Friday, May 29, 2015

Into the Alps

After two weeks devoted to cinema I can now turn my attention to getting my legs ready for following The Tour de France, just five weeks and a day from now.  There could be no better way than plunging into the Alps, just out the back door of Cannes.  It was ninety miles, much of it climbing, to Digne-les-Baines, Ville Départ for stage 17 on July 22, the first of four stages in the Alps culminating on L'Alpe d'Huez before the final stage of The Race finishing on the Champs Elysees. 

Though it is nearly two months until this historic town of 17,000 will be on center stage of the cycling world, it had already set up markers on its prime street, lined by plane trees, indicating the spot where the peloton will start the stage that will take it over five passes before finishing with a final four mile climb to the ski resort of Pra Loupe up from the ski town of Barcelonnette.


Before I set out for Pra Loup I had a feast of sculptures by the British landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy.  There are nearly twenty of them scattered in the vicinity, including a serpentine figure of clay on a wall in the Gassendi Musuem in Digne.  Several of them are installed in ancient stone buildings in the surrounding countryside and are part of a ten-year project referred to as "Refuge d'Art."  The only one of those that was within my range was two miles out of town past the thermal spring spa that earned Digne its name.  It was a fifteen minute hike from the road to the cairn that Goldsworthy had constructed in an abandoned stone structure not much bigger than a shed.


A couple miles out of town in the opposite direction were five more cairns, all comprised of flat stones in contrast to these rounded ones.  They resided in a large outdoor park called the Musée Promenade with an admission fee that included the work of a dozen other sculptors who specialize in using natural material for their work.  Walking trails through the woods on a high embankment linked all their work.  Goldsworthy's had their own "Cairn Path."


 One would walk for a few minutes and then another would pop up, each mysterious and regal, a cross between a Mayan ruin and an object left by visitors from outer space.


The final one stood in a clearing high above the others in a position of prominence looking down upon Digne and out over the spectacular mountain-framed valley.


Behind it was the ancient three-story Rampart Mansion that now housed a museum celebrating the geographical uniqueness of the region.  Twenty million years ago it was under the sea.  The surrounding mountains and valleys abound with all manner of fossils--mollusks and dinosaurs and even a creature resembling a mermaid.  The park is part of a world-wide network of Geoparks, a concept that was launched in 2000, and has been sanctified by UNESCO.  There are 111 of them.  France has five.  There are two in Canada, but none in the US.

Ten miles further up the road climbing through a narrow gorge with a boulder-strewn fast-rushing stream stands another Goldsworthy.  It is known as the "Sentinelle de la Vallée du Bés."  It resides in a small recess along the narrow road facing the stream, standing at attention as if on sentinel duty.  This was his first in the region, created in 1999.


There was hardly room along the road for Goldsworthy to work, carefully piecing together his mosaic.  I could imagine his presence and could envision the process of his craftsmanship as portrayed in the magnificent documentary on his work, "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time" from 2001, one of my all time favorite documentaries.

I had a particular interest in these cairns, as Janina and I have been gathering rocks on nightly raids from a former golf course near her home that had recently been bullldozed preparing the area for a housing project of mini-mansions.  Lots have all been staked out and roads laid through the property, but fortunately construction has begun on just two of the many lots, so there are still rocks a plenty to harvest for a cairn of our own.  One of our piles in Janina's front yard has already begun to resemble a cairn.


The Tour route doesn't include any of Goldsworthy's works, but I was happy to include those I did on mine.  I wasn't able to visit all of them, as they are scattered far and wide, but I will be sure to make the others a part of my routes to and from Canne in the future, especially the "Sentinelle de la Vallée du Vançon" that stands out in the open on a sharp bend in the road off in another valley.

I camped just a few miles beyond the Sentinelle in the recess after I had climbed out of the gorge and found a meadow that was like a mini-amphitheater with mountains, some still snow-capped, all round. When the sun peaked over a ridge in the morning and shown on my tent, the temperature inside rocketed from the 40s to nearly 60.  I still had some more climbing to do, helping to keep me warm in the early morning chill. Then it was down and then up over another pass, then down, then up, finally reaching the ski resort of Pra Loup and the finish of the stage at the end of the day.  Banners announcing The Tour were hung on light poles as I neared the summit.


Fans of the French rider Bernard Thevenet, who won The Tour forty years ago, had erected a monument to him complete with a bike bearing the number (51) he wore during the race.  Just as Greg LeMond "Slayed the Badger" (Bernard Hinault) in 1986, Thevenet much more shockingly slayed the Cannibal (Eddie Merckx) eleven years before.  Thevenet is one of The Tour announcers for television, so this is a site for his eyes.


It is these gestures reflecting the deep passion the French have for The Tour that make riding the route such a meaningful and uplifting experience.  Whether a mere decorated bike hung from a post or an ornate art project, they all gladden the heart.









Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cannes Day Twelve--The Awards

The Coen brothers and their seven fellow jurors surprised the prognosticators and awarded Jacque Audiard the Palm d'Or for "Dheepan,"  a choice I was most comfortable with, especially after finally seeing the prime contenders for the award, "Carol" and "Son of Saul," earlier in the day.  They were both fine films, but didn't fit the profile of a Palm d'Or as cutting edge cinema that would stand the test of time.  

"Dheepan" may not quite measure up either, as such was the cinema this year, but Audiard is an auteur who has been in the on deck circle for a Palm d'Or for several years, especially since his "A Prophet" was denied it by the Isabelle Huppert jury in favor of Michael Haneke's "White Ribbon" in 2009. Joel of the Coens recognized the award went to a director more than a film, as when he announced the winner,  he didn't say "Dheepan," but rather "Jacques Audiard."  Audiard's two Sri Lanka co-stars joined him on stage.

It concluded a nice evening for France, as the two acting awards went to the French as well.  Vincent Lindon won the best actor award for his role as an unemployed factory worker in "The Measure of a Man."  He was the only award winner to go over to the jury box and personally thank each juror with kisses and hugs while all the while the delighted audience continued their applause. The shared best actress award went to Emmanuelle Bercot as an overwhelmed wife in "Mon Roi."  The other recipient was American Rooney Mara as the lover of Cate Blanchett in "Carol."  The division of this award was almost as surprising as the Palm d'Or, not only that it wasn't shared with Blanchett, but even more that it was the award given to "Carol," rather than one of the bigger awards.  But those will come in the future.  Todd Haynes was all smiles in accepting the award, as his movie will be strewn with Oscar nominations.  It could easily win  the Best Picture Oscar, but is too conventional of a movie to be worthy of the Palm d'Or.

The Hungarian Aushwitz film "Son of Saul" by first time director Laszlo Nemes was awarded the Grand Prix for the second best film.  It had been touted for the Palm d'Or, but it wasn't  as fully accomplished of a film such as "Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days," the Romanina film by a young director that was a consensus Palm d'Or in 2007.  If Nemes fulfills his promise, there is a Palm d'Or in his future.

The best director award went to Hou Hsiao-Hsien, a good choice, for "The Assassin." Michel Franco won the best screenplay for "Chronic." His star Tim Roth was sitting beside him in the audience.  Some thought he might win the best actor award.  He is the fourth Mexican to win an award in the last few years. The Jury Prize, for the third best film, went to Greek Yorgos Lanthimos for "Lobster," full of strangeness right up the Coens' alley.

And once again Paolo Sorrentino was overlooked by a Cannes jury.  I saw his "Youth" for the second time earlier in the day and appreciated its richness and depth and pizzazz even more.  So did my audience in the packed Debussy. ("Carol" and "Son of Saul" were the other two movies replayed in the largest of the theaters on repeat Sunday, indicating Thierry Fremaux thought they were the movies with most appeal.)  It responded to it with much more laugher and enthusiasm than the audience of press I had seen it with five days ago.  I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been awarded the Palm d'Or, just as "Great Beauty" could have been, but was totally ignored by the Spielberg jury.

