was no grand entrance from the Bond girl, so Ralph, Gary and I had to get to our next movie.  For Gary it was a press screening for Ken Loach's latest film before it screens tomorrow in the Palais and for Ralph and I it was "White Elephant" at the Debussy next door for our ten pm Un Certain Regard screening.  Gary had seen it earlier and said one critic said the movie was ten hours too short, as there was so much more he would have liked developed in this rich story of a Buenos Aries slum.  It had the gritty realism that Ralph and I most appreciate. The film-maker truly knew his material.  It becomes our favorite for the best in Un Certain Regard. 

The title of Alan Resnais's Competition entry, "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" sums it up.    Resnais's film made a nice start to the day.  It was a gathering of  notable French actors including Picoli and Amalric, playing themselves, gathered at the bequest of a theater director friend who had died to watch a film of one of his plays that a group wished to stage.  He wanted their opinion.  They gathered to mourn as well as to celebrate his work.  This made for a quaint and diverting premise.

"My Joan of Arc" is one of a couple of  French travel documentaries in the festival.  This one was by a young Canadian woman who ventured to France to retrace an eleven-day horseback ride Joan of Arc took to deliver a message to the King of France in 1429 that he ought to go to war against the English.  This combined my interest in France and history and travel and suited me very well. 

I also received a history lesson from "The Third Half," a Macedonian feature of a true story about a Macedonian soccer team and its Jewish coach during the Nazi era--combining two elements of  quite a few films in the market, soccer and the Nazis.  The coach was forced to wear a yellow star and forbidden from coaching as they approached the championship game.  One of the star players has a Jewish girl friend.  The Jews are in the process of being rounded up and sent to forced labor camps in Bulgaria.  The film ends at a Macedonian Holocaust museum. 

Another film with a message was "Harodim" with Peter Fonda playing the US mastermind of the downing of New York's Trade Towers on 9/11.  This film validates the arguments of all those who go for that conspiracy theory.

And I squeezed in "Code 37, The Movie" to make it my second seven film day after six films a day the first four days.  Ralph had seen this Belgian feature about an attractive woman who heads a vice squad on Day One and recommended it.  Even Belgians "multi-task," a phrase that seems to be a favorite of screenwriters these days.

So the festival is half way over.  I've seen 38 films, but only six in Competition.  I have lots of catching up to do and two exceptional films to look forward to based on Ralph's tastes which are quite similar to mine--"Beyond the Hills" and "The Hunt."  So far my favorite film is "Rust and Bones." It is very good, though no quite great.  Ralph has a higher echelon pass than mine, allowing him access to Palais invitations, the reason why he has seen more Competition films than I have.  But there are extra end of the festival screenings of all the Competition films this year on Thursday and Friday along with the usual Sunday slate, so I'm confident of catching up with all of them. And by neglecting them now, I've been able to see films of a subject matter that I wouldn't otherwise have been able to see.  No regrets.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cannes Day Five

Making up for my early dearth of docs, Day Five was a day of  five consecutive documentaries sandwiched between two conventional features on very common topics--dying and falling in love.

I hadn't intended to go doc crazy, it was just the way things fell into place.  The weather gets some of the blame, as an early afternoon shower that continued up through my midnight bike ride back to the campground, caused the dubious cancellation of "Beyond the Hills"  at the 60th Anniversary theater as its staff didn't wish to stand in the rain or keep those in line in the rain.  This Romanian Competition film by Palm d'Or winner Cristian Mungiu was one of the three films of the festival, other than the two bicycling films, that I was most looking forward to seeing and even more so after it received the highest score from "Screen" magazine's panel of ten international critics of the seven films that had played so far in Competition.  It received five four star reviews.  The only other film to receive any was "Rust and Bones" with two.

The rain definitely caused havoc.  It was the most significant rain I've experienced in the nine Cannes I've attended.  Luckily I wore my Goretex jacket on my ride in with the threat of rain, even though it caused me to work up quite a sweat biking into a fierce wind, as I was riding hard anyway  in a rush to make sure I got in line before eight am for Hanake's "Amour," one of the more anticipated films of the festival.  That didn't stop me though from detouring to the Grey Hotel for the daily editions of "Screen," "Variety" and "Hollywood Reporter."  For the second time of the festival Milos was there as well for his daily pick-up.  He confirmed that  "Beyond the Hills" was quite good.  After locking my bike I also crossed paths with Charles.  He too was in a beeline, but is always happy to stop for a quick chat.  He reported he missed Dolan's film as he had a meeting to attend and had to leave tomorrow so would miss any chance to see it.

Keller was already in line but Julie, also of Telluride,  hadn't arrived yet.  She was a few minutes late as she had been out late the night before at a party.  We had to sweat it out a bit as the overflow of press from the Palais came charging over at 8:30.  Keller with his ever pessimistic attitude thought we were doomed. He's a man with no good luck.  When he lost the coin flip with Ralph for the room with a view in the condo the are renting of the Mediterranean, he said he had never won a coin flip in his life. He was prepared to return to the apartment he is sharing with Ralph a mile away and load up his motorcycle and be gone if he didn't get in to this.  He was saved.  When we were given entry the theater wasn't even half full, though every seat was taken by screening time.

