Rather than thinning out, the crowds are only thickening, or at least descending upon the higher profile films that are also on my agenda. It was another three-reject day, two Competition films and the Claire Denis film in Un Certain Regard. At no other festival have I had such continuing bad luck. Not getting in is a bummer and a let-down, but that isn't what is so taxing, just the uncertainty of it. If I were willing to show up at a screening more than thirty minutes before its start, I could have gotten into any of them, but since none were bike-related I had no desire to sacrifice that much waiting time, although it allows me to read the various daily trade papers while trying to stay out of the waft of the smokers.
Among the hundred of us turned away from the ten p.m. Denis film was an American who let everyone around know, "I hate this country." He could well have been in the "Last Minute Access" line for people without an Invitation at the Palais earlier that morning for the Soderbergh Competition film. The guardians of the gate left us all hanging and never did tell us that we couldn't get in. A new policy this year gives people in that line priority for the screening at the nearby 60th Anniversary theater that starts thirty minutes after the screening in the Palais. If Ralph, my friend from Telluride who joined me the past two years but is taking this year off to hone his photographic skills at a school in Santa Barbara, were here, this unannounced new policy would have had his blood boiling, as he always made the effort to be among the first in line at the 60th so no one could budge in front of him. Now those people have to stand and wait while a hoard of similar pass holders are allowed to mix with the press who have priority at those screenings. I was quite surprised the first time I saw it happen and it caused a mini-riot. Once I knew about the new policy I just joined that special line at the Palais. Well today it didn't matter and for one of the few times ever (other than for "Inglorious Basterds" and "Melancholia") I did not get into the nine a.m. screening at the 60th Anniversary Theatre.
That was disheartening, but it allowed me to attend the 9:30 screening of "A Touch of Sin," the Chinese Competition film that played three days ago and has the second highest rating from "Screen" magazine's panel of critics. Moments before it was about to start I felt a tap on my should and looked up to see Milos of Facets wishing to slip into the seat beside me. He had walked out of the Soderbergh film after an hour saying it was getting tedious. He had missed the earlier screening of "A Touch of Sin" as it was playing when he had to file one of his reports for WBEZ back in Chicago, though he said he had attended the press conference of the film's director, who acknowledged the film would have to be edited to be able to play in China.
That was very understandable. When I spent a couple of months bicycling around China three years ago, the country made a point of how gunless it was compared to the US. Even the mafia gangs did not have guns, and had to resort to knifes and meat cleavers and crow bars for weapons. This movie puts that generalization to rest. Citizens with guns taking matters into their own hands, defending themselves or seeking revenge or committing a crime, is the dominant theme of the several stories of this film. One disgruntled guy uses a shotgun to kill the accountant and owner of the mine in his town for becoming greedy bastards. He also blasts a guy who is beating his horse. Each of the film's stories show someone unraveling, emphasizing that these are not the best of times in China. Each was powerful and quite well done, but I preferred the single narrative of the Mexican Competition film "Heli," even tho its average score from the critics was a 1.6 compared to the three on a scale of four for this. Any of the episodes of "Sin" could have made a worthy feature.
I would have also given the emotionally-involving "Like Father, Like Son," a Japanese film in Competition, a slightly higher rating than "Sin." A hospital discovers five years after the fact that it switched babies of two sets of parents. There is no easy resolution to the problem, though the hospital officials say that 100 per cent of parents prefer their blood child. It takes several months for the families to come to an agreement. None of the complications seem like the contrivance of a Hollywood scriptwriter as did all the plot twists in "The Past" and "Jimmy P." also vying for the Palm d'Or. One of the fathers is an over-achieving workaholic salaryman while the other is a happy-go-lucky small shop owner who baths with his children, something the workaholic couldn't imagine doing. This riveting story unravels naturally and realistically.
My efforts to see something in every time slot every day also rewarded me with two small but telling films from Mozambique and Tunisia. I was drawn to "Virgin Margarida" as it was about prostitutes in Maputo. My most googled blog entry is "prostitutes of Maputo," my tale of a night in a whorehouse in the capital city of Mozambique when I could find no place cheaper to stay. The prostitutes in this movie have been rounded up by the military in 1975 after Mozambique gains its independence from Portugal and are taken out into the countryside to be reeducated. They are overseen by a tough young woman. None of them had the glamour of the prostitutes of the whorehouse I stayed at adjoining a night club, but that did not detract from the realism of the film.
Women too are the focus of "Hidden Beauties," but in contemporary times as Tunisia is experiencing its Arab Spring upheaval. This could well have been titled "To Veil or Not To Veil," as that is the continual debate throughout the movie. It focuses on two young women who are good friends. One has taken to the veil and the other resists despite the demands of her fanatic brother and the rest of her family. Every argument imaginable for and against the veil is raised in one debate or confrontation after another. There are those who try to get the veiled woman to give hers up as well. This was most disturbing and poignant.
All these movies were realistic enough to have been documentaries of the issues they raised, complementing the three documentaries I did see during my seventh consecutive day-long movie marathon. Russell Crowe narrates "Red Obession." This could have been a companion piece to the Chinese movie, as it describes how the wine of Bordeaux has become maniacally popular in China, driving the price of a bottle to unheard of levels, over 500 dollars a bottle. Wine is a form of investment for people around the world. Since 1982 it has out-performed all other markets including gold.
The homeless of Paris are the subject of the very polished and artful "The Edge of the World." They are all interviewed at night by their makeshift encampments under bridges and in assorted nooks and crannies about the city, often with magnificently shot Parisian landmarks nearby. There were more shots of the Eiffel Tower than any other film in the festival so far, even "Girl on a Bike."
The Director's Fortnight selection "Stop Over" was a grittier film shot in Athens, mostly at an apartment that serves as an underground refuge for immigrants, many from Iran, and elsewhere in Asia, trying to infiltrate Europe. The "refugees" are a most run-down and weary lot with a full catalogue of hard luck stories. It has taken each considerable risk and effort to get this far and none seem too eager to go further. One forty-year old man is brought to tears recounting the hardships of his life.