It was one of three Italian films in Competition, none of which received an award.  An Italian journalist in the press conference after the awards ceremony asked how that could be.  Ethan Coen said, "We had enthusiasm for more movies than we were able to recognize."  As it was, eight of the nineteen films were given an award.

Chaz Ebert asked the best question of the press conference even though it was long-winded and paid homage to her husband.  She wanted to know if this jury experience would make them better at their craft as actors and directors.  Xavier Dolan was the first to respond.  He said he was going to begin shooting a movie in twenty-four hours.  He didn't expect this experience to effect him as a film-maker, but acknowledged he'd never had such a great time continually discussing cinema.  He felt it had changed him as a human being and then added he thought it had made him a better person.  Joel Coen quickly piped in, "You're not," but then grew serious and said that it been an amazing experience for him as well and would "profoundly effect" him in the future as an audience member.

The first questions were why the jury gave the Palm d'Or to "Dheepan."  Ethan knew it hadn't been favored by the critics and said, "We are a jury of artists, not critics.  We found the film beautiful."  That was an unexpected description.  "Important," or "significant," or  "powerful," would be more obvious choices.  Jake Gyllenhaal liked the plot contrivance of three strangers becoming a family.  Dolan had nothing to say on the topic, but despite being the youngest on the jury by far at twenty-six, he spoke more at the press conference than anyone but the Coens.  He will no doubt be a jury president in the years to come and could well be accepting the Palm d'Or next year for the movie he will begin shooting tomorrow, "Its Only the End of the World" starring Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassell.  I am already looking forward to it.  And I'm also looking forward to processing the seventy plus films I've just seen as I head to the Alps and begin conditioning my legs for The Tour de France commencing on July  4.



Cannes Day Eleven

Its hard to remember at times what an extraordinary privilege it is to be at Cannes getting a first look at the best the world of cinema has to offer when I am too often preoccupied with the worry of getting into a screening or thinking about the rush after the movie to the next one and having a backup plan if I'm turned away from it.  Years of seeing a movie that I was delighted to have seen thanks to being turned away from another movie does not ease the frustration of not greeting into something I might have been waiting an hour or more for.  So when I arrived at the Palais a little after eight this morning and was kept waiting for twenty minutes, even though I had an Invitation in hand, I was  nervous rather than exhilarated and expectant of what I was about to see, as I would have been if I had been able to walk right in and take my seat.  

When I was able to take my seat moments before the theater went dark I barely had time to gather myself before being swept into the spectacular highlands of Scotland and the world of "Macbeth."  The cinematagrophy grew more and more astounding, not only the breathtaking landscapes, but the battle scenes in slow motion and close-up.  And heavyweights Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are more than up to the task playing the principals. Harvey Weistein knew what he was doing putting Australian Justin Kurzel at the helm of this project.   But this is Shakespeare and since my brain has never processed him very well, the words coming out of the mouths of the characters didn't always register, preventing me from liking his movie as much as I would have liked to.

If one of the seven awards the Cannes jury dispenses was for cinematagrophy, giving it to "Macbeth" would be the one sure thing of all the awards. As it is, there is no clear favorite for any of the awards, only that "Carol," "Son of Saul," and "The Asssassins" will receive something.  Usually the list is longer, but nothing else has particularly distinguished itself.  Certainly not "Valley of Love," the other Competition film I saw today.  Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu play factionalized versions of themselves in Death Valley as a divorced couple hoping to reunite with their son who recently died .  In his suicide note he tells them he will reappear at one of several scenic sites there during a one week period.  

The critics who savaged Gus Van Sant's movie ought to have had at this as well, as the European faction of the press had to forgive the film for its portrayal of the Americans they encounter as unrefined boors.  One guy recognizes Depardieu but can't remember what he has seen him in or his name.  He asks for his autograph.  Depardieu signs it as Bob DiNero.  Later the guy confronts Depardieu as he and Huppert are dining and lambasts him.  Depardieu is apologetic and invites him and his wife to join them.  The movie stars are extremely tolerant of all their foolish questions and comments. As with the married couple in Van Sant's movie, they bicker over long festering and present aggravations, though not quite as venomously.  This is not a film that will rank very high in the work of these actors, but a nice little curiosity.

The Director's Fortnight always includes a film or two that was a hit at Sundance in January. Last year it was "Whiplash."  This year it was "Dope."  As with "Whiplash" it included a mesmerizing performance, but rather than by a veteran actor, this was by a newcomer, Shameik Moore a young black of Jamaican descent who is as glib as was J.K.Simmons. He is a very bright, Harvard-bound kid growing up with a single mother in a  rough neighborhood of Los Angeles.  There's no chance he'll win an Oscar, or even be nominated for one, as this film isn't good enough for that, but he may in the future.   It is the silly story of three high school geeks who come into possession of several kilos of cocaine and how they dispense it.  

The kids in "Welcome, or No Trespassing" are somewhat silly too, but they provide an allegory for the Soviet system in this seminal film from 1964 by Elem Klimov about a kid's summer camp.  They get into all sorts of hijinks. This first film by the acclaimed director was suppressed when it came out. This just restored print was a late addition to the schedule.

It became a two Russian day when I ended it with "Peace To Us In Our Dreams," a Lithuanian-Russian co-production.  This too took place out of the city on the fringe of the woods. A directiomless man and woman are grappling with what they want to do,with their lifes. A young man is living in an abandoned cabin.  He steals tomatoes from their greenhouse and the rifle of some hunters. He shares the sense of purposelessness of those he steals from in this understated film from the Director's Fortnight.

My day also included a repeat screening of the Icelandic film "Rams" after it won the award for the best of the nineteen films in Un Certain Regard.  I had seen thirteen of them.  When clips were shown of all nineteen preceding the awards ceremony, each brought back a fond memory.  I was hoping one of the six I hadn't seen would win the award, so I could see something I hadn't seen, but I realized that I would have been happy to see any of them again, not something I can say of those in Competition.  The Isabella Rossilini-led jury of five gave out five awards.  Three of them went to movies I hadn't seen, adding further emphasis to what a fine batch of films this had been this year, but probably justifiably their top prize went to "Rams."  Surprisingly, Rosselini didn't say how hard it was to choose a winner as is customary saying many deserved it, but instead said how wonderful it was to see all these fils and that she and the jury had felt like they had taken a flight around the planet and that any anthropologist would be envious of them.  As with any commendable work of art, it was most worthwhile to experience "Rams" again and to further  appreciate its great craftsmanship and depth and many nuances.

I was able to do my nightly FaceTime with Janina from outside the Palais and could give her a display of all the women in their gowns and high heels.  I felt like a filmmaker walking amongst all the attendees letting Janina feel as if she was right there as I panned around and up and down. In the twelve years I've been attending the festival the high heels issue never came up and I was oblivious to the fact that they are required for the evening Palais screenings.  My eye has always been drawn to all the stunning gowns.  Now I'm checking out the footwear, or hobble-wear, as Janina regards them. The gowns certainly are stunning, adorning all the svelt, tanned beautiful people of the Côte d'Azur wafting along as if in a state of grace. They are like a second skin to many.  But there are those who are clearly uncomfortable in such attire and footwear, appearing embarrassed and awkward.  It is certainly an entertaining show each evening.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Cannes Day Ten

It was a good day of catching up.  I saw three Competiton films bringing my total to fourteen of the nineteen.  I'll see two tomorrow and then hopefully the last three on Sunday to complete the slate provided none of the three are scheduled at the same time.  And I'm still awaiting a film that I can root for the Palm d'Or.  Maybe it will be "Macbeth," the only film yet to be screened.  Thierry Fremaux may have saved it to the end so he wouldn't have to fly back its stars, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, for the awards ceremony.

