Friday, May 30, 2014

Mazamet, France

 For the first time in five days since resuming the biking after twelve days of cinema, it wasn't depleted legs that ended my day, but rather rain.  I have been battling fierce head winds since I departed Cannes, wearing me out. I always lose some of my conditioning during the festival, but even more this year, staying in town, depriving me of the four-mile bike ride to and from the campground I had stayed at my previous ten Cannes.

The head winds finally relented late this afternoon when a front came through, but producing a light rain.  The rain was a very small price to pay to put an end to the wall of air I've had to push into all day long for over three hundred miles.  I've battled strong headwinds in France before, but none that lasted more than a day or two.  This could be further testimony to the changing weather, to go along with the coldest early May I've experienced in eleven years of biking from Paris to Cannes.  It was cold enough for tights nearly every day.  Most years I never needed them.

But I'm in no great hurry now.  My only deadline is to make it to the UK by June 20 to meet Janina when she walks off the Queen Mary.  I had been hoping to make it by the tenth to spend some time with my friend David, another bicycling buddy, who moved back to London a year ago after twenty some years in Chicago.  And the more time I have in the UK the more Carnegie libraries I can search out.  There are a hundred or so scattered around the domain.  Though the winds have set me back a bit, I know  my mileage will pick up as I regain my strength and the winds desist enabling me to knock off the 1,200 miles of my less than direct route to the Channel in ample time.  When they let up this afternoon, I was once again fully possessed, as I usually am, by that euphoric end of the day sensation of not wanting to stop riding that the wind had denied me the previous four days.

I've been riding roads and passing through towns across the southern extremity of France that I'm familiar with, but I am most happy to renew acquaintances with all of them and remember past visits, some just last year with Andrew from Sydney right after Cannes and others with Glenn, the Englishman, later in July during The Tour de France.

Every time through Arles, former base of Van Gogh, is a memorable one, perhaps the most when it was on The Tour route and I passed through with a Japanese cyclist who had competed in the Nice Ironman just a few days before.  I've visited all the Roman ruins and Van Gogh shrines in Arles, but never its library until this year.  It is a French classic, half historic and half modern.  It is partially housed in the hospital where Van Gogh was taken after cutting off his ear.  It has a magnificent three-story glassed atrium addition that adjoins another centuries old building behind a wing of the hospital, a superlative example of the French honoring the past but combining it with the new.

It was a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours recharging my iPad and reading bicycling and cinema magazines of a depth that those in English barely approach.  I also glanced at a handful of newspapers to see their coverage of the Giro.  It was minimal, either none at all or a mere paragraph, and this the day after the Colombian Nairo Quintana, who finished second in The Tour last year, won the 16th stage in dramatic fashion to take the Pink Jersey and the French rider Pierre Rolland moved up to fourth.  Already all the sports coverage was devoted to the World Cup even though it is over two weeks away.  It is also indicative of the interest the French presently have for cycling other than their Grand Tour, when every newspaper will have pages and pages devoted to The Race.

Though the cycling these past days has been wiping me out, putting me to sleep for ten or eleven hours a night, it still takes no effort to get back at it every morning knowing what serene and sublime scenery awaits me through vineyards and olive orchards and stretches of rugged mountainous terrain and arcades of plane trees, one of those symbols of France, combining beauty with practicality, providing shade from the sun and some barrier to the wind.


And every so often is a picnic table, another of those amenities that comprise the inalienable rights of all the French.



I'll be passing through Toulouse tomorrow and then on to Maubourguet, which will host the start of the 19th stage of The Tour.  I will head north from there following the peloton's route to Bergerac and then ride the next day's 32-mike time trial to Perigueux, the only time trial of this year's Tour on its final day before everyone is flown to Paris for the finale on the Champs Élysées.  

Toulouse is a fairly easy city to manage with direct main thoroughfares passing through it, unlike Montpelier, a hilly city that is a genuine nightmare to navigate.  It has stymied me half a dozen times, and even yesterday with the aid of a GPS device for the first time, I still managed to go astray a couple of times.  I burned up twenty-five per cent of my iPad's battery, having to use it so often, sometimes after just a couple of blocks, to figure out where I was and which way to go.  I'll be passing through it again in July during The Tour on the way to Carcassone, departure city for the sixteenth stage that will take the peloton into the Pyrenees.  I'll also be meeting up there with Janina once again, as she'll be spending the month of July at an artist's retreat north of the city working on her book.  

My latest attempt on Montpelier solved some of its mysteries.  It will be much easier next time, saving me a good hunk of time, which will be quite precious by then, not only trying to keep up with the peloton, but time to spend with Janina as we both wind up our summers in France, both returning home on the same day and then heading up to Traverse City for the third year in a row to attend Michael Moore's film festival, celebrating its tenth anniversary.




Sunday, May 25, 2014

Day Twelve

It may have been wind-down Sunday, but people were still lining up an hour or more early for a final film they were determined to see.  There was no great need, other than for the Godard film, as that was the only of my final six that played to a packed audience, drawing a crowd seething with that Cannes semi-desperate, must-see frenzy.  One even had to fight through the throngs pushing into the theater to grab a pair of 3D glasses.

Ralph and I put the over/under on the number of people who would walk out at fifty, although Ralph said it might be left up to me to make the count as he anticipated he'd be among those fleeing even though it was a mere 71 minutes long.  But Ralph endured and only about ten percent of the 300-seat theater left starting at after about half an hour when they'd had enough of the dialogue-free series of random scenes and images and pronouncements (Hitler came to power in 1933, the year television was invented by a Russian...What is man?...What is war?).  At least it was fast-paced and enlivened with music and 3D images poking out of the screen. It included occasional nudity and a dog and nature footage with brightly-colored foliage.  Bike lovers were rewarded with a scene from The Tour de France of a lone rider on a mountain stage climbing through a narrow gap of throngs of fans.  What meaning it had was beyond me, as were the other two bicycle images, one of a parked bike and another of a guy passing through an urban parking lot.  I'm not enough of a Godard scholar to comment on the significance of the bicycle in his oeuvre.

Our final day of cinema had begun at nine at the Debussy with "Turist," the only of the Un Certain Regard films to play in one of the larger theaters on this repeat weekend.  This Swedish film taking place at a ski resort was pronounced the second best film of its category by the Un Certain Regard jury.  It would be a natural for the Telluride Film Festival if it isn't deemed too dark by its directors.  A family of four on a six-day holiday in the Alps is brushed by an avalanche as they are eating lunch.  The father flees as it approaches while the mother stays to protect their two small children.  The mother is so mystified by her husband's behavior she can't mention it until that evening when they are having dinner with friends.  He denies abandoning them.  Over the coming days their marriage begins to unravel as they continue to grapple with this traumatic event.

My third film of the day also won an award--David Cronenberg's "Map of the Stars" for Julianne Moore's performance as a tortured famous Hollywood actress.  She calls her personal assistant, played by Mia Wasikowska, her "chore whore," some of the barbed wit that has won this film some favor. It is one of three Competition films with a person of wealth and a lackey.  The other far superior films were those by Ceylan and Assayas.  Like "Mommy" it features a slur-spewing kid, though their hate-filled venom doesn't match that of the teacher in "Whiplash."  If cinema is a mirror to the world we live in, it may be even worse than one realizes.  

The plot of this indictment of Hollywood was almost as idiotic as that of Egoyan's film. Cronenberg put an embarrassing minimum of effort into his script.   It was questionable whether it should have been recognized with any award, especially when there were other most worthy female performances--Cotillard, Swank and Binoche. Not even a Lance Armstrong mention could win me over.  It is said of someone who messed up that he needn't worry.  He need only "fess up, go on Oprah, do the whole Lance Armstrong thing."

Fellow Canadian Ryan Gosling also dreadfully fumbled with his directorial debut "Lost River,"  a surreal account of a family losing their house in a run-down neighborhood that might have been Detroit.  The festival was willing to program this for his being the star in Competition films the past two years and despite his use of that disclaimer "pardon my French" after one of his characters uses the f-word.

No complaints though for Wim Wenders noteworthy documentary in 2D this time of Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado that also won an award from the Un Certain Regard jury.   Wenders travels the world to many of the isolated places he photographed whole narrating his fascinating life story giving up his promising career as a World Bank economist to devote himself to photography.