I kept waiting for something to happen in this meticulous but rather tedious depiction of the wife of an older well-to-do couple dying. Not even the occasional visit of their daughter, played by Isabelle Huppert, much perked it up.  About the only evidence of this being a Hanake film was the firing of a nurse.  She's not happy and says, "Fuck you, you old prick."  He tells her he hopes someone treats her as badly as she has treated his wife when she's in her condition.  I've lived the experience of this film twice looking after a grandmother the final month of her life and spending the final week of long-time girl friend Crissy's life at her hospital bedside.  I could certainly relate to what was going on, but I wasn't touched emotionally or brought to tears like some leaving the theater.

I had 45 minutes for my blog report and then began the docs with "The Convict Patient" about Mexico's John Hinckly, a man who tried to assassinate Mexico's president in 1970 upset with his handling of the student demonstrations in 1968 that prevented him from getting his diploma.   He was placed in a mental institution for 23 years where he was tortured and placed in solitary confinement.  He is now homeless, wandering the streets of Mexico City.  Mexico does have homeless shelters, but he prefers his freedom.

I almost forgot about "Moon Rider" and was going to make an attempt on "Beyond the Hills" at the Star theater.  But I will have a chance to see that the final couple days of the festival when all the Competition films are rescreened.  This bicycle documentary could not be missed.  I thought I was going to have a private screening of the Danish film, but two others slipped into the small Gray theater just before the lights went out.  Rasmus Quaade is a 19-year old Danish cyclist who has tested higher than any other Dane for lung capacity and wattage power before producing lactic acid.  He is one of the best time trialists in the world.  A camera crew followed him for better than a year preceding the World Championships in Australia two years ago and  then Denmark the following year as they knew he had a good chance of winning.  He crashed in Australia, though he would have had a tough time beating American Taylor Phinney, who was competing in the Espoirs category for those under 23 for the last time.  There is plenty of footage of him training and racing and commenting on the extent that he pushes himself, almost to the point of death.  He is shown collapsing several times at the end of races utterly spent.  This was very authentic.

My docs included a pair on American entertainers who came into their prime in the '50s and '60s--Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis.  "Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis" was an official selection.  It was artfully and entertaining put together.  "Tony Curtis: Driven to Stardom" was a by-the-numbers chronological story that could have been edited by any film student with a ponderous voice over.  A shot of the Statue of Liberty is shown to establish his birthplace in New York.  The Hollywood sign is shown when he goes to Hollywood.  If he had spent time in Paris there would have been an Eiffel Tower, but there was one anyway in the movie poster of "This Is Paris."  If nothing else, this movie distinguished itself as a rare movie that included the three great landmark icons--the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and the Hollywood sign.

Curtis did have a noteworthy career.  The film claims he was the first male cinema sex symbol, preceding Brando, Dean and Elvis.  It argues that if he had died young like Dean or Marilyn Monroe, who he had an affair with, he would be a great icon himself.  It took a while though before he had a significant cinema role with the "Defiant Ones" unlike the others.  The film is interspersed with a prolonged interview Curtis gave the film makers before his death in 2010.

The Lewis documentary in contrast is flashily edited and has numerous interviews with Lewis along with great accolades from Seinfeld, Crystal, Harrelson and others.  Spielberg is among them.  He took a class from Lewis at USC on editing.  The lectures from that class were put together in a book that Lewis says Scorsese always has on the set with him.  Before Lewis became a movie star, he and Dean Martin had a ten year career as comics until 1956.  They were as popular as the Beatles he says.  They had a run of performances in New York where they gave their show eights times a day and were given 90 per cent of the receipts.  There is footage of thousands of people mobbing the streets around the theater as if they truly were the Beatles.

Doc five for the day was by the 80-year old director of Cannes Gilles Jacob of footage he shot at the 60th Cannes anniversary five years ago when 35 directors each contributed a three-minute homage to cinema.  Many of those directors were on hand for this tribute to Jacob.  They were introduced individually and filled the stage--Loach, Kiarstami, Crononenberg, Salles, Moretti, the Dardennes, Polanski, Assayas, Lelouch.  It was a spectacular array of talent, all part of the Cannes family, but all male.  There has been a bit of a ruckus this year that there isn't a woman director in Competition, especially after there were four last year.  Only one woman has won the Palm d'Or, Jane Campion.  At least she was part of Jacob's movie.  Clips from most of those 35 shorts were included in the movie.  I remember them well from 2007 and was glad to see them again.