I was hoping my screening today of "The Assassin," that the critics have swooned over, might be the film to blow me away, but I failed to connect with this costume drama of intrigue and sword-fighting from the ninth century by Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien. The costumes were lush and the scenery spectacular, highlighted with an occasional lingering shot of great beauty, but since my mind was still distracted with my hacking case after I discovered a bunch of emails from my drafts file had been erased, I couldn't give this film the full focus it needed, as is generally necessary with Hsiao-Hsien.  Ralph had no easier a time of it than I had and couldn't shed any light on my dark. 

My day's two other Competition films were much less subtle, though they both had an element of mystery that wasn't fully explained.  They were both by young, but established auteurs making an English language film, even though that wasn't their native tongue, and working with high profile actors, making their films much more accessible than "The Assassin." 

Tim Roth is a care taker in Mexican Michel Franco's "Chronic."  He is very tender and gets quite close to his clients, too close for the liking of some of the relatives of his clients, most of whom are in their final days. When the children of one of his clients discover he has been watching porn with their father they bring suit against him.  It may not be the first time it has happened.  We learn he has been married and has a daughter in medical school, but he largely remains a mystery.  He seems to be a lost soul,  much repressed and stoop shouldered, on some sort of a mission but not entirely sure what it is.  How he became this way is left for us to speculate.

Gabriel Byrne also has his burdens in "Louder than Bombs" by Joachim Trier of Norway. He lost his wife, Isabelle Huppert, a few years before, to suicide.  They had two sons.  One is a college professor and the other is a morose teen still in high school, the very same one where Bryne teaches and is having an affair with one of his teachers unbeknownst to his son.  That's not the one thing he isn't aware of.  He doeant know his mother's death was a suicide and it is about to be revealed in a New York Time piece on an exhibition of his mother's photography.  Father and son hardly speak, so it is difficult for Byrne to let him know. The professor son, played with panache by Jesse Eisenberg, whose wife has just had a baby, is back home visiting helping prepare for his mother's  exhibition.  He offers advice to his younger brother, not all of which he heeds. The film abounds with little plot twists and revelations that  aren't pursued but keep one's interest level high.  This wasn't a particularly ambitious film, but it had insights and truths, and made for a somewhat nourishing dose of cinema.  It could have been another film with an odd name for a newborn, but they name their daughter Isabella after his dead mother.

As so often happens, my films, like the animals marching onto Noah's Ark, come in pairs of some sort or another.  I also had a pair of films today on bands of soldiers in rough circumstances.  One was rebel soldiers in the thick forests of Colombia and the other was French soldiers manning an outpost in Afghanistan.  

It has been a fine year for Colombian cinema.  "Embrace of the Serpent" won the best picture award in Directors Fortnight and "Land and Shade" won an award in Critics Weekly.  I only saw a handful of films in these sidebars, but was lucky to see both of them.  And today along came a Colombian film in Un Certain Regard, "Alias Maria."  There have been so many respectable films in this category, this probably won't win an award, but it was still a solid effort featuring a young woman rebel soldier on a mission to deliver a baby to safety.  It cries a lot.  She finds the best way to calm him is to offer him her breast.  Surprisingly she has milk to offer, as it is forbidden for any of the women soldiers to be pregnant. She is ordered to have an abortion, but her maternal instinct is too strong to comply, so she  must escape from her rebel battalion.

Trying to find a couple of lost members of a small unit guarding a pass in Afghanistan keeps the tension high in "The Wakhan Front," an award-winner in the Critics weekly.  This won as much for its  casting and its setting outside a small mountain village as it did for its script.  French soldiers, Afghani locals and rebel soldiers all look as if they were plucked from reality.  One negotiation session after another threatens to erupt into violence.

I rounded out the day with my first film from India--"Fourth Direction." I was hoping it would have song and dance to keep me awake, but that wasn't necessary.  This was the second film in Un Certain Regard with dog cruelty.  A family living in a walled compound in the countryside has a dog that barks in the night when a band of rebels patrolling the region makes its rounds.  They don't want attention drawn to them and order the owner at gunpoint to do away with his dog.  Government soldiers who come by the next day hearing he has been consorting with the rebels are also incensed by the dog and actually take a shot at it.  He puts off killing the dog despite a feeble attempt to poison it, until a crucial moment much later.  This too was a film that cast an array of authentic-looking people of the region.  Even if the film was a bit simple-minded at times, it gave a fine dose of India. If there were an award given for the best set of beards in a movie it would be a strong contender against the Icelandic film "Rams" that played on Day Three.









Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cannes Day Nine

All seems peaceful and orderly at a rundown housing project controlled by a drug gang that a family of three Sri Lankan refugees are placed in on the outskirts of Paris.  The refugees aren't what they appear to be, nor is the seeming placidity of the housing project in Jacques Audiard's "Dheepan" that was today's opening Competition film.  This was one one of the more anticipated films of the festival, but Ralph and I had no problem getting into it, thanks in part to the first rain of the festival.

The refugees gained entry to France masquerading as a family unit (husband, wife and young daughter) though they hadn't met until the refugee camp in Sri Lanka.  None of them speak much French.  The husband is given the position of caretaker/janitor at the project where they themselves live in a dump of an apartment.  The girl is placed in school against her will and one of the drug overseers of the complex gives the wife the position of cook and cleaning lady for an elderly guy whose apartment has been appropriated by the gang.  She is thrilled to be earning 500 euros a month.

The husband is very diligent and competent and knows how to cope in their circumstances.  The story pleasantly drifts along as they assimilate into their new environment learning its okay to drink the water and the "mother" kissing her "daughter" when she drops her off at school.  Then a turf war breaks out and this turns into an Audiard film.  The skills the caretaker gained as a gueriilla fighter in Sri Lanka burst forth as he appears to morph into another "Prophet" as in Audiard's film that won him best director honors here a few years ago.  It is a fine performance, but doesn't leap off the screen as in most of Audiard's films.  Janina has aspired to give a class on Audiard.  She will be happy to add this to her syllabus, though it is a much more subtle film than the rest of his oeuvre.  I had been hoping this would be Palm d'Or material, but probably not.

Today began two days of repeating all the Competition and Un Certain Regard films that have screened up til now. Unfortunately the two I most wanted to see,"Carol" and "Son of Saul," were in the same time slot as "Dheepan," so they'll have to wait until Sunday when all the Competition films are screened one last time.  The only other Competiton film that fit into my schedule today was Gus Van Sant's "The Sea of Trees" that was so reviled, receiving four zero star reviews from "Screen's" panel of ten critics, two more than have been given out to all the rest of the films that have been screened.  Some called it the worst film ever screened in Competition.  That was hardly the case.  The film actually had some merit and won't be a total box office fiasco.  This was simply a case of critic mob mentality, with a handful expressing disdain and it becoming a contagion.  And perhaps there is an underlying impulse to discourage anyone from seeing a movie on sucide, especially one that somewhat glorifies a forest in Japan that people come to from all over the world for their final act.  

Matthew McConaughey flying off to Japan on an impulse to commit suicide was a stretch, as he could  just as easily have downed a bottle of pills in his bedroom as he attempts in the forest.  The corpses he stumbles upon add to the stretch, as do some of his escapades in the forest.  The flashbacks, though, to his unhappy marriage with Naomi Watts are a fine portrayal of a typical couple savagely bickering over petty grievances.  Watts is upset, among other things, that her husband is content with his $20,000 a year salary as a college professor, forcing her to be the prime breadwinner as a real estate agent.  If I had seen this movie before the critics had  had at it, I too would have scoffed at some of its pretenses, but I would hardly have ridiculed it as has the critical mob.

