Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cannes Day One

I was among the first in line at eight a.m. Tuesday when the office opened that was dispensing credentials and programs.  Once I got my hands on that eagerly-awaited program, I headed to a bench in the shade looking out over the Mediterranean to began my day-long process of digesting each synopsis of the thousand films that will be screening here over the next twelve days and trying to narrow down what I wanted to see besides the nineteen films in Competiton.  For the first couple of hours every film, other than the all too many horror films, had some appeal.  But as I neared the finish of the program nearly twelve hours later back at the apartment I'm staying at, the descriptions began to seem all the same and to start losing their appeal, especially since I hadn't come upon a single film with a bicycle theme.

This could be the first Cannes  I've attended without such a film.  I haven't given up hope though, as there are always films added during the fest, and one year there was such a film from Belgium.  As I perused the Day One issue of Screen magazine the next day, I was encouraged by the photo of a cyclist in an article on films from Asia promoting a film that was being offered by Emperor Motion Pictures called "To the Fore."  It wasn't scheduled to screen, but there is always that chance.

This year's program is surprisingly short on films devoted to the world of sports.  Last year there were three on running to go along with three on cycling.  There are none this year, nor any on baseball or basketball or surfing.  As usual, there are a handful on the international sports of soccer and boxing, along with single films on fencing, skiing, and windsurfing.  There are also films on car racing and horse racing, if they can be considered sports. Its a bad year too for mountaineering films with none other than a hike with horses from Mexico to Canada through the rugged west.

For the first time some films were identified as dealing with "social issues."  There was also an environmental category.  There could have been one on filmmakers as there are films on Orson Welles, Hitchcock and Truffaut, Sidney Lumet, David Lynch, Eisenstein and Ousman Sembene.  There are even more on musicians (Quiet Riot, Stone Cold Jane Austen, Hillsong United, Wilko Johnson, The Police, The Scorpions and two on Curt Cobain) and the music industry (Henry Stone of TK Records) and movies on reggae, punk and hip-hop and more.

It is too early to establish any theme or trend, but there were quite a few films dealing with an inheritance or a windfall of money from the lottery or an insurance payoff, including "Wild Oats" a comedy with Jessica Lange and Shirley MacLaine receiving a check for $5 million rather than $50,000.  There is also a glut of films on kidnapping and hostage-taking.  Two films mention beheadings and two deal with euthanasia.  One film seeking distribution in the market played at Telluride last September--"Seymour," the documentary by Ethan Hawke.  Once the festival beings and I become submerged into all the films,  stray strands appear that link one film to another.  My very first film "Sunshine" from South Korea had a scene in a bookshop with a book on David Hockney in the background.  A documentary on him has a single screening Saturday morning.

"Sunshine" was one of only two films playing in the the first time slot of the day, ten a.m., later than the usual 8:30 first film when the festival is in full swing on Day Two.  It was showing in the 19-seat Gray 5 screening room, the smallest by nearly half of the fifty venues. Only sixteen of us were interested in this film about a young woman in South Korea who had defected from North Korea.  She was working in a flower shop and painting murals to supplement her wages.  A young filmmaker discovers her art and wishes to make a documentary on her.  She's not interested, despite his argument that it could bring her fame and wealth, though she finally relents to his persistence.  The program didn't identify this is a "social issue" film because unfortunately it just barely scratched the subject, with just a couple brief references to how those from the North are treated as second-class citizens.

"My Bakery in Booklyn" was an inheritance movie.  It may have taken place in Brooklyn and been in English, but it was a Spanish production with an international cast. Two single young women inherit their aunt's bakery.  It is $230,000 in debt and the bank wishes to repossess it.  One of the young women happens to fall into conversation with  the young banker assigned the task in a small cafe with neither of them knowing who the other is until the next day at the bakery when he comes with the bad news.  He agrees to give them three months before closing them down. The banker is actually an aspiring writer who had gone to Spain the previous summer to pay homage to Hemingway.  )There is a movie here called "Papa" with Giovanni Ribisi about an aspiring writer going to Cuba in 1959 to tract down his idol.)  The two women can't agree on how to run the bakery, so they divide it in half and battle over every customer who comes into the shop.  This had as much social realism as a Hollywood movie.  But it also had the polish and energy of a studio film and some entertainment value as well.

"We Were Young" from France was equally commercial. It featured five middle-aged men who are long time pals.  One has decided to buy a boat and sail around the world. One is a former boxer who wanted to be an astronaut when he was a kid.  There are three movies in the market featuring astronauts. All five are having women problems--divorce, blind dating, nagging wives.  This too had energy and humor catering to those who go to the cinema for escapism rather than insight.  The five guys are all familiar French faces just below the A-level actors French actors Depardieu, Auteuil and Amalric, who are all in at least one film here. The five have a good chemistry and have a grand time together.  The film would be a pleasure to any of their fans. 

Rather than going to "Criminal Activities" next, directed by Jackie Earle Haley with John Travolta, for a buddy movie of four pals that leads to a kidnapping, I went serious with the documentary "The Man Who Mends Women--the Wrath of Hippocrates."  This two-hour Belgian film thoroughly covered the subject of rape in the Congo.  The focus of the film, Doctor Mukwege, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Award for his work helping over 30,000 rope victims in the past twenty years, not only performing operations on them, but giving them refuge until they have recovered mentally and physically.  Twice he has come to New York to address the UN on the issue.  Part of his work is an appeal to the men of the Congo to stand up to this horrible epidemic that  has gripped the country victimizing their mothers, wives and daughters.   After an attempt on his life he fled to Europe, but returned when there was such a great demand for him from the thousands that he had helped.  He now has a full-time UN security detail safeguarding him so he can continue his work.  The film included heart-rending testimonials from many victims and also a military trial of several soldiers accused of rape.

I chose "Road Games" as my final film as it was about hitch-hiking in France and featured a collector of road-kill.  It was described as a "thriller."  If it had more aptly been placed in the "horror" category I would known better than to have wasted my time on this nonsense.  I stuck it out wondering why anyone else did, remaining mystified why this genre is so popular.  Only two or three people of the hundred of us in the theater had the sense to leave early.

The first day of the festival with only seventy screenings compared to two hundred and fifty or more in the days to come is always marginal fare, so I knew better than to be discouraged by such a lackluster opening day.

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