The long rainy day ended at "Confession of a Child of the Century," a French film in English starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as the object of the attentions of a slightly younger man in the early 1800s.  She initially resists him, but then gives in.  This was a typical stylish Un Certain Regard entry short of being anything special. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cannes Day Four

Today was catch up with the Competition  Films day.  I would have seen four of the 22 if I hadn't been turned away from "Reality" for the third time, though I am getting closer, within the final 25.  The day began with John Hilcot's "Lawless," a superb recreation of  moonshiners during the prohibition era with another role for Jessica Chastain.

For the first time I was able to sit through a movie with Keller, my friend from Marfa, Texas who has been a Telluride regular for the past 18 years, getting hooked on it two years after me.   He's been a passholder and lately a Patron/Sponsor at Telluride, though he always likes coming by my shipping department and pitching in.  This is his first Cannes experience.  It has been a bit intimidating and overwhelming for him.  The Palais theater with a seating capacity of 2300 could accommodate the entire population of his home town.    The crush in and out of theaters has been a bit much for Keller  and finding his way around as well.  Whenever he sees a cruise ship out in the bay he's upset that even more people are coming to town.  In the first three days of the festival he had only sat through two movies in their entirety.  Every day he says will be his last so he can resume his three-month motorcycle trip around Europe.

"Lawless" passed the Keller test though and so did "Paradise," Ulrich Seidl's Competition entry we saw later in the day about older, very fleshy Austrian and German women on holiday in Kenya living it up  as sex tourists with young African men.  This was a virtual documentary with stunning authenticity.  It was very real but also very sad and somewhat pathetic.

Keller had walked out of "After the Battle" on Day Two when this Competition entry about the latest Egyptian uprising and revolution had its premiere in the  Palais.  He wasn't the only one.  I could understand why at first, but I was very glad I don't have such inclinations, as this was a worthy portrayal of the issues dividing the country.

There are two movies in the market capitalizing on famous figures in their title--"You Can't Kill Stephen King," a horror film and "The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom."  I didn't know it, but the Dolly Parton film becomes a bicycle film, when an adolescent girl hops on her bicycle to ride from her small Canadian town to Minneapolis to attend a Dolly Parton concert.  She is adopted and is convinced Dolly Parton is her biological mother.  Her mother chases after her when she discovers she has gone missing, dressed up in her Dolly Parton outfit with white boots and frilly skirt and bright red lipstick and white jacket with red trim.

My documentary for the day was "Sexwork and Me" about the legal window prostitutes of Amsterdam.  The government is trying to phase them out, even though it is a big tourist draw.  The female director was able to convince five of the prostitutes to go on camera with her, though two refuse to reveal their faces.    One is an older woman who could have been cast in the Seidl film.  She also earned money from the government by servicing men with autism and other disabilities.    Nothing out of the ordinary in this documentary.

As usual I ended my day at the final post ten pm screening of an Un Certain Regard film in the Debussy.  Today it was "Antiviral" by Brandon Cronenberg, the first film by the son of David, who has a film in Competition. Proud father was in attendance.  This perverse sci-fi tale of an agency that will inject celebrity diseases to those who wish to experience them was a waste of time.  Lots of needle time--injecting the diseases and also withdrawing a blood sample from celebrities with a virus.  This is supposed to be a commentary about celebrity infatuation.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cannes Day Three

Somehow I managed to avoid seeing a documentary the first two days of the festival.  Usually one of the six I see each day is such a film.  The drought ended today with "Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present."  Janina, artist and art critic of such a stature that she has credentials that give her free entry to any art museum in the world, had not encouraged me to see the movie when I had mentioned it to her, not knowing myself anything about Abramovic, a performance artist who is known as the "grandmother of performance artists."  But when I learned the movie had won audience favorite at the Berlin Film Festival I decided to overrule Janina.

The film follows her preparations for a 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  She recruited 30 young performance artists to recreate five of her more famous acts while she herself would sit in a chair for the two-a-half months of the show and allow anyone to come and sit in a chair across from her  The chair had a recessed hole so she could relieve herself, as she did not intend to leave the chair all day each day.  She knew it was going to be a great challenge, especially for a 63-year old woman.

The movie is interspersed with glimpses of some of her previous performances.  One was she and her partner of twelve years, a fellow performance artist, starting a trek at opposite ends of China's Great Wall in 1988 and meeting up at its half way point after hiking for three months.  They ended their relationship shortly after that performance, but are reunited for this movie.  He is among those who  slip into the chair opposite her and silently gaze into her eyes.  The tears flowed, as they do frequently from those who sit across from her. 

The show turned into such a sensation that people would camp out overnight to be among those who could sit in that prized chair.  More than 750,000 people were drawn to the exhibit.  Many people sat and watched the performance for hours at a time in this "charismatic space" she created.  Watching it was a quite moving and powerful experience.  For the first time ever at any film festival I've attended not a single person at my market screening, its only one at the festival, lept up the moment the credits began to roll to rush to their next screening.  All of us remained seated for several minutes still absorbing the experience and winding down.  The film is being distributed by Dogwoof of the UK, the same company that distributed Wim Wender's splendid "Pina,"  the Oscar-nominated dance film.  Dogwoof knows how to pick them.