The bulk of the rest of my day was repeat screenings of three Out of Compeition films that all tackled an interesting subject--the Turkish massacre of the Armenians, German guilt over WWII and sex.  "Don't Tell Me the Boy Was Bad" mercilessly indicts Turkey for its post WWI genocide of over a million Armenians.  It begins with the assassination in Berlin in 1919 of one of the Turks responsible for it.  The Armenian assassin is put on trial in Germany and is actually acquitted by the jury for his justifiable execution of the individual.  The assassin remains an Armemian hero.  His portrait hangs in the homes of many.  He is the inspiration for an assassination many years later of a Turkish ambassador.  An innocent bystander on a bicycle is severely injured in the car bombing and tracks down the assassin in Syria and asks for forgiveness.  The movie is mostly though an Armenian propaganda piece that will never be shown in Turkey, as it is a criminal offense in Turkey to raise the Armenian issue.

An older German woman has lived in isolation on a small Spanish island for forty years in Barbet Schroeder's "Amnesia," another film taking on a political subject of many years standing.  A young musician from Berlin moves into a nearby house.  They bond and he takes a romantic interest in her not realizing she's German.  She has never been happier but doesn't let their relationship go beyond a close friendship.  He is quite enraged when he learns her nationality.  She has never accepted Germany's WWII past.  When his parents come to visit, they reignite the debate, defending their nationality.  The debate flares out of control when the father tells of his experience during the war supervising Jewish girls at a factory.

The lack of sex in "Amnesia" was more than made up in Gaspar Noe's "Love."  The movie is a succession of explicit couplings straight out of a porn movie.  A young American attending film school in Paris seduces an aspiring painter who works at a gallery.  We never see them in class or at work, mostly just in bed.  The only evidence that the guy is an aspiring film director are all the movie posters in his apartment--Noe's favorite "Salo" among them--and the guy telling his girl friend that she has to see "2001" as they take a stroll through the Parisian peak that was once a quarry.  They are both sexually adventurous and go to a sex club that is filmed with dazzling effect.  The guy though can't  bring himself to join his girl friend in sex with a transvestite when his penis is presented to him.  He is all for a threesome with a woman, as is she.  Both would like her to be a blond.  When one moves into their building, she's in their clutches that night.  This was the third prominent movie of the fest with a baby being given a comical name. This time it was Gaspar, which got a laugh out of the audience.  There are laughs too when the American berates the French for not having won a war since 1918 and when a police officer tells him he shouldn't try to have his own way in all things like Americans do.  Its hard to say what audiences this movie will be made available too, but any fan of Noe will be pleased to see it.

Full nudity was also on prominent display in the Un Certain Regard wrap-up for the day--"The Other Side"--an Italian directed documentary that takes place in Hicksville, Louisiana.  A racist drug-addict and his addict girl friend remarkably allow a film crew into their life.  They bare all from their injections to their love-making and their innermost thoughts.  The guy has done time and promises to go back to prison when his dying mother goes, as it is only in prison that he can give up his addictions.  The woman too knows she must come clean, but isn't so eager.  I quickly lost interest in these deadbeats and was happy to nod off.  Ralph had had enough less than half way through and took his leave early, the first film he had walked out on this year.  

Before hitting the hay I took the time to further pursue the handful of suggestions various friends sent to regain my email account after being lost to a hacker three days ago.  The winner came from Andrew of Sydney, who I've toured with in Laos and France and who has done me many a fine turn.  He advised checking to see if the emails being sent to my account were being forwarded to the account of the hacker.  Indeed, they were.  With the expertise of Ralph we disabled that feature.  The process is explained in the comments suggestion from Day Seven.  Right away I began receiving emails for the first time in three days, but none from that period.  Its not likely I'll be able to recover any of those.   Hopefully there weren't any of pressing concern.  Anyway, great thanks to Andrew and all else who expressed concern.

Cannes Day Eight

Thank you Paolo.  You still have much to say and can express it in inventive ways. You haven't succombed to the ennui and melancholy of the octogenarians Michael Caine, playing a composer, and Harvey Keitl, a movie director, in your latest contribution to cinema.   Though "Youth" doesn't have your trademark Sorrentino exuberance and playfulness of your Oscar winning "Great Beauty," it does have its depth and humanity.  It may not register as high on the "Wow" index, but it is still a wow, and not because you twice use the "riding a bike" metaphor to good effect. 

Caine refusing a knight-hood from an emissary of the Queen at the outset while he is hanging out at a health spa in the Swiss Alps with Keitel and others of great means made for a fine opening.  Then his initial refusal to tell his daughter why her husband, son of Keitel, was leaving her for a ditzy singer also added spice to the story and so it continued as your films always do.  At last a film came along that I didn't want to end and was looking forward to seeing again on Repeat Sunday before the awards ceremony.  This probably isn't Palm d'Or material, but it could be without anything off the charts just yet.

This fine day of cinema continued with the second Competiton film of the day "Mountains May Depart."  This Chinese film, told in three parts, also had an emotional depth beyond most of the rest of the fare.  Part one takes place in 1999.  A young woman dumps her working class boy friend, who she has a genuine rapport with, to marry a crass, wealthy upstart.  In part two fifteen years later their marriage is over and the one she truly loved has come down with cancer and can't afford medical attention.  His wife seeks out his former girl friend.  And then the film jumps ahead to 2025 in Australia where the rich guy has gone, taking his son with him, who he had named "Dollar," as bizarre of a name as "Sinbad," as Vincent Cassel named his son in the earlier Competiton film "Mon Roi."  Throughout these are genuine, well-defined characters.  A thank you goes out to Jia Zhangke as well for his directing.

The two Un Certain Regard films of the day maintained this sidebar's theme of giving a fine portrayal of another land.  "Lamb" was the first film from Ethiopia to play in this category.  In some instances that would give extra impetus for programming a film that might not necessarily be up to par,  but this film had the quality to be from anywhere and accepted.  Like many of the festival films, it was a story of coping with hardship.  Drought is making it difficult to scratch out an existence for a farming family.  A young boy who has come to live with them is continually trying to find a place for a lamb to graze and incurs the wrath of many.  The spectacular mountain scenery adds great luster to this sensitive, heartfelt story.

The illicit side of dog selling in France provided the backdrop for "I Am a Soldier," the story of a thirty year old woman who has been looking for work for eight months and is reduced to moving in with her mother.  She begins working for her uncle who sells dog.  She quickly learns not all is on the up and up, but is a good soldier and goes along with it and even starts some illicit side operations of her own.  This wasn't an in your face portrayal of the harsh economic times, but more powerful than some of those that are.  This was a wonderful, insightful discovery.

The day was also highlighted with a documentary on Orson Welles, "This is Orson Welles," followed by a screening of "Citizen Kane."  Watching this masterpiece with French subtitles was an ultimate expierce.  As with the Ingrid Bergman documentary, this one featured the commentary of a daughter. And like Bergman's children's, she had nothing but nice things to say about her dad.  Scorcese and Bogdonavich and Henry Jaglom were among the talking heads.  Though it didn't cover anything new, it was still well worth seeing. 

With the festival winding down, there were just a handful of Market screenings.  I was happy to be able to fit "Dream Driven" into my schedule, a Finnish documentary about three young men who drove a van from Finland to Nepal to help build a school and to bring attention to the evils of the caste system. It would have been much more noteworthy if they had made a bike trip of it, and they were a bit naive in their idealism, but the opening of a school and two more that they raised funds for brought the young men to tears. 




Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cannes Day Seven

My day was bookended by violent-laced crime thrillers--one an American production about Mexican drug cartels and the other of office politics from South Korea.  One featured inventive plot twists and the other didn't much care about the credibility of its twists. No surprise which was which.

