Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cannes Day One

Unlike years past this year's program did not specify a film's genre, which had allowed me to quickly skim those identified as horror or animation just to see if they had a bicycle element. That slowed my process of wading through all the blurbs on the better than thousand films being screened over the next twelve days that I have yet to complete it.  I did read up on all 110 films shown today to make sure nothing important slipped past me.  Many films only play once.  I would have been very disappointed to have missed "S Is for Stanley," a documentary on Kubrick, though it does have a second screening and was worthwhile enough that it could turn up at Telluride in the theatre it devotes to films on cinema.   

It was an Italian production focused on Emilio D'Alessandro, an Italian who worked with Kubrick for thirty years up until Kubrick's death in 1999, initially as his driver, then as an all round factotum and confidante. He wrote a book in 2012 about their time together "Stanley Kubrick and Me."  Much of the movie is an interview with him sitting in his garage surrounded by boxes of Kubrick memorabilia.  It was a perfect setting for this still very simple and unpretentious guy who moved to London as a young man and married an English woman.  

He was an aspiring race car driver who worked part-time as a cab driver. He won Kubrick's favor when he delivered a large prop for "Clockwork Orange" in a snowstorm--the large penis that barely fit into his cab.  He called upon him for more work and then hired him full time.  Even though D'Allessandro was around for the filming of his movies and worked with all the cast, he never watched a completed movie until he briefly retired from working for Kubrick and moved back to Italy in 1991 at the age of fifty.  When he did watch them, he recognized that Kubrick was a genius.  Kubrick asked him which was his favorite.  He told him "Spartacus," which made Kubrick groan, as it was his least favorite.

Kubrick came to rely on him so much that he put aside his work on "Eyes Wide Shut" when he left him.  Only only resumed it when D'Allassandro missed Kubrick so much that he retired from his retirement.  Kubrick named a cafe for him in the movie and gave him a role as a magazine stand seller and gave his equally unpretentious and down-to-earth wife a role as an extra in the movie as well.  The rest of the cast thought she must have been someone important when Kubrick treated her so well on the set.  

D'Allesandro had no idea what the white powder was that Jack Nicholson sniffed when he drove him around during "The Shining."  He was equally mystified that such a rich man would roll his own cigarettes.  He'd never breathed such fumes before and they stunk up his cab and made his head explode.  He was most distraught that Nicholson would make him slow down when he spotted a pretty girl and invite her into his cab.  He told Kubrick he didn't like him and didn't want to have anything to do with him.  Kubrick obliged him. 

There are at least three other documentaries on filmmakers playing in the market.  The others are on Ken Loach, who has a film in Competition, which he says is his last film, and Richard Linklater and Johnny To. No subject seems too trivial for a documentary.   There is one from Denmark called "Bugs" on insects as food and another on the six back-up dancers in Madonna's "Truth or Dare" from twenty-five years ago.  The oddest on today's schedule was "The Founders," about the thirteen amateur women golfers who founded the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) in 1950.  Only four are still alive.  Babe Didrickson, the most prominent of them, died long ago of cancer at the age of 42, but she featured prominently in the ample archival footage. The LPGA fully acknowledges the Founders with an annual tournament in their honor. It was a fascinating history lesson following the LPGA to the present.  Althea Gibson, a two-time Wimbledon winner, joined the LPGA, breaking the color barrier at many tournaments.  There wasn't much interest in this, as there is in the sport in general.  There was only one other person in the audience and he left before it was even half over.

Brie Larson, recent Oscar winner for "Room" and Donald Sutherland, on their year's jury, star in "Basmati Blues," an American version of a Bollywood film with song and danc.  It largely takes place in India after opening in Manhattan. Larson is a brilliant scientist who has designed a strain of rice (Rice 9 in a seeming homage to Vonnuegut's Ice 9) that produces 22 per cent more per acre.  She is sent to India by the evil CEO of her company, Sutherland, to promote it, not knowing that when farmers sign up to use it they will be indentured to buying it for five years, as it will not serve as a seed for the following year's crop.  Staying true to its Bollywood nature, it is also a love story, as two Indians vie for Larson's heart, one who wears a suit and works for Larson's company and the other an idealistic son of a farmer who had to drop out of college due to lack of funds.  There are occasional board room scenes back in Manhattan. In one Sutherland sings a song about the "greater good" with the lyrics "got to loosen up the child labor laws and get the kiddies off the street" and "the lion takes the lion's share."

This was my first movie of the day and I might not have gotten to see it if the staff hadn't bungled it's starting time, moving it up to 9:30 rather than the posted 9:45 in the schedule in the 63-seat Leirins One screening room as it could well have filled with buyers and people with priority badges.  People streamed in after it started and filled the aisles. 

The Dutch film "Hope" taking place in Manhattan also indicted the corporate world.  An iealistic forty-year old Dutch woman banker decides to move to New York to try to reform the greedy banking system.  She is fired from her job and then tries to change the ways of a high profile banker who heads one of the largest banks in the world and also happens to be Dutch.  She seduces him and is given a special project at his bank to make it more socially responsible and profitable.  Her proposals, including pay cuts for the executives, are not well accepted.  Her affair spirals out of control.  When she gives the story to a reporter the object of her desire has her arrested for stalking him.

"Good Luck Sam" is also a commentary on our economic times.  A small French factory that makes skis is on the brink of bankruptcy when the Swedish skier it was sponsoring for the Olympics is forced by his federation to use skis from another company.  The company tries to save itself by sponsoring the first ever Algerian to ski in the Winter Olympics and that skier is one of the company's owners, well played by Sami Bouajila, who shared a best actor award at Cannes in 2006 for "Days of Glory."  He is of Algerian heritage but he has never lived there and doesn't speak Arabic and has never been a competitive skier.  Qualification from smaller countries isn't as strict as from larger countries so he has a chance to do it.  He can also earn a $20,000 stipend from the international Olympic committee for his efforts, which his company desperately needs.  When he goes to Algeria to collect it, the national committee only gives him $2,000 of it.  When he begins training he doesn't tell his wife what he is doing.  She is appalled when she learns.  There are many other obstacles to overcome.  The winter scenery is spectacular and the skiing cinematic.

The only film I saw with Ralph, who once again is letting me put my sleeping bag down in his accommodation, was the last screening of the night, a Japanese thriller, "Himitsu, The Top Secret."  Its plot was a secret as well, as the program had nothing to say about it.  There was only one other film in the final time slot of the day, other than Woody Allen's Opening Night film which I couldn't consider as it required formal attire, a horror film that neither of us had any desire to see.  

Ralph lived in Tokyo for over ten years and I spent a couple months bicycling it, so we are always drawn to Japanese films. We weren't sure if we would stick with it as it was 149 minutes long and we didn't care to fall into sleep deprivation too soon into the festival, but this police thriller held us and most of the audience until the very end even though it's multiple story lines weren't fully resolved.  It was a sci-if police thriller with a special unit solving crimes by searching the memories of corpses.  The science hasn't been perfected, so the evidence it produces can't be used in court, but it greatly assists the police in solving crimes.  This was stylishly directed and acted and a somewhat satisfying final dose of cinema for the day before the meatier fare begins on Day Two.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Another year of coverage. I look forward to reading the reviews. Of note: 'Good Luck Sam' was coproduced by a Belgian company run by the Dardenne brothers. It has good reviews but no US distribution yet. Your review of 'Himitsu, The Top Secret' is the first I could find. And 'Basmati Blues' - oddly enough- has no reviews I could find either. The movie was in the works in 2013. Probably getting pushed now because Brie Larson won an Oscar.