I've waited in line for two or three hours for movies and sporting events, but never to get into a museum.  The longest wait I've had to attend an event was the Chicago Seven trial in Chicago in 1970.  When I noticed a feature film in the market on that trial, I knew that was one I had to see. It was another emotional movie going  experience, reliving that experience, even though the movie was a rather pathetic representation of the trial--almost a joke.  The trial was a circus, but this English production called "The Chicago 8," as there were originally eight defendants until the Black Panther Bobby Seals was separated from the proceedings for his continual disruptions, made it into a virtual non-stop brawl between the defendants, the legendary '60s activists Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seals, Tom Hayden, and the bailiffs. 

That wasn't the worst movie of the day though.  That honor goes to "The Power of the Few."  I ended up subjected to this mess when I was denied entrance to the 8:30 and 9 am screenings of the Competition film "Reality."  My back-up was "Winnie" a South African film on Winnie and Nelson Mandela.  But the screening had been cancelled.  Quickly scanning the schedule for something else I noticed "The Power of the Few" with Christian Slater and Christopher Walken.  From the very opening it was obvious this film was going to be a disaster.  Several distributor types were out the door.  I stuck with it and got a few chuckles from Walken's performance as a homeless man with shoulder length curly hair tromping around a small town with a dumpster-diving dwarf.  People continually recognize Walken, as he had once been a local anchorman.  Meanwhile Slater and a beautiful blond hit-woman are driving around trying to find some package.  Both Slater and Walken light up the screen, but this is a movie that will never be seen.

A cast of Charlotte Rampling, Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush directed by Fred Schepisi drew me to the market screening of "The Eye of the Storm."  I arrived plenty early to make sure I could get in, but evidently word was out that this movie barely had a pulse.  Rampling is on her death bed at her large Australian estate.  Davis and Rush are her two children and they return from Europe to watch her die and collect their inheritance.  None of them like each other or are likable characters.  The movie is based on a novel by Nobel prize winner Patrick White.    The screen writer ought to be banned from cinema for his lackluster script wasting all this talent.

The script for the Swedish film "Eat, Sleep, Die" was as honest as could be about a young woman who is laid off from her factory job in a small Swedish town.  Her trials are compounded as she is a Muslim from an unnamed Eastern European country, though she immigrated to Sweden with her father when she was one year old.  She is her father's lone support.  She is a very hard worker and will do any work.

The day ended  with one of the films I was most looking forward to of the festival, Xavier Dolan's "Laurence  Anyways." This was the third film in three years at Cannes for this 23-year old gay Quebec director.  His first film, "I Killed My Mother," was so subversive it has never been released in the US and isn't even available in the US on DVD.  The opportunity to see such a film is one of the reasons that makes Cannes a must for any serous cinephile.

Dolan thought he was ready for the Competition film with this 170-minute film about a university professor who tells his girl friend that he is really a woman trapped in a man's body and wants to have a sex change.  She's not happy about that at all.  When he starts cross dressing he loses his job.  The film had more of Dolan's dazzling directorial flair, and a couple of his signature full-voiced yelling matches, one in a restaurant when the waitress disrespects the cross-dresser, but it was about twice as long as it needed to be.  Still it kept my attention all the way to the end and took my breath away from time to time  despite starting at 10:15 and going until after one AM.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cannes Day Two

Among the classic films playing at the outdoor theater on the beach each night is "Jaws."  Its not the only film at the festival with predatory fish.  There were two such films today,   Jacques Audiard's Competition entry "Rust and Bones" and a last minute market entry "Una Noche."

"Rust and Bones" was the first official Competition entry after last night's "Moonrise Kingdom," a rare Opening Night film that is also part of the twenty film field in Competition. With no tuxedo and no invitation I wasn't able to see "Moonrise" and also passed on its second screening today not wishing to squander an hour's time waiting in line putting it off until the end of the festival despite my eagerness to see any film with Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton.  I can say the same thing about an Audiard film.  He doesn't make bad films.  "Rust and Bones" is no exception.  It is another highly pleasing film with all sorts of distinct originality. 

The predatory fish in "Rust" are killer whales.  One of the whales bites off the legs of a whale-tamer during a performance at a large French aquatic center.  The woman was world-weary to begin with and is near suicidal after this, a nurse having to grab a knife from her while she is still in hospital recovering.

Even more hardened and world-weary is a bouncer from a night club she met just before this happened.  He is a pugilist with a strong animalistic nature, but has a considerate soul.   She gives him a call several months after she loses her legs and they become a couple in a most unconventional relationship.  It is a while before they become lovers, but he revives her will to live.