The American production, "Sicario" by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, put its budget into its cast (Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) and aerial shots and car chases rather than its script.  Its was slick enough to be shown in Competition, while the Korean film, "Office," was given an Out of Competition  slot.  

"Sicario" began with great promise as Emily Blount leads an FBI raid on a drug house in Phoenix.  Her assured demeanor along with the first-rate action directing remain a strong current through the film.  She is enlisted by higher operatives led by Josh Broslin to cross the border into Mexico and snatch a drug lord.  It is more bravado film-making, though the credibility of the script begins to ebb. It doesn't become as outlandish as Villeneuve's "Prisoners," and can be somewhat overlooked since the premise of a Colombian drug prosecutor, played with matching vigor as the other leads by Del Toro, who turns into a superhero out for the revenge for the death of his wife and daughter by drug lords adds a jolt to the script that is more for the popcorn crowd than the cineste, and a far cry from Villeneuve's masterpieces "Incendies" and "Polytchnique."

"Office" couldn't match the polish and pizzazz of "Sicario," but it was equally gripping, delving into the psyche of the detective trying to track down the employee of a company who inexplicably murdered his wife and son and disappeared.  A surveillance camera shows him returning to the skyscraper where he worked, but not leaving.  The drama bridges upon horror, but more psychological than physical.

I found myself in a minor horror movie of my own when I arrived back at the apartment after midnight and discovered  my email account had been taken hostage and a message sent out to everone in my address book saying I was in Istanbul and had lost my wallet and needed money.  The worst of it was that I could no longer receive emails, as messages replying to the plea would be intercepted by the perpetrator.  At least I can send out emails from the account,  I changed my password, but so far that hasn't helped.  So I have not received any emails in the past 24-hours allowing me to concentrate further in the film festival.

The day wasn't without good fortune as after the 8:30 am screening of "Sicario" a woman walk up to Ralph and I and offered us invitations to the next Competiton screening in the Lumiere at 11:30.  Ralph already had one.  It was the first I had come by this year.  I rushed directly to the Lumiere, but still  ended up in the nose bleed seat in the last row in the balcony. Its a vantage I know well from years past and don't mind at all looking over a sea of heads at the distant screen far below.

I won't have memories of this film though, "Marguerite and Julien," a true story of incest in France in 1600.  Valerie Donzelli returns to those times but tries to jazz up the story with Rock music and odd insertions of twentieth century  technology, including the flash of a helicopter.  Unfortunately it doesn't work.  A straightforward telling of this story that ends in tragedy could have made for a fine movie.  No one much liked it, with a rare below one star overall rating from "Screen's" panel of ten critics, though still better than Van Sant's .6 disaster. 

Today's  Un Certain Regard film, "Trap," took me back to the Philippines through the same post-typoon disaster scene I had bicycled through a year ago.  It captured all the images I know well--UN tents for the survivors, battered  palm trees, religious services, bicycles with side cars, small road side cafes and the great resilience of the Filipinos.  Despite the sure hand of acclaimed director Brillante Mendoza, he accompanied his fine images with just a perfunctory story of recovery.

I filled the rest of the day with three documentaries.  One of them would have been Kent Jones's on the legendary conversations between Hitchcock and Truffaut that resulted in a book, but I was among a hundred or more who were turned away from the Bunuel where special events are held.  One floor below was a Market screening of the Directors Fortnight entry "Beyond My Grandfather Allende" filmed by one of his granddaughters. She wss too young to remember him when his life came to an end in Chile's 1973 coup and this is an attempt to come to know him through her family members.His elderly wife is a most unwillingly subject.  She continually cuts off interviews with her granddaughter laying beside her in bed.  The director's other family members are also very reticent to talk about their memories that they have all suppressed. The best thing about the doc was remembering the exceptional doc by Sarah Polley uncovering her big family secret.

A Swedish documentary, "Ingrid Bergman--In Her Own Words," on the actress who overlooks the entries to the Palais and Debussy as the subject of this year's poster, was given the star treatment with Isabella Rosselini on hand to introduce it in the Soixante.  She was one Bergman's four children by two husbands.  The children are all extensively interviewed in this artful rendition of her life receiving more screen time than movie clips.  Three of the children were fathered by the Italian director, and the first by her Swedish husband, who became a doctor in the US during the early years of their marriage after Bergman had come to Hollywood.  When she left her husband and eight year old daughter for Rosselini, it was an international scandal, even denounced on the Senate floor. She didn't return to the US for eight years, not even for the Oscars when she won her second, accepted by Cary Grant in a year when the Oscars were held in New York. When she finally did return to the US Ed Sullivan took a poll whether he should have her on his show.

My third documentary was one of those few films of personal interest I was most eager to see when I had spotted it in the program on my first perusal--"The Fabulous Story of Mr Riquet."  He engineered the Canal du Midi linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean under Louis XIV in the 1700s.  It is one of the world's first engineering great feats.  It has a beautiful plane-tree lined bike path along it.  It was exciting to see its beauty captured on the big screen, but unfortunately it didn't have a big enough budget to have added English subtitles, the first such film I've come across in the Market.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Cannes Day Six

Today is the half-way point of the festival.  I've seen 39 films so far and have yet to see a great one.  I'm not worried though, as I've only seen five of the ten Competiton films that have screened and two of those that I have missed have been the best-reviewed--"Son of Saul" (an Auschwitz film by a first time Hungarian director that Sony just picked up for US distribution) and "Carol" (a lesbian period piece by veteran American Todd Haynes).  Plus three of the potentially best films have yet to play--those by Sorrentino, Audiard and Hsiao-Hsien Hou.  A festival rarely offers more than two or three greats, so that is still possible.  Last year was a good year with "Winter Sleep," "Foxcatcher," "Wild Tales," and "Force Majuere."  None of my 39 have provided such a jolt or uplift.

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.





Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cannes Day Five

Invited films are often distinguished from those in the Market by a strong charismatic performance by a star.  They can  lend credence to a script that may not be entirely credible engaging an audience enough with their artistry to make their movie seem worthwhile.  The Market is full of very marginal movies with a star hoping their performance can save the day. I could spend the entire festival indulging in such fare. Mickey Rourke can be seen in three Market movies, Nicholas Cage is in two.  Joe Pesci, James Can, Joe Mantegna, Eric Roberts, Richard Jenkins, Michael Madsen, Danny Glover and Oscar Isaac are among a host of actors who can carry a movie who have non red-carpet roles.  I'd be curious to see each of their performances on the Big Screen, but won't be able to work many them into my schedule.

This day was highlighted by a couple of riveting performances in movies of questionable validity that a lesser performance would otherwise have left audiences with a sour taste.  Vincent Cassel dazzled the screen as an über-suave restauranteur in the day's opening Competition film, "Mon Roii." He sweeps Emmanuelle Bercot (director of the opening night film "Standing Tall"), playing a lawyer, off her feet.  He's too perfect to be true and she asks him after their first bout of conjugal bliss if he's for real, or like all men a jerk.  With his non-stop repartee he tells her he's the King of Jerks, not a jerk himself but all other men are his subjects.  He of course turns into the ultimate jerk, and would be further fodder for Janina's gender study class. Initially he fully caters to the object of his desires, but then becomes the ultimate control freak, even insisting they name their baby "Sinbad," rather than Elliot, as she would prefer.  This was  directed by Maiwenn, whose previous film "Polisse" won the Jury Prize, a much more realistic film.