There was no Closing Night film this year, though the one I concluded with could have easily qualified if it had been a little more artful, rather than just a solid, straight-forward telling of a true story that took place just thirty miles down the coast at Nice.  "In the Name of My Daughter" by Andre Techine and starring Catherine Deneuve and the latest young French star Adele Haenel, who also starred in the Director's Fortnight winner "Les Combattantes," is the story of a young woman who disappeared thirty years ago and her mother reopening the case to bring murder charges against her daughter's lover.  

Ralph somewhat regretted he had opted to see a South Korean violence strewn thriller, partially because it had a shorter running time, as his final film.  We had a nice festival rehash at a pizza restaurant that he frequented nearly every day.  It was another fine two weeks we both felt privileged to experience.  The films were great and so was our accommodations and camaraderie.  We were virtually prepared to put down a deposit the very next day.

Now its film withdrawal time.  We'll both do it through the bicycle.  My immediate destination is Toulouse to scout out the final two stages of The Tour de France before the peloton is transported back to Paris for its finale on the Champs Élysées.  Ralph will be taking the TGV back to Paris to retrieve his super light-weight bike.  He may take the train back to Avignon or Toulouse himself for a foray into the Pyrenees.  He travels without panniers, just a small bag, staying in hotels rather than camping, so our styles our too mismatched to ride together except for a possible short spell.  If we don't meet up again here, it will have to wait until Telluride  come August.  But I at least have the joy of meeting up with Janina in three weeks in the UK before The Tour starts in Leeds.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Day Eleven--The Awards

After finally catching up with Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep" this morning just hours before the awards ceremony it was hard to understand how anyone with any cinematic sense could suggest any other film could win the Palm d'Or.  But these judgements are subjective and there were strong supporters of "Leviathan" and "Two Days, One Night" and even "Mr. Turner."

None were remotely as ambitious as "Winter Sleep," or had its depth or profundity. Just as "Tree of Life" grappled with the meaning of life, this film tackled head on the purpose of life along with morality and conscience.  For three hours and sixteen minutes in a series of lengthy conversations that are of Biblical proportions flowing naturally from one to another, it examines what makes people who they are confronting the hardest of truths while digging to their innermost recesses.

The first is between the father of a young boy who has thrown a rock at a truck breaking its side window and the lead character in the movie, Haluk Biilginer, one of the two men in the truck at the time.  The son has been poisoned against Bilginer by his father, as he is his landlord and recently was responsible for the repossession of their TV and refrigerator for not paying their rent.  The father is a volatile ex-con who hasn't been able to find work since serving a six-month sentence.  Like many of the conversations it starts out reasonably but then escalates to anger and rage. 

The landlord runs a small hotel in the spectacular Cappadocia region of central Turkey that is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its fairy chimneys and eroded "Badlands" landscape.The hotel is carved out of one of the many dazzling sandstone mounds in the valley. The landlord is a former actor and writes a column for the local newspaper.  In one of the conversations his sister tells him his writing isn't as good as he thinks it is and says a column he is particularly proud of "stinks of sentimentality."  He doesn't get angry at first, but the conversation leads to a full appraisal of both of their life's with each speaking harsh truths, just as goes on throughout the movie.  Unlike "Mommy," where such confrontations were shouting matches, these are written with the depth and veracity of great literature. They penetrate to the essence of what makes individuals who they are, such as it would take a year of therapy to achieve. There are similar extraordinary conversational battles with his much younger estranged wife who lives in separate quarters of their house and a teacher at the local school he doesn't respect. 

One of the themes of the movie is the contrast between the haves and have nots as the Dardennes and Loach attempted in their films.  Ceylan goes well beyond with a simple grace their less than fully flushed out takes on the issue even though that was the main thrust of their movies.  Though the others were well-received, Ceylan makes their versions seem superficial and demonstrates why many were disappointed that they didn't go further than they did.  They clearly did not put the extra effort into their scripts as did Ceylan.  This was truly a great film for all of the ages.  Of course its running time and all the talk will be daunting to many, and a different jury could have penalized it for that, but fortunately this jury did not and immortalized if with the Palm d'Or.

The jury also recognized the other great film in the festival, "Foxcatcher," by giving Bennett Miller the best director award, something juries often do.  These two films stood head and shoulders above all the others.  The jury could have doled out their five other awards to any of the other all very good films other than Egoyan's.  Giving the best actor award to Timothy Spall was no surprise.  He gave one of the best acceptance speeches in Cannes history holding stage for nearly five minutes fumbling through a speech he had composed on his phone while flying from Holland, where he had been working on his boat before being summoned back to the festival at noon today to receive his award.  He tearfully said the award was as much as Mike Leigh's as his.  They have worked together for 33 years and spent three years on this film.  "Mike made me start learning to paint two years ago," he said.

Xavier Dolan also tearfully accepted the Jury Prize award that he shared with Godard, the youngest and oldest directors in the Competition.  He told jury president Jane Campion that it was seeing her film "The Piano" as a fifteen year old that inspired him to become a filmmaker and to portray strong women characters with soul and will and strength and not as victims.  Godard hadn't been at the festival to present his film nor to come to accept his award.  

The other three awards were all somewhat surprises, but gave understanding to the juries thinking process.  It had almost been considered a given that Marion Cotillard would win the best actress award on the grounds that she was due after being overlooked the past two years and also because her film deserved an award.  The jury rather than being sentimental  gave the award to what many thought was truly the best performance by Julianne Moore in the Cronenberg film.  I won't know for sure until tomorrow when I will finally see it.  Moore wasn't able to return to accept her award.  

A bigger surprise than that was the Italian film "The Wonders" winning the Grand Prix.  Here was the Jane Campion influence awarding one of the two female directors in the Competition.  No one expected this.  A jury is often influenced by recognizing a film by an unknown to give it some attention rather than giving it to a better film by a known director who doesn't need the help of an award.  So it was here.  

The screen writing award went to "Leviathan," a big disappointment to Ralph and its other supporters who thought it should have won the Palm d'Or.  That had to be a compromise choice by the jury, as there were other much better scripts, but evidently strong supporters who wanted to recognize it with some  award, having to settle for the least of the awards.

Another surprise was the jury neglecting "Timbukto," a smaller film by the Mauitanian director Abderrahmane Sissako that I was able to see this morning.  It was a film that an award could have helped and about a pressing current issue, armed Islamic fundamentalists pushing their agenda on a small town banning music and soccer and forcing women to wear gloves and socks in public at all time.  Its subject matter was certainly more topical than the bee keeping of "The Wonders," though its film-making not so dazzling despite the spectacular Sahara landscapes and the authentic performances of its cast.

My day included another African film, "Run," from the Ivory Coast.  It was a lesser film of someone who assassinates the prime minister of a country and then goes into hiding.  I was joined by Gary Meyer, former director of the Telluride Film Festival and now its lead curator, at this screening.  Afterwards we headed to the Soixante to see "Mommy," which he had missed and I was curious to see again to try to appreciate it more than I did at my first screening.  But it was sold out, allowing us to dash up to the Director's Fortnight for its award winner "Love at First Bite," or "Les Combattants," its French title.  I wasn't aware it was screening so I was actually pleased to be shut out of "Mommy."  

We arrived just as it was starting and were the last ones allowed into this delightful romantic comedy.  The first fight is a small grapple forced upon a guy and a girl by an army recruiter who has come to their town.  The guy doesn't want to fight the girl, but the solid girl who thinks she is as tough as any guy is a willing participant in the exercise.  When she takes him down and has him pinned he bites her arm to gain his release.  Later they meet a second time when he comes to her parent's house to build a shed for their swimming pool. Neither is happy to see the other.  But during his process of building their shed they warm up to each other and enlist together for a two-week military training camp.  

Ralph and I were sorry to have to leave twenty minutes before its dramatic conclusion to see the always entertaining awards ceremony.  Gary stuck it out.  We were hoping to get together for dinner afterwards but failed to connect.  That meant I could stay for the post-awards film "For a Fistful of Dollars," Clint Eastwood's spaghetti western from 1964 by Sergio Leone, played somewhat in honor of Quentin Tarantino in town for the 20th anniversary screening of "Pulp Fiction" and also to present the Palm d'Or along with Uma Thurman.  The French truly love Tarantino, the consummate cinephile, and find a way to lure him to Cannes whenever they can.

