I made an attempt on "Son of Saul" this morning. I was the eighth person in line an hour ahead of the noon screening, but none of us got in as those with priority passes filled the 63-seat theater before any of us with mere Market passes were allowed entry. That meant I could see a South African version of "Spinal Tap," a mockumentary called "Stone Cold Jane Austen." It could have been wacky, but was mostly silly and stupid. The two members of the rock band of the same name as the title of the movie are trying to make a comeback. No one much cared about them originally, and even less so now. A cop though who recognizes them when they are out and about was a fan and even has a couple of their CDs in his car that he asks them to autograph. They refuse when they discover they are bootleg copies. That upsets the cop, so he gives them a ticket, about the lone comic scene in the whole movie.
I tried for a second rock band movie, "The Green Room," as it had received rave reviews after its screenings in the Director's Fortnight. The word was out and I fell five people short of getting in. Playing right next door was "The Birth of Sake," a documentary on a 140-year old Japanese distillery that still brews the drink in the labor-intensive traditional manner. Its workers live dormitory-style for six months during the winter months when the distilling takes place. They arise at 4:30 in the morning and every day manually process 2,600 pounds of rice. One hundred years ago there were 4,600 distilleries in Japan. There are now just 1,000 as wine and beer have increasingly become the choice of drink in Japan. I thought I might see Gary Meier, a former director of Telluride, at the screening. He told Ralph and I yesterday tha t he had left Telluride and would be launching a film festival of his own called Eat, Drink, Film in the Bay Area. We were sorry to learn he had ended his time with Telluride. It will be the first Labor Day in over forty years that he won't be out there.
I didn't spot Gary, but I was joined by Milos of Facets and a member of the Board of Telluride at my next screening, part one of the three-part six-hour Arabian Tales that has been much talked about due to its running time and its subject matter--the economic crisis in Portugal. Milos said he was leery the film might be a case of the Emperor's New Clothes, as he wasn't confident the movie would be as good as the reviews claim. The title alone was questionable, as it was a mere attention-grabber since the movie had nothing to do with the Arabian Tales other then their structure. Milos is someone to listen to. He has been coming to Cannes for over thirty years and knows the tea leaves.
He had skipped the morning's Competition film, "The Measure of a Man," as he feared this French film had slipped into the Competition to meet the French quota and also that it would be heavy-handed in its portrayal of a man out of work seeking employment. He was right on that. I told Milos the movie had some merit, but when I described it to him, the movie met his expectations. The film concludes with the lead working as a security guard in a large supermarket. His job is to catch shop-lifters. They all have a sad, justifiable reason for shop-lifting, but he does his job. He is more troubled though when he is ordered to try to catch check-out women cheating when his boss tells him they have to cut back on staff and need to fire some people. One woman he catches, who was merely pocketing coupons, commits suicide. When he catches another who was swiping her bonus card to get bonus points on the purchases of others, he doesn't think he can continue with his job. The audience, most likely the French faction, cheered at the end of the movie.
And Milos was right about "Arabian Nights." Its subject matter and its ambition, not its execution, was what had won the favor of the critics. Its series of short tales commenting on the economic woes of the Portuguese was lifeless and plodding, and at a certain point an ordeal to sit through. Milos was among the trickle of people who started walking out after an hour. I stuck it out and even gave part sat through part two since I had no viable alternative. Part one was enough for Ralph. The film could have been effective if it had had a dollop of Romanian realism or Iranian humanity or Japanese sensitivity.
Natalie Portman's Out of Competiton directorial debut, "A Tale of Love and Darkneas," also was missing that elixir making a movie something more than simply images on a screen going through the motions. She even failed to elicit more than a flat performance out of herself playing a young wife and mother suffering a breakdown during the early years of Israel after WW II.
By the time I dashed a few blocks to the Arcades for its 10:30 screening of a Belgian black comedy with Catherime Deneuve about God luring based in Brussels the theater was "complet." I had five minutes to bike a mile up Antibes to the Miramar for the Critics Week screening of "Land of Shade" from Colombia. I made it just as the lights were dimming. Though it had been another long day with some nodding off, this minimalist film, as the Critics Week specializes in, had me fully riveted. The story set in rural Colombia was as sad as any of those of "Arabian Nights"--a young woman working in the cane fields while her husband lay at home seriously ill. The workers aren't getting paid and no one will help her husband.