Matthias Schoenaerts, another Gallic actor who can ignite the screen, somewhat redeems the Un Certain Regard "Disorder," playing a part-time security guard while he awaits word on whether he can return to duty in Afghanstan as he deeply wishes despite being shell shocked.  He is guarding the wife and son of a wealthy Lebanese businessman who hobnobs with government ministers.  The businessman is engaged in questionable practices that have him in trouble with the press as well as people he does business with.  His wife becomes a target.  Schoenaerts is a hunk.  The script can't help but lapse into matters of the libido. 

Collin Ferrell is also known for his sexual dynamism.  But they are entirely wasted in "The Lobster," a Competition film I caught up with today.  He plays a nebbish with a paunch and glasses, a role better suited for a Greg Kinear or John C. Reilly.  Reilly does turn up in this movie playing his usual bumbling self, and just like the other Competition film he had a similar role in "Tale of Tales," it was an exercise in inconsequential absurdism.  Reilly and Ferrell are an a holding center for singles in a futuristic world.  They have 45 days to find a mate or they will be forced to be turned into an animal of their choosing.  Ferrell would like to become a lobster. 

This was a rare day with a Market film on a subject matter of personal interest--a documentary on a trek of the US from Mexico to Canada by four recent graduates of Texas A&M on horseback.  The film takes its title "Unbranded" from the wild mustangs they enlist for the ride.  The subject of the west being overrun by wild horses is a recurring theme of the movie.  Their numbers are increasing at 20 per cent a year.  Over 50,000 are being held in corrals awaiting adoption.  It takes three months to train one for domesticity.  The scenery is spectacular as their route includes the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.  They guys don't entirely get along, distracting from the glory of their experience.

My day included two other documentaries with lengthy, self-explanatory titles--"David Lynch: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Can't Stand Losing You: Surviivng the Police."  Lynch narrates in a droning tone his life-story up until his first movie "Eraserhead."  He is rarely glimpsed though, as his commentary is accompanied by drawings and paintings and sometimes photographs of what he is describing, making this transcend the usual bio-pic. A recurring phrase from his mother as he was growing up was that he was disappointing him. His first ambition was to be a painter.  He rented a studio while he was still in school.  When he upset his father with his benign defiance,  he told him he was no longer a member of the family.  He regained his good graces, but when he went to visit him a few years later where he was living in Philadelphia his father was so unsettled by his work that he advised him that he shouldn't have children.  Little did Lynch know at the time that his girl friend was pregnant.  They married shortly thereafter.  Lynch says his life was saved a few years later when he won a $5,000 grant from the American Film Institute to make a short.  He later earned a scholarship to move to LA from the AFI which led to "Eraserhead."   

The documentary on the Police was based on the memoirs of guitarist Andy Summers, one of the three members of the band.  The group's singer and song writer Sting wasn't invoked at all in the making of the movie, as Summers said all along he only cared about himself.  The film has plenty of archival interviews and concert and rehearsal footage to draw from as well as some recent reunion concerts.  

The day concluded with "Journey to the Shore," another Un Certain Regard film that leant an insightful view into the culture of another country, this time Japan. Ralph and I could fully connect with this movie, as Ralph spent a good part of his working life there and I two months bicycling it.  A young woman's husband returns three years after he was thought to have been lost at sea.  He says he had been depressed and needed to regain his health.  He has spent the time traveling about Japan working an assortment of jobs.  It was just what he needed. His face is continually wreathed in a beatific smile.  He takes his wife on a trip to meet many of the wonderful people he came to know during his time away.  They are all very happy to see him again.  


Cannes Day Four

It was a day of socially relevant cinema with docs on food, jihadists in Pakistan and Mexican drug cartels to go along with features on women's rights in Iran, interacting with the indigenous and another featuring striking workers and a dying woman.

Nanni Moretti's Competition entry "Mia Madre" may not fully fall under the umbrella of social relevancy as the movie was split between a movie director on the set dealing with a difficult actor and in the hospital room of her dying mother.  John Tuturro flies in from America to star in an Italian movie as a factory owner dealing with his striking workers.  He is a nightmare to work with as he can't get his lines right.  What is meant as a comedy quickly grows tiresome.  The hospital scenes, which include Moretti as the director's brother, are serious but all too typical.  This movie was akin to a Hollywood sequel, with Moretti sticking to safe, recycled material that didn't go beyond the ordinary, only meriting inclusion in the Compeittion category because of his reputation and connection to the festival as a former award winner and jury president.

The Iranian "Nahid" in Un Certain Regard was one of full slate of films on the second-rate status of women in the Islamic world. There are others from Turkey, Palastine, India and elsewhere.  Janina could see several films a day that would make good material for the gender studies class she teaches, including a feature about young girls who are transformed into boys and how they much prefer being girls.  Nahid is a thirty-year old mother of a son who is separated from her drug addict husband.  She'd like to remarry as she is destitute and on the verge of being evicted.  A wealthy man, whose wife has died, has proposed.  She likes him but fears she'd lose custody of her son if she does.  He assures her he has a good lawyer to achieve that.  She agrees to a series of trial thirty-day marriages.  She is frazzled and doesn't really know what is best as she fights battles on several fronts.

Two young girls are given away in marriage against their wills in the Pakistani documentary "Among Believers."  They are just an incidental, but telling moment, in this movie that concentrates on jihadists, while giving attention to other aspects of Pakistani society.  Young boys are recruited to Islamic schools with the promise that if they become jihadists they will wear a crown in heaven and so will their parents who give them up to the schools.  This well-balanced film also interviews more rational clerics and gives a well-informed view into today's Pakistan.

"Cartel Land" was even richer with remarkable, unguarded footage of how it is deep in Mexico in Michoacan where the drug cartels have terrorized the local populations and also on the border of the US where vigilante groups patrol.  Michoacan gave birth to its own local vigilantes as well, led by a local doctor, frustrated by the corrupt government failing to control the drug lords.  The doctor is initially a great hero, recruitng dozens of armed locals to take the law into their own hands, but then feels the wrath of the government and the all-powerful cartels.  The movie almost plays as a feature with a rich cast of fascinating characters and dramatic action during shoot outs and interrogating suspects.

Less dramatic, but equally well shot, "Ten Billion--What's On Your Plate," a German documentary on how the world will feed itself when its population doubles to ten billion in the next few decades, deals with another pertinent subject.  The director travels the world examine the present state of food production to what needs to be done to save the planet.  He cites concerns, including India transforming itself from a country of vegetarians to one of carnivores and a visit to Chicago's Board of Trade (the largest in the world) where he interviews one of its biggest traders upsetting the prices of grains.   He sees hope in the high productivity of small, organic farms.  

Ralph and I were fortunate to see "Embrace of the Serpent," a luscious Colombian film on two early nineteenth century explorers canoeing the Amazon on separate missions, thanks to falling thirty people short of the night's final Un Certain Regard film.  We had to wait an hour for this Director's Fortnight film at he Arcades, where films are occasionally shown without English subtitles, as was the case here.  We thought we would give it a look, but lasted the entire two hours, easily managing the French subtitles, keeping us out until after one, as we were fully consumed by this exceptional film shot in black and white.  This is what the Amazonian explorer film, "Pure Life," from Day Two aspired to be, but failed.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cannes Day Three

None of us in the Last Minute Line this morning gained entry to the morning's Competition entry "Lobster."  I had several worthy options--"Survivalist," (an English film that had been well-reviewed)? "I Am Michael," (a true story about a gay-rights advocate who had renounced his homosexuality, one of several films starring James Franco),  or "Arteholic," (a German documentary about the German actor Udo Kier who loved art).  