I met up with Ralph afterwards at the Arcades for its final screening of the festival, "The Tale of the Princess," just planning to get a taste of this two-hour animated Japanese film that we knew would not have English subtitles.  Ralph lived and worked in Tokyo for nearly a decade up to 1999 so speaks some of the language and appreciates its culture.  We were both enjoying the film, but decided to leave after half an hour, hoping to get to catch up a little bit in our sleep, which hadn't been much more than five hours a night.

Usually the Awards Ceremony is on Sunday, the final day of the festival.  It was moved up a day not to conflict with the European elections.  Without the awards signaling the final day of the festival we had one more day of cinema to look forward to.  I will be able to complete the full roster of the Competition films with Godard's and Cronenberg's and also two of the award-winning Un Certain Regards films--Wenders' doc and also "Turist," a Swedish film that takes place at a ski resort.  It ought to be Another Great Day of Cinema.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Day Ten

Awards speculation is rampant with all the Competition screenings completed today and the nine-person jury having to make their choices.  The Russian film "Leviathan," the final film screened, fresh in everyone's minds, has suddenly become the favorite to be named the best film of the festival.  It wouldn't be my choice.  This somewhat stylized depiction of corruption and thuggery in small town Russia had my mind wandering, mainly to the film I'd seen just before, Olivier Assayas' "Clouds of Sils Maria."  I loved it, but curiously it doesn't seem to figure in anyone else's lists of awards.  It deserves best screenplay at a minimum.

It was a most intelligent script of a 38-year old famous movie and theatre actress played by Juliette Binoche largely interacting with her young assistant/minder.  It fully captures all the anxieties and tribulations of an actress trying to sustain her career as she prepares for a role in a play opposite the hottest young actress in Hollywood. She had played the role the younger actress will play twenty years before and it launched her career.  The relationship between the two women in the play mirrors her own relationship with her assistant.  As the two of them read lines from the play in beautiful Swiss scenery, sometimes as they're hiking high in the mountains its not always clear when the lines come from the play or their present relationship.  Such trickery sometimes puts off critics as it did with "Certified Copy," which won Binoche the best actress award here.  

The three sidebar categories all announced their winners today.  Ralph and I were in the Debussy as the Un Certain Rewards winners called up on stage.  Beat actor went to the Aboriginal film, an ensemble cast award to the French film "Party Girl," a special award to the Wim Wenders documentary on photographer Sebastiao Salgado, the second best film to "Turist" a Swedish film that takes place at a ski resort and the best film to the Hungarian "White God," which was screened after the ceremony.

Neither Ralph or I had seen it so we didn't have to dash up to the Critic's Weekly award winners, at least until later.  The film opens with a young girl bicycling across a long bridge in a large city being chased by a huge pack of dogs.  Then the movie flashes back to what led to this.  It was a most remarkable film of dogs taking revenge on those who abused a lead dog, who had belonged to the girl on the bike.  Her father forced her to get rid of it when she came to live with him while her mother was away.  The dog stunts were amazing.  The lead dog had been forced into dog-fighting, transforming him from a devoted pet to a hardened killer.  Opinion is split whether this movie will antagonize or please dog lovers.  It was a brave choice by the jury, overlooking the acclaimed Argentinian experimental film "Jauje" that the FIPRESCI  jury gave their top prize to.

The Critics' Weekly gave their awards to "The Tribe" from Ukraine and "Hope" from France.  I had avoided this small category of films to insure I hadn't seen its award winners in its end of the day time slot when only one other film was playing.  A young French woman beside me in line asked if I could google the Director's Fortnight winner on my iPad.  She jumped up and down with delight at the news that "Love at First Fight" had won, as she was friends with its young first-time director.  

We had to wait for "The Tribe" to finish before "Hope" began at nearly eleven pm.  It was a perfect final film for the day as I will begin tomorrow with "Timbuktu," both films set in northern Sahara Africa.  A Nigerian woman by the name of Hope teams up with a guy from Cameroon out of desperate necessity as they make the long trek from their homelands to try to get to Europe.  She is forced into prostitution to pay their way when their money is taken from them by a very hostile gang that holds them hostage.  Their perilous journey is fraught with danger and human predators in this superb gripping drama of those seeking a better life.

In contrast to the genuine terror in "Hope," the Out of Competition Argentinian film "Ardor" offered up contrived terror.  This film was put on the slate only because it starred jury member Gael Garcia Bernal.  He comes to the rescue of a family in the jungle who are being besieged by a handful of white mercenaries.  I regretted I had prolonged my conversation with Ralph after our previous movie, as it delayed my arrival to the screening of Ryan Gosling's "Lost River," playing at the same time, making me fall four short of getting in.  It was said to be a failure, but it would have been a more interesting  failure than this one.

This day of fine cinema was also highlighted by the Jacques Audiard "Master Class" conducted by master film critic Michel Ciment.  There was a greater crush bent on seeing this than the Sophia Loren Master Class two days before, many of them students showing no scruples weaselng their way towards the front of the scrum at the theater entrance,  The interview included clips from all six of the films that Audiard directed, most of which had played at Cannes.  It began with a clip of a Claude Miller film  that Audiard wrote the script for along with his father, a quite accomplished screen writer.  Audiard actually got his start in cinema as an editor, partially because he had a girlfriend who was an editor.  After writing he said he felt a little like Billy Wilder, who said he went from writer to director because he got tired of making the bed then having someone else sleep in it.  He also credited Ciment for inspiring him to make "The Beat My Heart Skipped," as he heard Ciment interview James Toback at Cannes the year "Fingers" played, the movie Audiard decided to do a remake of.  

After a clip from one of his early films he acknowledged he would film it differently now as one has to consider contemporary circumstances when making a film.  His first film was a struggle as he learned the process, but after that it became a pleasure.  He couldn't remember where he came up with the idea for "Read My Lips," one of three of his films Ciment pointed out that feature a handicapped woman who sets a man on the straight-and-narrow.

Audiard's movies are marked by their violence, though he said it very much repels him.  He thoroughly researched prison life for "A Prophet," visiting prisons in Belgium, Switzerland and France.  He chose though not to film in a prison, but rather constructed a set resembling one.  He explained that he likes to film close-ups, as he is near-sighted.  He set his glasses on the table between in and Ciment, occasionally putting them on and then groping around forgetting where he had put them.

When Ralph and I exited the nearly two-hour session the much anticipated weekend schedule of films was available.  I was thrilled that I would be able to see the four Competition films I have missed as none of them are scheduled at the same time in the five theaters that will be replaying the fifty films from Competition, Un Certain Regard and Out of Competition.  I don't know what the odds of that are, but I it helped make this one of the most satisfying days yet.  I will also be able to see several other films high on my list in the final two days of this extravaganza.

One of the reasons "Leviathon" has gained favor with the pundits and prognosticators as the jury's choice for the Palm d'Or is that it is very topical with Russia very much in the news, just as Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911" won the top prize eleven years ago with the world down on George Bush.  I suspect that when the jury begins hashing it out, they'll decide on "Winter Sleep," even though I have yet to see it, but knowing well Ceylan's sensitivities.  It has to have the profundity and depth of a Palm d'Or that "Leviathan" lacked.  The FIPRESCI jury already has named it the best film of the festival. "Foxcatcher" could also be a threat depending on who are the strongest voices on the jury.  Willem Dafoe could stand up for it as could the Danish director Nicolas Renf who could well be partial to such fare, having won the beat director award here himself for the fairly commercial film "Drive" in 2011.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day Nine

In "Mommy" French-Canadian Xavier Dolan returns to the material that launched his career, a single mother and her teen-aged son verbally lambasting one another with a viciousness never before seen.  His first film "I Killed My Mother," which he wrote, directed and starred in when he was nineteen years old, was my most memorable film-going experience of the 2009 festival, if not the entire year.  I have vivid memories of walking of its end-of-the-day screening on the final Saturday of the festival at the Arcades with Charles of Facets, both of us overwhelmed.  The film was so subversive it received only a token release in the US several years and films later.

