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.