I chose the documentary as it had a running time and location that would give me a chance to see "Rams," an Icelandic film in Uncertain Regard at eleven.  I was also tricked into seeing it as Lars Von Trier was listed in the cast.  Kier had appeared in "Breaking the Waves" and was a friend of his, but his appearance in the movie was simply a joke.  Kier does visit him during the shooting of the documentary, but the two of them simply sit and read for a minute or so.  Not a word comes out of Von Trier's mouth, not even a greeting.  The whole movie was less than honest.  Kier does like art and was a friend of Warhol and Mapplethorpe and others, but he's hardly an "arteholic" and has very little to say about the art that is shown in the movie.  He does like to be on camera though, and somehow managed to get a totally unnecessary documentary, a most indulgent, giant-selfie, made about himself. Usually one can find some redeeming value in any documentary.  I did learn in this one that the signature chapter scenes in "Breaking the Waves" were designed by an artist friend of his and not by Von Trier.

The documentary at least did allow me to see "Rams," a classic Icelandic story of sheep farmers who have to destroy their flocks because a disease has been discovered in them.  This is the nightmare of every Icelandic farmer, and in particular two brothers who live side by side but haven't spoken in forty years.  The scenery was magnificent as were the abundance of lush beards.  This was a full cultural immersion, the next best thing to bicycling around the island as I did the summer before I began coming to France for Cannes and The Tour de France.

The Italian Matteo Garrone is known for making movies about his culture.  He turned his back on that in his Competition entry "Tale of Tales," which I stood in line for over an hour in its repeat screening today in the Soixante.  Not all in line gained entry, despite the tepid reviews.  The most tepid came from Michel Ciment, the most respected of French reviewers.  He gave it a rare zero stars, meaning it had no redeeming value.  He was absolutely right.  This series of three fairy tales were utterly inconsequential grotesqueries.  Since his last two films in Competition had won awards he was given the best odds by bookmakers to win the Palm d 'Or this year.  This proves how utterly useless such predictions are by those who haven't even seen the movies they are speculating about.

I got right in line afterwards for yesterday's other Compeition film, "Our Little Sister" from Japan that had been better reviewed.  It was the second film of the day I was turned away from.  That allowed me to see a "Sembene!," a documentary on the father of African cinema.  As I was waiting in line, Jason Silverman, a fellow staffer from the Telluride film festival who used to direct the Taos film festival and now programs an art house in New Mexico greeted me.  I was shocked to see him and furthermore that he was wearing a suit.  The biggest shock was that he had co-directed the film.  I had no idea.  And then Mark Steele, a former Telluride staffer, came over.  He had co-produced the film.  They said this wasn't its world premiere, as it had opened at Sundance.

This solid bio-pic was a narrative by the other co-director of the film, Samba Gadigo, a Senglese admirer of Sembene's who now taught in the US.  Sembene died a few years ago, but there was ample interview material of him to make it seem he had been a full collaborator on the film.  There were clips aplenty from his many films.  This wss a most worthwhile contribution to the world of cinema.  The ninety minute documentary was followed by a recently restored "Black Girl" from 1966 about the less than pleasant experiences of young black woman who works as a servant for a young French couple, first in Dakar and then in France.  Seeing both of these was more than worth being shut out of "Our Little Sister," which I'll have a chance to see in the days to come, unlike these films.

I was denied the conclusion of "Black Girl" as I had to meet Ralph at 7:45 in front of the credentials office, as he had just flown in from LA via Zurich and I had to give him keys to our apartment.  He said he had slept well on the eleven hour flight and was eager for a movie or two.  Unfortunately the credentials office had closed at six and he'd have to pick up his credentials at nine the next morning, also preventing him from seeing the 8:30 a.m. Compeition screening.  He was too thrilled to be here for the fourth time and with nine days of cinema had wasn't too chagrined.

After the handing over of the keys I rushed back into the Palais complex of screening rooms for "Shades of Truth," an attempt at a movie about a Jewish journalist who looks like Robet Redford seeking the truth about whether Pope Pius XII was a Nazi sympathizer.  I was drawn to this movie as Pope Pius XII consecrated the Madanna del Ghisallo chapel overlooking Lake Como as a bicyclist's shrine in 1949.  The journalist goes to Rome, Israel, Berlin and Spain meeting with people who convince him that the Pope saved the lifes of hundreds of Jews, including his parents he learns at the end of the movie.  It was a nice little history lesson, but a very feeble movie filled with miscast actors, including the journalist's heavily made up girl friend and boss, who looked as of the director had plucked them off a model's runaway thinking their good looks would look nice on the screen.

Per usual I was able to end the day with an "Un Certain Regard" film, this time from South Korea, that  looked all that more stylish and accomplished compared to what I had just seen.  A young, very determined and idealistic detective in "The Shameless" goes undercover in a brothel seeking a murderer.  This was more like it, and a fine way to end the day.  I was only sorry I wasn't able to discuss it with Ralph on a hike back to our apartment.  Instead, for probably the last time I rode my bike home.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cannes Day Two

Ordinarily Day Two starts off with the first Competition screening of the festival bright and early at 8:30 a.m. in the 2,300 seat Palais. This year that time slot went to "Mad Max: Fury Road," an out of Competition entry, which would receive its official world premier that evening at 7:30 with the full Red Carpet treatment.  I had no burning desire to see it, knowing I'd have ample opportunity later stateside, but since the first film of the day that I did wish to see didn't start until 9:30 I went down to the Palais just to see if I cod get in and if the procedure for us non-ticket holders was the same as last year.

There were about fifty people in the Last Minute Line when I arrived at 8:15 positioned on the outside of the second row of barriers this year instead of inside them.  And, as last year, we weren't allowed to start filtering in until the very last minute at nearly 8:30.  Surprisingly, there was so little interest among the press for this screening that there was space in the Palais on the first floor rather than in the balcony for all of us.  More often than not we're turned away from the Palais and funneled to the Soixante Theater for a 9:00 a.m. screening of the film.  Getting into the early screening meant I could watch fifty rather than twenty minutes of the action before slipping out.  It was instant crashes and explosions and furious fightering and loud noise.  It wss unrelenting for thirty minutes.  Where there was a brief lull, the audience responded with applause, either in appreciation of all the mayhem or in thanks for relief from it.  

When I switched theaters It was a dramatic shift from the grand Palais to a fifty-seat screening room and an equally dramatic shift from the desert to the jungle and from fantasy to reality for the true story of "Pure Life," recounting the expedition of a young Frenchman in 1949 in the Amazon seeking an isolated tribe.  The director wishfully pitched his movie as a cross between a Herzogian epic and "Into the Wild."  The young Frenchman was ill-equipped for his adventure and lost nearly all his funds playing poker with an ex-con just before he ventures into the jungle.  He had to trade a watch for a canoe at one point. He disappears never to be found, only his journal.  His father spent twelve years futilely searching for him.  The first time director wasn't much better prepared to do justice to the story than the Frenchman was in undertaking his adventure.

"Twice Upon a Time in the West" gave promise of being the wackiest film of the festival--a Bulgarian feature  paying homage to Sergio Leone's masterpiece with Claudia Cardinale playing herself.  Cardinale no longer wishes to live in Paris and decides to retreat from the world and go live in anonymity in Spain where "Once Upon a Time in the West" was filmed.  Not too many others thought this would make for an interesting movie, as there were only three of us attracted to this screening. Not even the star power of Cardinale, who gave a Master Class here a couple years ago and was a recent tributee at Telluride, could fill the thirty-two seat Gray 4.  Cardinale was a delight counting stories from her long career though she talks more about Fellini than Leone.  She felt lucky to have lived 140 lives, one for each movie she appeared in.  This movie may have had a top-notch premise, but unfortunately it didn't have a director who could execute it.

During the three years I have known Janina she has cultivated in me an interest in ballet, one of her passions.  Thanks to her I was drawn to "Ulyana Lopatakine," a French documentary on the renowned Russian ballerina.  It was equal parts rehearsals, performances, interviews with her and interviews with those who know her raving about her brilliance.  She made for an excellent subject and a most captivating documentary.  She was positively radiant and a rare, rare talent.