The film was fresh and original and seemingly personal and cathartic.  He's made three films since before resurrecting the mother-son battlefield in "Mommy," his first non-gay themed movie.  Rather than offering a new perspective on the love-hate relationship of a mother and son, he seems to be trying to one-up his first movie.  Here the son, whose role he turns over to Antoine-Olivier Pilon, escalates his combativeness to trying to strangle his mother and molesting a neighbor's wife and other extreme unsettling acts. He is a menacing monster. Among other things he calls his mother a whore and a hoe at the top of his lungs.

He has brief respites of calm, but is generally out of control and self-destructive, even setting fire to his school resulting in a lawsuit of $250,000.  Whereas the son in his first film was somewhat sympathetic and held the promise of maturing, this latest version is so volatile and repugnant that he seems doomed to a horrific, tragic end. There is no denying Dolan's rare talents, but they largely went to waste on this less than fully reasoned retread.

The venerable 77-year old Ken Loach, rather than growing angrier and more incensed with age, has mellowed enough to temper his outrage at the injustices of society to make "Jimmy's Hall" less of an indictment of the powers-that-be than a younger version of himself would have made.  This true story of Jimmy Gralton building a dance hall in 1921 Ireland and the outrage it caused the Catholic Church includes some of his trademark rhetoric, but it is not as powerful or as pointed of a film as it could have been.  There are almost as many feel-good moments in the movie of dancing and the citizens of the town embracing their beloved Gralton topped by a concluding scene of hoards of the citizens on their bicycles chasing after the truck that is sending him into exile in the US for the rest of his life.  A younger Loach would have dominated his film with Gralton passionately arguing for his dance hall and all it represented.  There are a handful of tempered speeches and debates that make his case, and show where Loach's heart is, but nothing to compare to the prison scene in Steve McQueen's "Hunger" of Bobbie Sands articulating in no uncertain terms his refusal to eat. Despite its restraint this was worthwhile, wholesome pablum.

I caught up with Atom Egoyan's "The Captive" that played on the third day of the festival and was so reviled by the critics.  Through the first two-thirds of this crime thriller I thought they might have been wrong as Egoyan introduced a host of interesting characters while trying to create some suspense, but when it came time to tie up the many strands of this kidnapping movie it became a grotesque insult to anyone with the intelligence of much more than an ape.  Very often one can be swept up by such a movie and overlook some of its inconsistencies that only begin nagging if one thinks about it too much, but those in this one are glaringly evident at the very moment.  

The festival selection committee totally misread this movie.  Today and tomorrow all the Competition were scheduled to be replayed.  And then the process will be repeated Saturday and Sunday.  What theaters they will play in this weekend hasn't been decided.  They will be seeded by their popularity, the better ones in the larger theaters and the lesser in the smaller theaters.  But those playing today and tomorrow were predetermined before the festival started.  Eight of the eighteen films are playing in a large 260-seat theater while the other ten are playing in theaters with half to a quarter of its seating capacity.  The schedulers thought Egoyan's film would be among the eight most popular films along with those by Dolan, the Dardennes, Leigh, Loach, Hazanavius, Bomello, and Cronenberg.  They were wrong on Egoyan as well as overlooking the films by Ceylan and Miller. That will be rectified this weekend.

Hopefully all the Un Certain Regard films will be replayed as well what with the extra day of repeats due to the European elections Sunday. There are several I'd very much like to see.  Among them is Rolf de Heer's "Charlie's Country."  I had to walk out after half an hour to see "Mommy."  I could tell from that half hour it was another completely assured and coherent tale from this Australian master who never fails to please.  Ralph thought this Aboriginal tale the best film he's seen in Un Certain Regard.  We'll find out the jury's decision tomorrow, a day ahead of the Competition film awards.

The nine-year old girl in the Italian film "Misunderstood" could win the category's best actress award.  She is a wildly energetic sprite coping with the lack of attention of her separated movie star father and famous musician mother played by Charlotte Gainsbourg.  There is a host of frenzied characters in this entertaining saga that is more commercial than art-house fare.

Ralph and I also saw one of the ultimate art films of all time, a fully restored copy of the Russian film "The Color of Pomegranates."  It was introduced by Kent Jones, who oversaw the restoration.  People who didn't know what they were in for in this non-narrative tableau of scenes representing the key moments in the life of the Armenian 18th century poet Sayaf Nova streamed out of the theater.

I was only able to see the first half of another restored movie playing immediately afterwards--Hitchcock's "Jamaica Inn" from 1939, the last movie he directed in the UK before heading to Hollywood.  The movie of a bunch of brigands who plunder shipwrecks and are in danger of having their operation exposed by a young woman who comes to stay with her aunt who is the wife of their leader had fully grabbed my attention, but I had an Un Certain Regard film to see.

Likewise I caught abbreviated thirty-minute doses of films I had seen earlier and liked, "Red Army" and "Two Days and One Night."  Surprisingly there were empty seats in the Dardennes movie half-way through when I showed up to get in line for the Egoyan film.  Since no one was in line for Egoyan I slipped in to revisit the Dardennes.  One plot line they resisted was having any of Marion Cotillard's co-workers promise to vote for her to keep her job rather than for their bonus, to be nice to her, but then not in the secret ballot, showing another dark side of human nature.  But that would have further complicated the plot, that the Dardennes tried to keep simple.

I've now seen twelve of the Competition films and am in good shape to see the remaining six. I have an Invitation for tomorrow's Olivier Assayes film in the same time slot that "The Class" and "Blue is the Warmest Color" filled, also French films that went on to win the Palm d'Or.  As good as his film may be, the day's highlight could well be the festival's second Master Class, this one with French master Jacques Audiard.  It will be a thrill to see snippets of "A Prophet" and "Rust and Bone" and "The Beat My Heart Skipped," that Janina teaches in one of her film classes, and hear him comment on them.  Ralph too is giving priority to the Master Class after missing Loren's.  He photographed Audiard at Telluride and talked Leicas with him.  Audiard also requested a spectacular photo of Ralph's that the festival showcased of "Rust and Bone" on the screen of the outdoor theater with Cotillard and a whale.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day Eight

For ninety minutes today Sophia Loren was on stage in the intimate 300-seat Bunuel theater conducting what the festival calls a "Master Class" recounting her storied career.  The ever radiant 79-year old actress was interviewed by a white-haired, female Italian critic interspersed with clips from her many movies, including fourteen by Vittorio De Sica, who as Loren, was from Naples.  Joining the line to get in an hour ahead of time was just enough for me to gain entry, facilitated by those of us waiting being quarantined on the small fourth floor landing outside the theater, with guards at the stairwell not letting anyone else up after the landing had filled.  Loren mostly spoke Italian, though she occasionally lapsed into French and apologized, thinking it wasn't fully fluent.  The audience was provided with headsets to listen in English or French.



She has been attending Cannes since the 1950s shortly after she began her career.  She was such an icon early enough in her career that she served as the jury president in 1966 for the twentieth anniversary of the festival, giving "A Man and a Woman" the top prize.  She appeared in twelve films with Marcel Mastrianni.  She had such a close bond with him she choked on tears as she recalled their friendship.  She said she could feel his presence, especially as he graces this year's festival poster.

It would have taken a great, great film for anything other than this program to be the highlight of the day, if not the festival.  Nothing came close today.  The day's opening Competition film, "The Search," most realistically recaptured the chaos and upheaval caused by the 1999 Chechen war.  Berenice Bejo, last year's best actress winner for "The Past" and wife of the film's director Michel Hazanavicius, plays a UN representative assessing the situation.  She takes in a lost young boy whose parents were killed by the Russians and is so traumatized that he refuses to speak.  His older sister is searching for him.  The director must have thought he was making another silent film, not recovered from his last Competition film "The Artist," as the film was undermined by the overly melodramatic elements of a silent film and heavy-handed and preachy dialogue.  

Jean-Luc Godard offered up the day's other Competition film.  It was up against Loren, so I was spared it.  Ralph had an Invitation, but he cut it too close, arriving during the red carpet promenade of Godard and  was among more than 100 ticket holders turned away.  He had needlessly stayed to the end, as I had, of the English drug-drama "Snow in Paradise."  This separates itself from standard such fare with the lead character, a young former boxer being drawn into the world of big-time drugs as his father had been, potentially being saved by becoming a Muslim.  It lacked that magic ingredient to transcend beyond the ordinary.

