Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Day One

There may not be any films strictly devoted to the bicycle this year at Cannes among the more than 1,500 films on the schedule, after a record five in 2013, but there are two films that will at least partially feature it.  One is an Austrian documentary on three extreme athletes--a wing-suit flyer, a free-diver and a zealous cyclist.  The other film that will have more than a dollop of bicycling is a French feature about a father and his son, who has cerebral palsy, who compete together in the Nice Ironman, with a leg of more than one hundred miles of cycling.

It is one of two films about cerebral palsy, the other Polish.  There could be an entire sidebar of films about disease and disabilities.  There are four films about the blind and four about deaf/mutes.  There are also films about cystic fibrosis, ADHD, Down's syndrome, amnesia, post-traumatic stress syndrome, retardation and dementia, all films that I will try to avoid  With nearly fifty theaters screening films all day, that should be no problem.

There is no shortage of films that have a corollary link to the bicycle or bicycling.  There are three running films, that could have a bicycling mentality and two films on doping in sports that could just as well be cycling.  Four films feature a taxi driver, who might be substituted for a bicycle messenger.  As far as sports films go, this is the year of soccer with the World Cup less than a month away.  There are at least ten films on the sport including a horror film "Goal of the Dead."  Gerald Depardieu plays one of the founders of FIFA, the sports' governing body, in "United Passions."  He also plays the IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Abel Ferrara's "Welcome to New York."  It has three straight market screenings at the Star theater on Friday, a rare presentation of a film here.

I had the distinction today of being the first one in line for the first market screening of the festival, proving myself to be the most eager of the more than 50,000 film professionals attending the festival.  I arrived at the forty-seat Palais G theater just after nine for the ten a.m. screening of "God's Pocket."  This American feature starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles had already played at Sundance and Berlin so there was no scrum of buyers trying to get in.  They were still given priority, but only just half-filled the theater.  Anyone with a mere market badge who showed up after 9:30 did not get in.  The movie took its name from a rough, white, crime-ridden neighborhood novel of Philadelphia and was based on a novel of the same name. Hoffman had a butcher shop that dealt in stolen meat.  One of his fellow thieves is John Turturro.  Richard Jenkins played a popular alcoholic columnist who wrote about the neighborhood.  Fine performances from all three more than carried the movie.

Jenkins also played an alcoholic in another of the movies I saw today, "4 Minute Mile."  He was a retired coach who comes to the rescue of a very talented high school runner who quits the school team in a tiff with his coach.  The boy is short-tempered, dominated by his drug-dealing older brother.  They lost their father to a drug overdose years before.  Kim Basinger is their not very present mother. She is one of countless single mothers in movies on the schedule.

There is a considerable amount of running in the movie including long jaunts to pick up drugs.  Any movie with as much cycling would have made my day.  Coach and athlete have a rocky relationship, but running does prevail in saving the boy's life.  

The lead character in "Jamie Marks Is Dead" was described in the program as a star cross-country runner, enticing me to see it rather than a Gena Rowlands/Frank Langella post-apocalypse movie in the meager final screening slot of the day.  I made the wrong choice, as the only running is a brief glimpse at the start before it turns into a creepy horror movie with the dead haunting two of the alive.  It was the only dud of my day's six movies.

The three others were all based on true stories, and were all worthwhile.  Two were French and had a Jewish theme--"24 Days" about a young Jewish man who was kidnapped in 2006 and held for 24 days and "Once in a Lifetime" about a high school class that enters a national competition doing a project on children who were victims of the Nazi system.  The high school class was full of semi-delinquent kids who are tamed and brought together by their project, especially after having an Auschwitz survivor come to their class and tell them about the experience.  There are as many films in the festival about teachers as there are on single mothers.  This film portrays what a difficult job it is to be a teacher, but also how satisfying it can be.

The mother of the kidnapping victim has been divorced for years and is a virtual single-mother.  Both husband and wife are forced to deal with the kidnappers.  The movie is an indictment of the ineptitude of the French police in dealing with the kidnappers, a rag-tag bunch of Arabs and blacks who are coordinated by a thug in the Ivory Coast.  The gang targets Jews because they think they have money.  This family doesn't.  The father is a small shop owner and the mother a secretary.  The movie has already opened in France.

When a guy is given a blood test in the Finnish film "A Patriotic Man," it is discovered he had extremely rich blood and as typo O it is compatible with all other blood types.  A doctor at the hospital where he has given the test works with the Finnish ski team.  It is the 1980s and blood doping is an integral part of the team's program.  The doctor recruits him to donate blood to the ski team as an act of patriotism and to take a full-time position with the team as a factotum so he can be at their training camps and accompany them to competitions.

The athletes at first aren't sure if they want to accept the blood of this pudgy, middle-aged man who doesn't even ski.  They say they've been willing to accept pills and injections and their own blood, but this may be going too far.  Eventually they are won over and even begin to compete for his blood.  When the team's blood bags are confiscated by custom's officials before one completion, the athletes argue over who gets to have his blood, one woman saying she has the beat chance for a medal so she should be the one.  He develops a closeness with a younger female skier and wishes to give her priority.  When they lie side-by-side with blood flowing from one to the other they sometimes hold hands.

The guy keeps the blood-doping a secret from his wife, who works as a mid-wife.  He, rather than the athletes, begins to have a moral dilemma.  The athletes don't seem to have any issues with the doping.  They are willing to do anything to win, especially since they know their competitors are as well.  The movie was described as a comedy in the program, and it does have comic overtones since the blood donor is somewhat of a buffoon, prone to getting drunk and passing out, but it does not take the subject matter lightly.  It is a serious study of a serious subject.  It was the best of a very good first day of cinema before the heavy-weight Competition films start screening on Day Two.

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