The predatory fish in "Una Noche" are sharks that circle around three young Cubans trying to cross from Cuba to Miami on a make shift raft of two car tires and wood and a motor that one of the Cubans traded his bicycle for.  This was another exceptional film portraying the life of desperation that most live in contemporary Cuba with many resorting to the sex trade to survive.  I lucked into this film after being turned away from "Phantom," a film starring Ed Harris as a Russian submarine captain.  I knew nothing about "Una Noche." It was actually my fifth choice at the noon time slot, but it was proof that one must take chances on what one sees at film festivals.

My two o'clock film was another film by an accomplished French director, Benoit Jacquot, "Farewell My Queen" playing in the market.  The queen is Marie Antoinette.  The person bidding her farewell is her young servant who reads books to her.  The movie opens on the day of the storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789 and follows the activities at Versailles over the next week while the King and Queen and everyone else are deciding whether to flee or not.  Marie stays but sends her reader off with her lesbian lover, a duchess who Marie has her reader impersonate as the duchess is on the list of 286 people that the revolutionaries wish to behead.  It was a nice little history lesson.

The movie I was most looking forward to this day was the first of the two bicycle movies listed in the program,"One Mile Above."  The single line blurb in the program implied it was the documentary of a Taiwanese bicycling 2,000 miles across China to Tibet.  It was actually a feature film recreating such an adventure.  The bicyclist was inspired to make the trip, as it was something his older brother intended to do but died prematurely.  He has minimal bicycling experience but undertakes the trip despite warnings from friends and people along the way that he will die.  He almost does in this highly stylized feature that turns the trip into a horror movie with perilous crashes and attacks by ferocious wild dogs and an enraged truck driver and pushing his bike through snow.  The scenery is spectacular, but the story is a lot of hokum. The film-makers were so proud of their large scale effort that the credits included shots of their filming the movie in the treacherous terrain.

Ralph and I were turned away from a documentary on Roman Polanski.  That allowed us to see a 1954 Indonesian film "After the Curfew" recently restored by  Martin Scorsese's organization.  In on the restoration was New York critic Kent Jones, who was there to introduce it along with Pierre Rissient and Thierry Fremaux.  This was a big enough event to attract jury member and arch cinephile Alexander Payne, who was introduced by Fremaux and given kudos for being there.  I was only able to see the start of the film as it overlapped with "One Mile Above."  I was sorry to have to walk out on it in front of such a distinguished audience.

I finished off the day with two "Un Certain Regard" films, "Mystery" from China and "Student" from Kathastan.  "Mystery" was a superb portrayal of the emerging middle class in China.  Such a strata of society did not exist even two years ago.  It is a story of adultery with some police corruption thrown in.  It was a standard story, but I kept marveling at all the stuff the young family had and how well everyone dressed and how well-fed everyone was in contrast to Chinese movies in the recent past.  It took place in Wuhan, a city I lingered in for a few days awaiting a cycling partner a couple of year ago, who ended up having an epileptic seizure there, stranding us an extra day.

"Student" portrayed life in a country not so well off.  It was inspired by "Crime and Punishment" and was told in a droll Kaurasmaki style that would not appeal to everyone.  I saw Charles for the first time just before the 10:30 pm screening.  He had seen it earlier in the day and wasn't so enamored by it.  I was plenty happy to have a final ninety minutes of cinema to watch on the huge screen in the thousand seat Debussy theater, finishing off another Great Day of Cinema.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cannes Day One

Just before I left Chicago two weeks ago I saw a trailer at the Landmark for "God Bless America," the latest provocation from Bobcat Goldwait.  It looked like a must see.  I was disappointed I would miss it.  So I was quite happy to see that it would have a market screening here on Day One, its only one,  though in the small 45-seat Grey screening room.  There was a good gathering waiting to be seated fifteen minutes before it was to start when I showed up.  After a couple of minutes buyers were allowed entrance.  Fortunately there were only five or six and then the ushers allowed the rest of us in.  It was the only full house of my seven movies for the day, and justifiably so.

A divorced 40-year old misanthrope with a ten-year old daughter who doesn't want to see him has just been fired from his job for making unwanted advances on the company's receptionist.  He is fed up with all and sundry and sets off on a killing spree with a teen-aged girl who witnesses his first killing, a pompous rich classmate of hers who is upset her parents gave her the wrong luxury car.  She is thrilled at his audacity and asks if he takes requests.  They are selective in whom they kill; though they have grievances against such a wide variety of people they could kill just about anyone.  Their list includes reality show contestants and people who watch reality shows, Nascar fans, Mormons, punks, hippies, people who high-five, people who talk or text during movies, people who use the phrase "The Man," though fortunately not bicyclists, though they probably would have found reason to be upset with them as well.

The guy is an American version of the butcher in Gaspar Noe's masterpiece "I Stand Alone"  who goes amok and spews forth one screed after another about the ills of contemporary society.  It was most appropriate to be watching the movie in France, as the guy says the two of them ought to move to France or some other country that hates Americans, just as they do.  She takes offense when he playfully refers to her as Juno, as she hated the cutesy dialogue from that movie and says they ought to add its screenwriter Diablo Cody to their hit list.