Our previous film, "Fantasia," also an Un Certain Regard entry, did have it, partially thanks to its very artful cinematography making the large Chinese city Chingqing along the Yangste River look appealing.  It was a companion to the Dardennes movie with a wife going to family and friends asking them to help her pay for her husband's monthly blood transfusion combating leukemia, as the factory where he works cut his health benefits by half.  Their son stops going to school to work against his parents knowledge and wishes and their daughter starts working as a prostitute.  This was pleasingly sincere and honest.

John Boorman also offered up a sincere and fairly honest autobiographical film, "Queen and Country," of his two years of conscription into the military starting as an eighteen-year old in 1952.  It was too gentle and light-hearted for Thiery Fremaux, even though Boorman has had four films accepted into Competition, so was relegated to the Director's Fortnight. Boorman's intellect spared him from being sent to Korea, as he was assigned the duty of teaching typing.  He had a rebellious attitude standing up as much as he could to his career superiors.  There are just a couple of nods to his love for cinema, one attending "Rashomon" with an older woman he is pursuing.

There was nothing but absolute, undiluted realism in "Maiden," a 130-minute documentary on the Ukrainian  uprising this past winter in Kiev that left over one hundred dead.  Sergei Loznitsa sets up his camera in various spots in the huge central plaza of Kiev, known as Maiden, that was thronged with as many as half a million demonstrators and just lets it run.  There are no interviews or talking heads other than speeches heard in the background or songs sung by the masses.  There was a steady trickle of people out of the packed Bunuel for this Out of Competition selection, but for many it was a most mesmerizing film.

For the first time Ralph and I ended our day with different films, as he is more committed to making sure he sees all the Competition films and not willing to risk seeing those he's missed when they are all replayed at the end of the festival.  So he passed on Boorman and saw "Mommy."  He restrained giving his reaction, not wishing to affect my viewing.  Boorman's film ended at 12:30.  Eight hours later Ralph and I would be back at the Palais for Ken Loach's latest and then right after I would have at "Mommy."  Always some seminal cinema to look forward to.







Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day Seven

Day Seven was a frustrating day of being turned away from films after hour-long waits without even coming close to gaining entrance and just narrowly getting into another film after a similar wait while all around people were brazenly jumping the line without anyone uttering a peep.  It was also a day of not appreciating as much as the general consensus much hyped and embraced films. Still I managed to squeeze in seven films, though not all of them in their entirety.

No film, other than something like "Tree of Life," is worth more than an hour of standing in line for me.  Ralph, however, was willing to join the fray half an hour earlier than me, but still barely got into the Cronenberg and Wenders films, sweating it out, as those with higher-priority credentials than ours were given preference.  He was much pleased with both films.

Neither of us though were overly impressed with the day's opening film, "Two Days, One Night," that has had many gushing that it will make the Dardennes brothers the first three-time winners of the Palm d'Or. This socially-conscious film that is a testament to our times with a woman played by the always good Marion Cotillard beseeching her fellow sixteen workers at a solar-panel plant to forgo their 1,000 euro bonus so she can keep her job is most certainly a fine film, but it did not achieve the poignancy that it could have.  

Cotillard visits fourteen of the sixteen workers who initially voted for the bonus rather than for her over a weekend after she convinces the manager of the plant to put it to a revote as he had prejudiced them against her by threatening that one of them had to lose their job.  Most of her fellow workers tell her they desperately need the bonus to survive themselves, other than one who says she was counting on it for a patio. But a few with a conscience on second thought say they will vote for her.  One tells her that she will have to discuss it with her husband after he returns from his morning bicycle ride.  The script could have better debated the morality of the issue, but almost lapsed into predictable cliche, several times with heated violence.  It is another of at least three of the higher-profile films here where the script has taken the easy route of having a frazzled woman attempt suicide, which could well have feminists up in arms.

I was similarly let-down by "Whiplash," a Sundance award winner and great crowd-pleaser about  a  drummer at a prestigious music college battling his overly zealous instructor brilliantly played by J.K. Simmons in a role to die for.  His over-the-top performance of a venom-spewing drill sergeant of a teacher, calling his students faggots and cock-suckers and hymie-fucks and retards and worse when they don't measure up to his expectations, driving them to tears and beyond, far exceeded credibility in this age of political-correctness and students standing up to their professors.  I well know that from Janina who has had students gang up on her in class for criticizing obesity and anti-depressants, accusing her of being insensitive and insulting them.  Janina will be appalled by this highly exaggerated portrayal of a professor, though it is remarkable in many ways and drew a large round of applause from my sold-out Director's Fortnight audience. 

Even less credible was the Australian apocalypse movie "These Final Hours," also a Director's Fortnight selection.  The world is going to end in twelve hours.  Violence has broken out everywhere and also at least one spectacular orgy.  A guy's girl friend tells him she's pregnant.  He responds, "What difference does it make," as could be said of this movie.  

The rest of my day was market fare of films that in some way or another had attracted my attention.  The program notes on "Memories of the Desert" from Brazil stated that a writer bikes around the Atacama desert for material.  It wasn't clear if it was on a motorcycle or a pedal-bike.  Having biked through the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and knowing its beauty, that was enough to make me want to see this movie.  There are indeed snippets of him on a mountain bike, riding rather haphazardly though.  The film though does full justice to the spectacular desert dotted with snow-covered volcanoes.

There was a rare clutch of people outside the Lerins One for the Thai film "The Last Executioner."  One person hoping to get in told the director of the film, "I've heard good things about this."  He recognized it as a pandering plea and said, "That's interesting, as this is the first time its ever been screened."  This was a biopic of someone who had executed fifty-five people by gun shot before capital punishment was switched to lethal injection in 2003.  The Thai method of execution was to shoot the prisoner in the back while he or she was tied to a post.  The shots were fired through a hole in a large sheet.  As impersonal as it was, the executioner still had to wrestle with his conscience, though this was only superficially portrayed.

My day was rounded out with two documentaries.  "Beltracchi, The Art of Forgery," was enlivened by an up-beat sound track and a very willing and personable character.  This German film about a German forger presently serving prison time, though only at night, intimately demonstrates his forging technique and reconstructs his fascinating career hoodwinking experts left and right.

"The British Film Industry: Elitist, Dormant or Deluded" was like a typical film festival panel discussion of directors complaining about funding.  Ken Loach and Stephen Frears are among the many British film directors rehashing this tired old issue.  I was happy to have to leave this early to hop on my bike and dash up to the distant Croisette for "Whiplash."

My thee hours of standing in lines allowed me to read all three trade dailies in their entirety for the first time while trying not to become incensed by the immoral and unscrupulous budging ahead of me.  Among the many reviews were a handful on films I will have to try to squeeze in.  It's not going to be easy.  But at least I have an Invitation for the noon screening of Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" on Thursday, the film I've most wanted to see.




Monday, May 19, 2014

Day Six

"Foxcatcher," the ninth of the eighteen films in Competition, becomes the first of the lot to break through the good and very good category to the mantle of greatness.  This true story of the deranged billionaire John du Pont appropriating the US wrestling team in the 1980s to his estate outside of Valley Forge was a gripping and powerful portrayal of ego and the curse of wealth and trying to please one's mother.

At last we had a movie that had us thinking and talking for long afterwards about its every grim, disturbing detail and the brilliant performances by its lead characters, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as the brothers Mark and Davie Schultz, gold-medal winning wrestlers from the 1984 Olympics, and Steve Carell as the creepy DuPont, and also the brilliant directing of Bennett Miller, whose other two features were "Capote" and "Moneyball" and the great documentary "The Cruise" about a New York tour guide.  This may be too close to Hollywood fare for the jury to give it the Palm d'Or, but best director would be a worthy consolation prize.

My day was bookended by Competition films, as Ralph and I ended our day with the Japanese film "Still the Water" by Naomi Kawuse, who has won awards at Cannes twice before.  She called this her best film.  This was traditional art fare that would be too challenging for most audiences.  The story set on a lesser tropical island in the Japanese archipelago quietly drifts along interlaced with pleasing shots of crashing waves and aerial views of lush mountainous scenery and the best of all of cinematic shots, a boy and girl who are in the early stages of a fumbling romance gliding along on a bicycle, the girl clutching his waist.  