"Fou d'Amour" was my second French movie of the day that was a true story about a young French man with hubris who dies young.  This one was a philandering priest.  The movie opens with him being led to the guillotine.  His head is lopped off and left in a basket to narrate his story.  It is 1959 and he has been assigned to a small rural church.  He is very charismatic and warm.  All the women, young and old, fall in love with him and offer themselves to him.  He ranges about his parish on a bicycle for his assignations until a wealthy woman buys him a scooter.  That allows him greate freedom.  If he had stuck to the bike, he might not have gotten so deep into trouble.  If Gaspar Noe had made this movie, it might have been worthy of being in one of the Competitive categories, but instead it was in the Market looking for attention.

I ended the day with a pair of "Un Certain Regard" entries by accomplished directors who'd had films invited to the festival over the years and I at last had the pleasure of genuine cinema by masters of the art.  The honor of the opening film for this category went to the Japanese film "An" by Naomi Kawase, a fomer winner in the Competiton field. This story of a gruff man with a past who runs a small food stand and the kindly 75-year old woman who befriends him was just a bit too slight to be worthy of being in Competiton, though it had to be a tough decision for Thierry Fremaux. The film opens during the cherry blossom season, allowing Kawase to include many of her signature nature and cloud shots, and had her usual social sensitivity.

Just as "An" was a characteristic Japanese film, "One Floor Below" by Radu Munteau was a chararacteistic Romanian film of gritty every-day realism.  A murder takes place in a small apartment building.  A tenant who could assist the police chooses to withhold information that could help them solve the case.  As with "An" this film had a simple profundity that displayed the power of cinema to give us insight into the human condition. I had a fine midnight ride back to the apartment on a hill uplifted by two fine films knowing many more awaited me.  


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.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Provence

This year's Paris to Cannes ride, my twelth, seemed the shortest yet, thanks in part to tail winds and sunny skies the last seven days after starting out with three days of rain.  The 681 miles passed without a sense of time largely though because of my familiarity and appreciation of all things French.  I was continually enraptured by the scenery the entire distance, feeling no boredom with my surroundings or urgency to be further along.

All of France is remarkably picturesque. It is a land of well-manicured fields, well-kempt stone buildings, pockets of forests and just a general sense of care for how all looks, from  the garb of gendarmes to the trim on one's home.  Much as I enjoyed my recent thousand mile ride from Atlanta to Chicago, it had no such aura.  The French truly have an esthetic sense that casts a sense of well-being over all.

Provence was a splendid culmination to my ride.  It is dotted with more charming villages than any other region.  Each town unveils itself as a wonderful discovery.  Some may boast a museum or a chateau or an ancient cathedral or an array of outdoor cafes or bed-and-breakfasts to attract tourists, but they mostly just remain true to their heritage of century old stone buildings and equally old plane trees.  The entire region is a glory of plane trees.  They line the roads in the countryside and through the towns.


They have a majesty unlike any other tree.


Very often they are only on one side of the road, as the advent of the automobile necessitated the widening of the roads and the removal of those on one side.  A narrow lane to a chateau provided an example of what a magnifcent arcade they once offered.


Most of the lower limbs on the trees have been pruned, but a plane tree in the small town of Lamanon, less than fifty miles south of Avignon, demonstrated how luxuriant such a tree can be if left untended.


It is considered the largest and at 400 years, oldest, known plane tree.  It takes thirty men with out-stretched arms to encircle the circumference of its foliage.  It is on private property that does not offer visitors a closer look than beyond its gates.  There were no signs to the tree.  I asked at the local tabac shop for directions.  I was told to go to the round-about and follow the sign to the stadium.  It was across the road from it.  As I approached the round-about a car passed me and the driver stuck his arm out pointing to the left.  One of the customers in the shop had hopped in his car to make sure I found it.  It was a good thing he had, as I wouldn't have recognized this giant tree with the hanging limbs hiding its distinctive trunk.  It was another fine example of the French showing care for one who expresses an interest in something they hold dear, such as their Tour de France.

Unfortunately, I found no such person when I was in search of the spot on the Rhone River where Hannibal was said to have crossed it in 218 B.C. with 46,000 soldiers and 38 elephants on his way from Spain to Italy.  This had some interest to me as I had recently read Richard Halliburton's account of riding an elephant over the Alps in the '30s, reenacting Hannibal's march.  According to Peter Mayle's book, "Provence A to Z," the Rhone crossing was thought to be near the small town of Montfaucon.  A woman in the town said it was about five kilometers south.  I biked along a dirt path hugging the river but found no plaque or monument marking the spot, just a couple of places for boats to dock or launch.  Twenty miles south I inquired further at the tourist office in Avignon.  Three different agents knew nothing and searched the Internet without success other than finding that there was a museum devoted to Hannibal in Nimes, about fifty miles to the west, opposite the direction I was headed.  I will seek it out another time.

Mayle recommended a musuem devoted to lavender that was somewhat on my route.  Since lavender is as much an emblem of Provence as is the plane tree, I was happy to give it a look. There had been numerous small museums on my route devoted to someone's obsession or passion (ceramics, farm machinery, horse drawn carriages) that could have been fascinating, but I had resisted them all saving myself for the lavender museum. 


It was beyond Avignon in the small town of Coustellet.  There was no missing it, as official road signs advertised it, recognizing its popularity and importance.


It was opened in 1991 by a family who has grown lavender for over a century.  Admission came with a small device that one held to their ear for a commentary at twenty-five different stations throughout the museum, including two videos.  The word lavender is derived from the Latin laver, to wash, as it was initially used to scent water.  Over the centuries its uses have expanded greatly--as a cure for insomnia, irritability, stress, headaches, sunburn, insect bites, cuts, burns, colds, sore throat, lice and more.  The musuem boasts the world's largest collection of copper distilling devices, some dating to the 1600s.  To insure purity, the conscientious distiller only uses rain water.

One of the videos demonstrated the planting of the lavender with a machine and a crew of eight. They could plant 170,000 plants in a day.  It takes a lot to produce a liter of lavender oil--130 kilos of the purple flowers.  It takes three years for a plant to reach maturity.  After seven years of productivity, it is dug up and replaced.  There were rows of the bushy plants around the museum, but they wouldn't begin to flower until July.  Even unflowered, the rows and rows of plants, that can go to the horizon, are a spectacular sight.

From the museum I ducked down to Salon-de-Provence, where I came upon the oddest round-about of the trip.  Many are dedicated to DeGaulle, but rare is the one honoring Françoise Mitterand, one of his successors.


As always, my travels through France took me past a few gypsy encampments on the outskirts of cities.  If I didn't know what they were, I might have mistaken them for a campgrounds.


Even more common are signs for Emmaus--resale stores and shelters for the indigent comparable to the Salvage Army.  Nuclear power plants are another object reminding me I'm in France.


And of course there is the occasional memorial to the Resistance, wholely unique to France.


I camped last night in a forest that I had all to myself twenty miles over a 1,200 foot ridge from Cannes in the same spot as I did last year.  I almost didn't recognize the side road I'd taken to it, as it was somewhat washed out.  I had to push my bike up it this year, further ensuring my privacy. With some ninety nights of wild-camping each of the past eleven summers in Europe, along with a previous couple months in Scandinavia, I'm somewhere around one thousand such nights in Europe to go along with my hundreds of others all over the globe.  The world is truly my campground. I will miss my tent the next two weeks, as I'll be sharing an apartment with Ralph from Telluride once again during our movie bash.  I'll enjoy our camaraderie, but not necessarily sleeping in a box.