I was continually chuckling at the audacity and authenticity of the dialogue, about the only one of  the mostly 20-something audience finding humor in it as it too much lampooned their values.  About the only time I was joined in laughter was when he ended another of his diatribes saying, "I really hate this country.  That's why we're moving to France.  And you won't have to shower there."

If this movie had only opened a couple weeks earlier back home, rather than this past weekend, it would have brought to five the number of movies being screened here that I'd already seen, and all at the Landmark--"Thin Ice,"
"Darling Companion," "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" and "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie," all playing in the market.

And it would have allowed me a four sports movie day, as I had to sacrifice a South Korea golf movie "Mr. Perfect" to see it.  Of my three sports movies there was still one from South Korea, "As One."  I thought it was going to be a documentary about the 1991 table tennis world championships where the two Koreas combined as one team and won the woman's competition over the Chinese, but it was actually a feature film--130-minutes long trying to do full justice to this great event in Korean history.  The recreation of the matches were sensationally staged in a huge stadium, the women whacking the ball back and forth with maniacal energy and sweat flying from their faces and giving each other intense glares before each serve.  Though there were some melodramatic touches added to the story, it was still a most powerful and engaging story that will no doubt be a big hit in Korea.

I also thought the Australian surfing movie "Drift" might be a documentary, as it too was a true story, this one about the rise of a surf  merchandising company in the 1970s by a couple of world class surfing brothers.  The surfing was as sensational as the table tennis in "As One."  The melodrama was more authentic in this movie--a love story between one of the brothers and a young Hawaiian woman on a surfing safari and her boy friend smuggling heroin into Australia inside surf boards from Indonesian unbeknownst to the brothers.  They get mixed up with drug-dealing Hell's Angels types who make their life difficult and have difficulty getting loans from the local bank because they have long hair.

My third sports movie of the day, "Fondi '91," had virtually none of the sport I was hoping to see--soccer-- and what there was hardly had any veracity.  This American independent was said to be inspired by real events--a New Jersey high school soccer team that went to Italy in 1991.  The boys are more interested in women than soccer.  Their boorish behaviour gets them in trouble with the boy friends of the Italian women they try to seduce.  This had all the earmarks of a personal film by a director who had never made a movie before and thought he had a good story to tell.

The same could be said of "High Road," another American independent.  I gave it a try because it seemed to be the most interesting of the five films in its time slot and its description included mention of "rude hookers."  This movie was such a dud that even the full page ad in the daily Variety did not make it look interesting.  Usually the photo promoting every movie makes it seem like something I'd like to see, but not this one.  There was a fun little scene with a single rude hooker who badgers the young drug-dealer who is on the run from the cops for being a fag for not being interested in her.  But that far from redeemed this movie.

I should have known better from my experience over the years to avoid American films in the market that have no star power.   At least if a foreign film in the market is a dud, I have the pleasure of experiencing life  in a foreign land.  Such was the case with my final film of the night--"Ken and Mary: The Asian Truck Express"--a Japanese film about a salaryman who goes to Malaysia to prevent his daughter from marrying a Malaysian he doesn't approve of.  The movie is a road trip getting to the wedding through the beautiful Malaysian countryside that had me wishing I were riding my bicycle through it. It was largely a slap stick comedy, but had a certain amount of social relevance.

I also gave "My Angel" a half hour look to start the day.  I was the 18th person of the 27 eager to see the first film of the festival to walk out.  This UK feature included Brenda Blythen in its cast, but she had only one brief appearance in the first half hour.  It was a Christmas themed movie talking place in London with high production values but very low credibility.  A woman is hit by a car and knocked unconscious and her teen-aged son receives a visit from her in his dreams telling him she won't recover unless he finds an angel's halo.  He asks his brother if he can borrow his bike in his search for a halo because his has been nicked, but his brother won't lend it to him.

The first day of the festival before the invited films start showing is always a crap shoot.  I did well to see three movies that I really liked and a fourth that held my attention.   Not a bad start at all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cannes Preview

Of the 87 screenings tomorrow on Day One of the festival three feature zombies--"Kill Zombie" from the Netherlands about a city ravaged by a zombie outbreak, "Dead Bite" from Thailand with zombies emerging from the sea and "Detention of the Dead" from the US about high school kids trapped in detention with classmates who have been turned into a horde of zombies.   Even though zombies are a prominent subject throughout the festival, I'm hoping to be able to avoid them.

Of the thousand or so films I have scanned so far on the schedule there are as many about zombies as assassins and serial killers and heists and Nazis and suicide and soccer, but not as many as about prostitutes or revenge or prison, always popular subjects.  I have two cycling films to look forward to in the days ahead--"One Mile Above" a feature about a Taiwanese who cycles two thousand miles across China to Tibet and a documentary, "Moon Rider" from Denmark about an aspiring racer.