There was even more biking, and the best of the festival so far, in "The Finishers," a French film by Nils Tavenier, son of Bertrand, who has had a few Competition films over the years.  A father and his 18-year old son with cerebral palsy are training to compete in the Nice triathlon, which has a 112-mile bicycle leg with a 3,000 foot climb after swimming 3.8 miles in the Mediterranean and then concluding with a marathon.  The boy has to convince his father to do the triathlon with him and also the administrators of the event to let them in and his very protective mother as well.  Tavenier recognizes the beauty of bicycling, so his characters spend much more time training on their bicycle built for two  with the boy perched in front of his father, than swimming or running.  This inspiring, beautiful film already played at Toronto and is in commercial release in France.

My day also included the well-done documentary "Life Itself" about Roger Ebert that debuted at Sundance.  It was the first film from Chicago's Kartemquin group to play at Cannes.  The director Steve James had just flown in, arriving ten minutes before the screening.  He was accompanied by his son who had graduated from Chicago's Columbia College, where Janina teaches, with a degree in cinematography.  He worked as the second cameraman on the film, which was largely filmed in Ebert's hospital room in his last days.  Ebert's wife Chaz was also on hand to introduce the film.  Scattered in the audience were Milos Stehlik of Facets, critic Scott Foundas who along with Milos participated in the tribute to Ebert at the Chicago Theater after his death, and Michael Kutza, director of Chicago's film festival, good friends of Ebert. None were included in the film, though they could have, and the film did include excerpts from the tribute, actually opening with it.  Jonathan Rosenbaum, interviewed in the lobby of the Music Box, is among the many talking heads in the movie along with Martin Scorcese, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Gene Siskel's widow, Rich Kogan and other former drinking pals, Richard Corliss and  A.O. Scott.


Chaz said the movie, named for Ebert's memoirs, could have been titled "Love Itself," as the movie is "about his love for me," not something that most would agree with. During the movie James asks Chaz how they met.  She made public for the first time it was at an AA meeting when Roger was fifty and weighed 300 pounds and had no hang-ups about his weight.  Roger over the years had been very open about AA coming to his rescue in 1979, but Chaz had preferred to remain anonymous about her affiliation.  

The projection of the film was interrupted for half an hour about two-thirds of the way through.  James and Chaz took to the stage to fill the time.  Someone asked Chaz if she had always been a cinephile.  She had indeed.  Her favorite film was "Clockwork Orange."  No mention was made that Roger had seen many a film in the centerpiece theater, the Bunuel, where the screening was taking place.  I had memories myself of sitting near Roger in the theater with his boisterous voice loud above all others.  This very even-handed film does not shy away from mention of some of Ebert's lesser qualities, but by and large champions him as one of the premier lovers of cinema of all time.

With the break in the film extending its running time I was thwarted from seeing either a French documentary on political cartoonists or an Argentinian film that were both Out of Competition selections that would have been superior to anything else playing next.  Instead I had the unpleasant experience of watching an American semi-horror film such as I try to avoid.  But I feel duty-bound to see something, if only to see what filmmakers are up to.  "Blue Family" actually tried to lend itself some credibility by closing with the statement that it was dedicated to those who have fought and will fight for the freedom of everybody, as it is about three young women who have been abducted and held hostage in a car salesman/musician's basement so they can give him the family he has never had.  This low-budget bunk will be lucky to be seen by anyone other than the people who made it.

I did luck into a decent little American-made thriller earlier in the day--"Things People Do."  Like the Spanish film "Beautiful Youth" from the day before it was a story of our desperate economic times.  This one though wasn't about ordinary people but rather a guy who had just lost his good job and could no longer afford the mortgage on his luxury home with a swimming pool that he had recently spent $40,000 to install.  He doesn't tell his wife about his firing, but instead tells her he is in line for a promotion so they can better afford their lifestyle.  He is an otherwise very likable and moral guy, even calling a foot fault on himself at a bowling match after he rolls a strike.  But he falls into the life of armed robber.  It seems inevitable that he will be caught.  He has recently become good friends with a police detective.  This film was well-executed from start to finish without going too far, complete with a fresh and credible resolution.

Ralph's day was further highlighted by sharing a coffee with Tommie Lee Jones and his wife Dawn at the Carlton Hotel, where the festival is hosting them in one of its penthouses.  Dawn Is enrolled along with Ralph in the highly-respected Brookings Photography school in Santa Barbara.  The actor/director was still nervous about the reception of his film, as he has yet to secure an American distributor for it.  He was unaware of the Screen Magazine report card of ten critics.  Ralph had to reassure him that his 2.6 score wasn't bad at all.




Sunday, May 18, 2014

Day Five

With no cycling films in the market this year, running films have had to take their place for me.  I saw my fourth today and have another tomorrow.  Anna is an 18-year national caliber sprinter in Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s in the Czech film "Fair Play."  She's been taking vitamin B injections and then is told to add another injection to her regimen.  When she starts sprouting thicker hair on her legs and a mustache and her period is late, she learns this new injection is steroids.  She stops taking them and her results suffer.  Her mother wants her to make the Olympics so she can have a better life and potentially be able to escape the country as did her athlete father fifteen years before.  She's been the one administrating the drugs to her, so resumes the steroids, pretending they are the B vitamins.  Her daughter's performance improves.  When she is given a blood test and the doctor is pleased by her blood levels, the daughter realizes what her mother has been doing and isn't happy about it.

There was also some running in the Spanish film "Beautiful Youth" in Un Certain Regard.  Four guys chase after a guy who slashed the throat of one of them after the court case trying to gain compensation from him fails.  The injured guy is desperate for money.  His girl friend has just had a baby and the two of these high school drop-outs still live with their parents, both single mothers, and don't have jobs.  This virtual documentary of the near hopelessness of life in economically depressed Spain has the boy's girl friend contemplating moving to Germany where she can get a job. This was as honest and as real as a movie can be, but almost too real to be of any great interest.

The Tommie Lee Jones' Competition film "Homesman" didn't get my day off to as good a day as I had hoped.  I had no tension of gaining entry with an Invitation in hand, but my high expectations based on Jones' other film he directed,"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," that won two awards at Cannes in 2005, fell short.  Hilary Swank as a strong, independent 31-year old surviving on her own in the man's world of homesteaders in 19th century Nebraska made for an interesting character and so did the premise of the harsh life driving woman crazy, but the script did no justice to the other women and resorted to acts that begged reality.  As with every premiering film here that has yet to be assessed by the reviewing hoards, I was strongly rooting for this film to rise to the heights I hoped of it.  It started out adequately, as did "Saint Laurent," but did not grow.  Not a failure by any means, only in the respect that it didn't stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the out of the ordinary.

The day's other Competition film, "The Wonders" by the Italian director Alice Rohrwacher, one of two women in the field, gave an entertaining lesson in bee-keeping.  It is a full-fledged family operation with the young children of an eccentric, very Italian father responsible for much of the labor.  The family is battling to survive, but the heart of the movie is what its like to be around bees and honey all day.

I included the French Canadian film "Miraculum" on my slate for the day as the cast included Xaviar Dolan, who has a film in Competition.  He generally directs, but when he acts he lights up the screen with his intense, explosive personality.  His visage with fierce, blazing eyes open this movie of multiple stories, not all of which intersect.  He plays a Jehovah Witness minister of all things who is suffering from leukemia and refuses to have the blood transfusion that could save his life.  Another of the stories is about a guy who smuggles sixty tubes of drugs in his intestinal track into the country.  This market film was another example of the strength of Canadian cinema, what with three films in Competition, more than any other country.

When Australian Gracie Otto noticed everyone flocking around an older man at a party at Cannes several years ago and learned who he was she decided to make a documentary about him, resulting in "The Impressarior."  The man was Michael White, a long-time London producer of plays and movies, including "Oh Calcutta," "My Dinner with Andre," and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."  Unfortunately White has suffered three strokes and couldn't express himself very well.  The film is dominated by interviews with dozens of people he worked with--John Waters, Wally Shawn, Naomi Watts...  In the hands of a more accomplished filmmaker this could have been an extraordinary film but instead it was another of those ho-hum documentaries that was more informative than entertaining.

I couldn't find a new film in the eight p.m. slot with any promise, so rather than risking mind-numbing fare I treated myself to another Cannes Classic--"The Good Life" from 1966 by Jean-Paul Rappeneau on hand to introduce it.  This comedy starred Catherine Deneuve as the wife of a wealthy orchard owner during WWII.  Their chateau has been commandeered by the Germans.  They are also providing temporary refuge to a member of the Resistance.  He along with the German commander are flagrantly vying for the attentions of Denueve right in the face of her husband.  D-Day is imminent.



Saturday, May 17, 2014

Day Four

With Invitations in hand for the two films debuting in Competition today I knew my day would be a good one.  I had only seen one of the four Competition films that have played so far.  I sacrificed an Invitation for the Ceylan film yesterday, giving it to friend, free-lance reviewer Patrick McGavin from Chicago,  to see the FIFA film, as that was the last time it was on the schedule. Though it couldn't compare to the Competition entry, I was glad to have seen it, as I might not ever again have the chance, even on DVD.  I knew I would have many opportunities for Ceylan's film in the days and years ahead and could exercise some patience, as difficult as it was.

Despite arriving at the Palais before eight for the early morning screening of "Saint Laurent" I had to climb high up into the balcony for a seat.  Though the huge screen was a long ways away, I was filled with privilege and eager anticipation to be at another premier of what could be a seminal film.  Gaspard Ulliel convincingly inhabited his role as Yves Saint Laurent as did Timothy Spall two days earlier with Turner.  This French biopic by Bertrand Bonello covers about a decade of Laurent's life starting in the late '60s when he was establishing himself as the world's premier fashion designer and battling drugs.  Like the Turner movie it was two-and-a-half hours long, but this one felt like it, becoming bogged down half way through, as the story stagnates.  

After it was over I joined the mad dash back outside for the line returning to the Palais for "Wild Tales," a delightful  Spanish dark comedy produced by Pedro Almodovar.  This series of six stories of distressed souls lashing out at the injustices of the world by Damian Szifron was a refreshing antidote to the all too serious and heavy films that dominate the festival.  From the very first outrageous segment on a plane filled with people a vengeful flight attendant arranged to put on the flight who have wronged him over the years, this film manages to sustain originality and unexpected twists from start to finish.  Any of the tales could have made for a full length feature.

When I fell fifteen people short, three of whom had budged in front of me, of getting into Ceylan's film after standing in line for an hour at the Soxiante, it allowed me to see one of the two movies in the market on Somali pirates--one a documentary and the other a feature.  This American production,"Fishing Without Nets," was the feature. The cast of mostly non-professional Somalis, like those in "Captain Philips," are creepy characters prone to unpredictable behavior.  They don't fully know what they are doing, nor do they all trust one another.  This was less convincing and riveting than the Tom Hanks film and largely told from the Somali viewpoint, but offered further insight into the pirating.

Not having my day consumed by the three-hour Ceylan movie also opened up the opportunity for a mountaineering documentary that had interested me since spotting it in the program five days ago--"Cerro Torre--A Snowball's Chance in Hell."  Cerro Torre is a unique sharp pinnacle in Patagonia that hadn't been climbed until 1959.  A couple of Austrian climbers make an attempt on it in 2009.  One of them is a climbing prodigy whose father is a Nepalese Sherpa and mother Austrian.  The scenery is spectacular and the footage of them being the first to free-climb a giant wall topped by ice is palm-sweating.

People were already lined up outside the Star theater two hours before Abel Ferrara's "Welcome to New York" was to screen at nine p.m.  Rather than playing in three consecutive time slots at the Star as originally scheduled, it was reduced to two screenings playing simultaneously in two of the Star's 250-seat theaters.  I had made the long trek to the distant Star on my bike to see "Stations at the Cross" at 7:30 and then maybe "New York" if it wasn't mobbed.  That didn't seem likely.  And "Stations" was so engaging I didn't care to to leave it prematurely.

This German film had won the best screenplay at Berlin in January.  It tells in fourteen segments (the stations of the cross), most of which are shot with a stationary camera, the story of a very devoted and somewhat tormented Catholic girl during her confirmation process.  Her very dominating mother, prone to angry outbursts, shows her no mercy in ordering her about to withstand the temptations of the material world, especially not listening to demonic rock music. As with "Wild Tales," one segment after another is packed with intense veracity--in the confessional booth, in her high school gym, at a doctor's office. This more than rewarded my obsession with filling every time slot during the day with cinema.

Un Certain Regard gives up one slot every year to a film that has already played at Sundance or Toronto.  Last year it was the significant "Fruitvale Station."  This year Thiery Fremaux did Harvey Weinstein a favor by letting it be his "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her," that had played at Sundance.  Weinstein was there on stage with his wife and the two stars of the film, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, though not Isabelle Hupert or William Hurt, who play Chastain's parents.  This film, which takes place in Manhattan, opens with a silly fleeing a restaurant without paying scene, and then Chastain jumping off a bridge trying to commit suicide.  She is saved and hospitalized.  The script does little to try to explain what led to her suicide, but is rather preoccupied with showcasing some occasional bon mots by the first-time director Ned Benson.  The self-indulgent script does not try to understand its characters, but rather tries to entertain those watching them.  It was a stark contrast to "Party Girl" and "That Lovely Girl," also in Un Certain Regard, that were fully honest and realistic.  This was just someone who had some writing talent wanting to make a movie.

Although I only saw six movies today, after seven the past two days, it was still Another Great Day of Cinema.  I'm getting by on less than six hours of sleep a night, but still going strong, invigorated by the varied worlds and stories I'm able to immerse myself in all day long.  Sharing a place with Ralph less than a mile from the Palais rather than camping is saving me time, but also keeping me up late dissecting the movies. I miss that four-mile bike ride to and from the campground along the Mediterranean, but our conversations are more than adequate compensation.  Without Ralph's keen eye I wouldn't have realized my pass entitled me to Invitations this year, a great bonus.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Day Three

Though none were on cycling, I had a nice string of three sports films today--soccer, running and hockey. Gerald Dapardieu plays Jules Rimet, a Frenchman who served as president of FIFA, the Federation International de Football Association, for thirty-three years up to 1954 in "United Passions," an aptly named French film that traces the history of soccer's governing party from 1904, when it was established, to present day.

Rimet was president when the World Cup was inaugurated in 1930 in Uruguay and was also at the helm when the the greatest game in the history of the sport was played in Rio de Janeiro in 1950, recounted in a documentary I saw yesterday.  Both events receive extra emphasis.  That first World Cup was actually the brain child of a wealthy Uruguayan, who fully funded it, even paying for the transportation of all the teams and constructing a new 100,000 seat stadium.  Sam Nell plays a later president from Brazil and Tim Roth a fundraiser for the organization when it was struggling.  He brought Coca- Cola in as a sponsor.

The running movie, "Back on Track" from Germany, centered on an 80-year old guy recently sentenced to a nursing home by his flight attendant daughter.  He's not happy there at all.  He is a former champion marathoner who was said to have won Boston and Berlin and the 1956 Marathon at the Melbourne Olympics, making him a national hero in Germany, although he is a fictional character.  He resumes running in frustration against the wishes of the administrators of the nursing home, hoping to run in the Berlin marathon once again.  This movie has already had a successful commercial release in Germany.  

The real-life charismatic captain of Russia's Red Army hockey team, Slava Fetisov, was on hand to introduce "Red Army," an  American documentary produced by Werner Herzog, an Out of Competition selection.  The team was the most dominant team in all of sports history going two years at one stretch  without defeat.  The film had the flair and fast-pace of the sport it covered.  If it had been produced a year earlier it would have been an ideal opening film for the new Herzog Theater at Telluride in the town's indoor ice rink.  It could well play there this year.

The Austrian documentary "The Great Museum" on Vienna's Art Museum lacked any strong characters to center on and to give it a sense of life.  This was an uninspired,standard point-and-shoot documentary that failed to do justice to its subject.  I would have been spared it if Ralph and I hadn't fallen five people short of gaining entry into Atom Egoyan's Competition entry to start the day.  Although the general consensus was that we were lucky to miss it, we will both make an effort to judge for ourselves, committed as we are to see everything in Competition.