Three movies have been compared to "Clockwork Orange."  Last year there was a documentary celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Kubrick is further honored this year with a documentary on "The Shining" called "Room 237" trying to explain its many hidden meanings.

There are also a handful of movies on post-9/11 New York  and post-earthquake Japan.  Another theme is movies featuring hated rivals becoming friends--Israelis and Palestinians, North and South Koreans, Russians and Chinese.  The Korean movie is a documentary about the 1991 table tennis championship when the two Koreas combined to try to defeat the Chinese.  That is the film I'm most looking forward to seeing tomorrow.

It is one of a host of many documentaries that could be fascinating.  There are three on fashion, one about women and their devotion to their shoes called "God Save My Shoes" and "About Faces" about models and their look and a film about a fashion show at Versailles that revolutionized the fashion industry.  John Boorman's daughter spent four year's filming her dad for a documentary.   There are also documentaries on Tony Curtis, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Ingmar Bergman and a famous Finnish accordionist.

I could base my viewing tomorrow on actors who I like--Paul Dano, Julia Stiles,   Michael Rooker, Michael Madsen and Matthew Modine, all anchoring films.  "My Angel" from the UK has the honor of being the first film screened at 9:30 a.m. in the 73-seat Palais J screening room.  There will be no official ceremony and probably only a handful of the insatiable diehards in attendance for what sounds like a fairly silly film  about two sons who try to find an angel's halo to save their mother after she has a serious car accident.  I could be out the door for several screenings that start at ten nearby or dash to the Gray Hotel screening rooms for the Japanese film "Lilo's Adventure" by Izuru Kumasak about a young girl who gives up laughing.  The director's previous film was the best first feature at Berlin in 2010,  giving it some promise.  There is another film with the Berlin stamp of approval having played in its Competition this year at noon, "Caesar Must Die"  about Italian prisoners who stage the Shakespeare play.

Those are just a handful of my many many options and temptations.  Lots and lots to look forward to. 

Monday, May 14, 2012


Over the winter my friend Hubert in Le Caylar conducted a search for all the bicycle museums in France.  No one had compiled such a list, so he sent out a request to the various French cycling organizations and some of the larger clubs asking them to name what cycling museums they knew.   He came up with fifteen.  I had visited eight of them over the years--in Plouay, St. Etienne, Domazin, Saint-Meen-Le-Grand, Moret-sur-Loing, Le Fresnaye sur Chedouet, Trois-Fontaines L'Abbey  and Notre Dame de Cyclist. 

One of the seven I hadn't visited was fifteen miles beyond Avignon in the town of Pernes-les-Fontaines.  It had to be a new museum as when I  visited Pernes several years ago to pay my respects to Paul de Vive, Velocio, the father of touring cycling, who was born there in 1852, there was no bicycle museum at the time.   There was a plaque on the house he was born in and the street of the house had been named in his honor.  The town's sports complex is also named for him and has a statue of him.  It made sense that the town would have a bicycle museum, as France is a country of museums.  One never knows when one will come upon a museum commemorating the Resistance.  Ive passed three of them already on this trip.

While I was in Avignon I stopped at the tourist office to confirm there was a bicycle museum in Pernes. No one knew anything about it so they called its tourist office.  It turned out that it was a special exhibition at the town's City Hall from April until October.  It was mid-afternoon, so I could not linger in Avignon to see its many attractions.  I had seen them in years past, but they are worth seeing again, particularly the chateau that was home to seven Popes in the 1400s thanks to a French Cardinal who was named Pope and didn't wish to relocate to the Vatican.  Avignon is the only city other than the Vatican to have such a distinction, though Chicago nearly joined the club during World War II. The Pope at the time considered relocating the Vatican to a palatial Catholic retreat on the outskirts of Chicago.

I arrived in Pernes-les-Fontaines with ample time to give the bicycle exhibition a thorough look.  The young man overseeing it gave me a personal tour.  The fifty bikes on display and various jerseys and  posters came from the personal collections of two men.  There was a heavy emphasis on Velocio.  At the entry to the exhibit was a bust of Velocio.   Down the hall way to the four rooms  comprising the exhibit were a series of photos of Velocio, a bald-headed man with a flamboyant mustache and sparkling eyes and smile, bearing a resemblance to another who inspired many, Gurdjieff.

Among Velocio's contributions to the world of cycling was the invention of the derailleur.  One of the bikes had an original version of it--a y-shaped prong that hung from the chain stay over the chain just in front of the freewheel, allowing one to push the chain from one cog to another.  The museum also included the first tandem, manufactured in Dijon in 1899.  The stoker in the secondary seat also steered the bike via cables attached to the handlebars that extended to the front wheel.  The handlebars for the person sitting up front were at his hips, rather than extending in front of him, making for a somewhat precarious perch.

Most of the bikes were over a hundred years old, but there were also a handful of modern day bikes as well.  One was a touring bike that had been ridden from Paris to Beijing in 2008 with a large group sponsored by a French touring organization.  There was also a bike designed last year by Raymond Martinez in Aix-en-Provence, not too far away, with a pair of cranks and chains on either side of the bike that enabled the bike to go 80 miles per hour with the person aboard spinning only one hundred revolutions per minute.

After my personal tour, I gave everything a second more thorough inspection.  There was a yellow jersey from the 2010 Paris-Nice race signed by Contador before he was suspended.  Lance was acknowledged in a poster from the 2003 Centennial Tour de France.  Most interesting was a poster for the bicycle movie "Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles" by Jean-Pierre Jeunet starring Jean-Paul  Rouve.

I had a nice conversation with the young man tending to the exhibition afterwards.  He did not realize there were so many bicycle museums in France.  He didn't actually live in the country, but rather in a French territory on an island off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.  It is one of eleven territories or protectorates belonging to France.  Hubert had mentioned them, as their residents were all entitled to vote in the presidential election. They include islands in the South Pacific and the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean and one lone island off the coast of Canada along with Guiana in South America.  One small island in the Caribbean is inhabited mostly by the wealthy.  It voted 87 percent for Sarkozy.

With Avignon the weather turned warm as I cycled through Provence on the home stretch to Cannes.   For the first time in ten days the handful of mini-Kit Kat chocolate bars I had brought along melted.  It cooled enough at night though for them to resolidify.  With the temperature in the 80s I greatly appreciated the shade provided by the magnificent plane trees Napoleon planted along the roads, another of those small amenities that make cycling in France so exceptional.

I continually marvel at the lush rolling countryside so meticulously maintained.  The one hundred mile stretch to Le Caylar was particularly exceptional on narrow roads with no traffic.  When I visited Le Caylar last year I made my approach from the east.  Coming in from the west gave me a wholly different perspective.  It is nestled around a peak that looked like a former volcano, though it wasn't.  Ten miles before town I passed a prominent Buddhist Temple that has hosted the Dalai Lama three times, once for a week-long conference that attracted people from all over Europe.

France offers up one pleasant surprise after another.  Its not just chateaus and cathedrals and museums and wine.  After descending the Cevannes from Craig and Onni's I passed a large bamboo forest that is a tourist attraction.  I had read about it in one of the nine books on France I had brought along--"French Dirt," by Richard Goodman, a 40-year old American who spent a year in a town of 211 in the vicinity and started up a garden as a way to integrate himself into the community.

I made it the first book of the nine I brought along, all on France,  to honor my friend Janina, an ardent gardener who I had helped before I left saw down a few trees and dead tree limbs on her suburban estate.  Working together she expanded my French vocabulary and appreciation of French culture.  Among her many talents, she is a long-time art critic for Chicago's "Reader" and "New City" and also teaches film and women studies at Columbia college.  She is as handy with the chain saw as she is with the pen, and the paint brush for that matter.  We had both spent a considerable part of our youths playing in the forest and sawing down trees.  We had a marvelous time reliving the fun times of our adolescence.

I brought along enough books to read one a week other than the two weeks during Cannes and the three weeks of The Tour de France.  I finished off my second book, "Seductive Journey," yesterday sitting in a small park in Frejus twenty miles before Cannes, as I was well ahead of schedule.  It was a highly informative study of the reaction of American travelers to France starting with Jefferson up to 1930 and the Jazz Age. In the early years those venturing to Europe never knew if their ship would survive the journey across the Atlantic or how long it would take.  For a long time Paris was a sex destination for American travelers.  Twain and Jefferson and Howells and others all expressed dismay over the prominence of prostitution and the acceptance of adultery.  Abigail Adams couldn't find anything to like about France other than balloon launches.  She was disturbed over the French lack of family values, reflected in the number of children the French had, three or four, compared to the eight or nine of American families at the time.

I could have arrived at Cannes yesterday, but made yesterday a reading and rest day, holding my mileage to 42 miles and having one last night of wild camping at my usual spot near the summit of the three-mile climb from Frejus to Cannes.  My twelve-day ride to Cannes totalled 940 miles, three hundred more than the direct route, but every extra mile was worth it.  It was the  least direct and most enjoyable ride of the nine I have taken to Cannes.  The totals for my last three days are 83 miles to before Bonnieux on May 11, 67 miles to before Salernes on the 12th and 42 miles to before Cannes yesterday.  Kathy informs me that I still rank third overall in the competition but first for Illinois.  I could fall behind during the next two weeks though when my mileage will be just ten a day from the campground into Cannes to the most distance of the 50 theaters showing films.

Now I have twelve days of wall-to-wall cinema to immerse myself in.  It too will be most thought-provoking and will enhance my appreciation and understanding of the world and the creatures that inhabit it.