Ralph went straight to the Debussy for the eleven o'clock screening of Mattieu Amalric directing himself in  "The Blue Room" in Un Certain Regard.  I arrived too late from "The Great Museum" to gain entry falling way short.  Ralph said I didn't miss much.  But if I gotten in I would have been spared of even less, the utterly inane American feature "May the Best Man Win," a pale imitation of the Jackass movies.  Two young guys compete against each other to get the most YouTube views for various infantile pranks, including each trying to seduce their own mother.  The pranks are meant to be funny, but only one or two raised much more than a smirk from the handful of us subjecting ourselves to it.

It's not  Cannes without a Isabelle Hupert movie.  Rather than waiting to see her tomorrow night on stage at the Debussy for "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," I got an early dose of her in "Paris Follies," a gentle, feel-good French commercial film.  Hupert is bored as a housewife on a cattle ranch.  She goes to Paris for a weekend to revive herself.  She takes a boat ride down the Seine and does all the things a tourist would do other than taking advantage of any of the thousands of rental bikes scattered around the city.  She also has a fling with a Danish guy that is as sweet and inconsequential as the movie before returning to her husband.

As usual Ralph and I ended our day at the Debussy at ten p.m. with an Un Certain Regard entry.  This one was "Amour Fou" from Germany, another directed by a woman.  It was a plodding period piece taking place in the early 1800s with a character loosely based on the morose poet Heinrich von Kleist trying to seduce a woman into ending her life with him.  He has two candidates.

After the screening we returned to the Palais complex after midnight to see if anyone had returned Ralph's iPhone that he lost at the afternoon screening of Ceylan's much acclaimed Competition entry.  No luck, so Ralph will have to replace it as it is instrumental in acquiring Invitations to the Palais the instant they are made available.  We've both had some success, lessening the stress of waiting in line sweating out whether we'll get in or not, though it is no guarantee.  Ralph had initially been turned away in the balcony to Ceylan's film, but made an attempt on the first floor, though his ticket was for the balcony.  But if he hadn't gotten in, he'd still have his phone.  Though it will cost him 350 euros to replace, it was almost worth seeing this movie that is fulfilling the predictions that it could win the Palm d'Or.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Day Two

The wonderful world of cinema gave me a good education today on the life's of Mother Teresa and J . M. W. Turner and the golden age of soccer in Uruguay and life in communist Poland in four of the seven movies that filled my day.  Two of the others centered on unconventional, if not perverse, relationships and the third a documentary on three extreme athletes.  It was a full and diverse and most satisfying day.

It got off to a great start at 8:30 in the 2,300 seat Palais Theater.  It was great to get into the theater from the last-minute line for non-ticket holders, slipping into a seat in the already darkened theater, and then great that the movie was exceptional as well.  Former Palm d'Or winner Mike Leigh was given the honor, if it is one, of having the first movie in the 18-film field of Competition films.  It was "Mr. Turner," a two-and-a-half hour biopic of the British artist J. M. W. Turner.  This period piece of the first half of the 19th century wasn't on the epic scale of a film of such length, but the performance of Timothy Spall as the somewhat repugnant, grunting and groaning, semi-lecherous, Turner was so riveting the film seemed no longer than ninety minutes.  The film doesn't have the grandeur or originality or emotional punch of a Palm d'Or, but Spall will be hard to beat for the best actor award.  Seven of the ten critics on the Screen panel gave if four stars, one of the best percentages ever.  But noted French critic Michel Simon gave it a mere two stars, not impressed by its straight-forward approach. 

Because Ralph, a friend from Telluride who is back for his third appearance after missing last year, and I gained admission to the 8:30 screening and didn't have to settle for the delayed nine o'clock screening in the Soixante Theater, we were able to get into the 11:30 a.m. Un Certain Regard screening of the French film "Party Girl," though just barely, and didn't have to settle for lesser fare. We were among the final ten allowed in and ended up having to sit in the aisle in the balcony.  A retired coal miner who frequents a cabaret proposes to a 60-year old dancer who he has paid to dance with for two years without having a relationship outside the club. She thinks he is joking, but then accepts his offer after consultation with her younger dancers.  It seems like this could be a feel-good romance, but she begins having doubts.  She tells her fellow dancers that she isn't  capable of having sex with him.  "Can't he get it up?" they ask.  No, she is the one who has no desire for sex. She tells him she'd prefer to wait until they are married.  He is considerate enough to willingly accept this.

This was a script that was fully committed to the characters without any pandering to the audience.  The same could be said for the other Un Certain Regard relationship movie of the day, "That Lovely Girl" from Israel.  The woman director warned the audience that this was a hard film not meant for entertainment.  The subject of incest wasn't a popular draw, as the 1,068 seat theater wasn't even half full for the ten p.m. screening. The movie begins with the sexual relationship between a 50-year old man and his daughter well into her twenties fully established.  She is very messed-up and morose with an eating disorder that has her stuffing herself and then vomiting and also slashing herself on her arms.  But she is very possessive of her father and is extremely jealous when he starts having an affair.  This was all-too disturbing and not a necessary movie, but quite well-done nonetheless.

For the rest of the day I dabbled in the market with films of lesser cinema-magnitude, but still of considerable merit.  An English biopic of Mother Teresa had very low production values, but more than adequately  portrayed her life.  It was called "The Letters," as it was marginally based on forty years worth of letters that Mother Teresa wrote to her spiritual advisor, played by Max Van Sydow in a very limited role, questioning her life.  The movie recounts her life beginning in Calcutta in 1946 when as a 36-year old principal of the school in the cloister she is assigned to she requests to answer a call from God to go live in the slums and help the poor.  Her request is taken all the way to Pope Pius.  He grants her a one-year leave of absence.  She soon attracts world-wide attention for her work.  She reluctantly accepts the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize.  The movie alternates with occasional scenes in Rome in 2003 for her canonization process.  Before she can become a saint two miracles have to be attributed to her.  So far there has only been one.

200,000 fans jammed Rio de Janeiro's Maracanazo soccer stadium for the 1950 World Cup championship game between Uruguay and Brazil.  It is considered the greatest game ever played.  Uruguay upset the heavily favored Brazilians, leading to the deaths of fans who jumped from the stadium.  It was the fourth time that Uruguay had won the World Championship, including Olympic wins in 1924 and 1928.  The story is fully recounted in the Uruguayan documentary "Maracanazo: The Football Legend."  The film is rich in archival footage of the game and of the period.  There are also interviews with a few of the players.  One of the Brazilians is emotionally overcome recalling the defeat.

My other documentary of the day, "Attention: A Life in Extremes" from Austria, featured a Norwegian who jumps off cliffs in a wing-suit, a Frenchman who dives to the depths of the oceans, and an Austrian who has competed in the Race Across America (RAAM) nine times, finishing second twice and third twice.  The three stories are interwoven.  The Race Across America is as much an exercise in sleep deprivation as a bicycle race.  Gerhard Gulewicz averages less than one hour of sleep per day over the first eight days of the race.  A crew member pricks his finger as he sleeps to test his blood. When he awakes from his short naps a crew member asks, "Are you there?  Are you conscious?"  His tortured, hollow-eyed face and efforts to keep going do not celebrate the joy and beauty of cycling, only a few rural shots of he on his bike in the distance.  He is a virtual corpse when he collapses for his rare rest stops. He barely has the energy to chew. He struggles to decide whether to keep going when it is clear he is not going to win the race the year he is being filmed.  "You're nothing, if you finish fifth," he laments.  

No new movie other than a slate of horror movies fit into my schedule in the early evening so I treated myself to one of the twenty-some classics being screened--an early Kieslowski, "Blind Chance," that played at Cannes in 1981, eight years before his seminal "Decalogue."  His daughter was on hand to introduce this new print that included segments that had been censored by the Polish authorities, though it lacked one of police beating the lead character, as no footage of it could be found.  As the extreme sports documentary, this had three stories--one each of what happens as a young man chases after a train leaving the station and whether or not he manages to make it.  The stories all reflect on the difficulties of living in a totalitarian state.






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.