Sunday, May 28, 2017

Cannes Day Twelve--The Awards

When I watched "The Square" for the second time just hours before this evening's awards ceremony, I was more convinced than ever that it would have strong advocates on the jury that could well win it the Palm d'Or, though it wasn't listed among the favorites by any of the prognosticators.  The festival thought so little of it that it programmed it in the smallest of the four theatres for the day's repeat screenings of all the Competition films.  But I read the jury right and it came away with the prize for the best film of the festival.  Jury president Pedro Almodovar said he was impressed by the "incredible imagination" of its director Ruben Östlund.

It was easily the most audacious film of the nineteen films in Competition with scenes of impact and social commentary that included such widely disparate subjects as Tourette's syndrome, beggars, an ignored chef, a used condom and on and on.  A breathtaking ten-minute scene of a bare-chested performance artist bounding around imitating a menacing gorilla at a dinner party of wealthy donors at an art museum was without compare. It alone could have earned the film its Palm d'Or. The performance intimidates several of the formally-clad to flee. When it starts getting out of hand, the museum director tries to intercede and end the performance, but it only escalates, culminating with the gorilla molesting a women.  It takes awhile before anyone is brave enough to intercede.  When someone finally does others gradually join in pummeling the gorilla as if they were in a back alley.  

That is the most extreme of the many confrontational scenes in the movie, most of which  are at first comical but are anything but.  The museum director, who carries the picture, has several awkward encounters with an American reporter  that one would like to laugh at but really can't.  One is the most unlikely of tug-of-wars over a condom they have just used.  The woman lives with a chimp who just wanders in the background, a device that had to please juror Maren Ade, director of "Toni Erdman" that had an outrageous gorilla scene.

In the press conference after the awards ceremony a reporter asked Almodovar why the jury didn't give the Palm d'Or to "120 Beats Per Minute," the French film on gay rights that won the top prize from the FIPRESCI jury of foreign journalists and many thought would win here, receiving the Grand Prix instead.  Almodovar said he liked it a lot, but "The Square" more. One of Ralph's favorites, the Russian film "Loveless," that had the highest rating from Screen magazine's panel, took the third place Jury Award.  It continued the tradition of the highest rated film not winning the Palm d'Or.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the eight awards was Sofia Coppla winning best director for "The Beguiled."  It was a fine film that I thought the jury might want to make a statement with and let her be just the second woman to win the Palm d'Or.  Instead, she becomes the second woman to win the best director award after Russian Yuliya Sointseva in 1961 for "Le Dit des Annees de fer."  That award garnered the most talk in the post--awards press conference with the jury. Each of  the four woman jurors spoke at length on women getting their due in the industry.  Coppola wasn't on hand to receive her award.  Nor was Nicole Kidman for a special 70th Anniversary award for her roles in two Competition films and two Out-of-Competition films.  The best actress award went to the truly deserving German Diane Kruger in "In the Fade."  That was one of three films I watched today for a second time.  I came out of that convinced she would win the award for the range and power of her performance responding to the death of her husband and young son from a bomb placed outside her husband's shop.

Joaquin Phoenix won the best actor award for Lynn Ramsey's "You Were Never Really Here."The jury liked the film enough to also give it best screenplay, which it shared with the Greek horror movie "The Killing of the Sacred Deer."  Ralph and I watched the first twenty minutes of Ramsey's film before the Awards Ceremony.  It is a barrage of images and quick takes that are all clues of what is to come, but even having seen the film the day before, we couldn't make sense of all the clues.  Ralph couldn't even remember Phoenix ripping a page out of a book and then turning the next page in the reverse order that one would read it after we walked out of the theater and I asked what it could possibly mean.  That was just one of many of such clips.  The critics are giving Ramsey the benefit of the doubt that she knows what she's doing even though her audience couldn't possibly.  Even so, it's nice to see her film recognized.  

I would have liked the Hungarian film "Jupiter's Moon" to have gotten an award, especially after watching it again today.  Juror Will Smith said he loved it, but he didn't have enough sway or support to give it an award.  It's lead actor had to be in the running for best actor, but it could also have won for best director, especially with the airborne figure of a Syrian refugee who has taken three gunshots to the chest drifting and floating throughout the movie.  His new powers are as much of a mystery to him as to the doctor who befriends him and uses his talent to raise money.  The movie raises the question, "The Bible is full of angels, but we never see one."

"Rodin" was the only movie I saw for the first time today.  Vincent Lindon, a former best actor winner, could have easily won another for his superb portrayal of the French sculptor starting in 1880 at the age of 40 when he is about to make a major breakthrough in his art.  He begins a tumultuous ten year affair with Camille Claudel.  He sleeps with many of his models and his matronly housekeeper.  It is during this period that he completes his controversial sculpture of Balzac that he spent seven years trying to realize.  This was a much more understated biopic than the earlier one on Godard that likewise could have won a best actor award.  This jury however elected to go with the American, as did Spielberg's jury when it gave the award to Bruce Dern in "Nebraska" rather than to the sensational Italian in "Great Beauty."

Looking over the schedule on Repeat Sunday, I would have gladly watched more than half of the movies a second time, including both "Rodin" and the Godard pic "Redoubtable." That may be the highest percentage ever. I know Janina will love both of them, so as with many of the movies I've just seen, I look forward to watching them again with her and gaining her academic and scholarly insights.  We'll be meeting up Wednesday over in the Cevannes at Craig and Onni's to begin a month or more of biking.  As sensational as Cannes always is, I know that will be even moreso.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cannes Day Eleven

As Ralph and I nervously sweated out getting in to see Claire Denis' film "Let the Sunshine In" that was one of the Director's Fortnight winners, we continued our discussion that we had been engaged in twice already today in other lines of why Lynn Ramsey's film "You Were Never Really Here" didn't quit work for us. We both appreciated Joaquim Phoenix as a disheveled, dispirited private detective, even more morose than Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea," and Ramsey's usual directorial flair,  but all the flashbacks to his time in the military and the FBI and to his childhood trying to explain why he was such a broken man seemed to muddle the movie rather than set it straight.  The mayhem that ensues when he rescues the teen-aged daughter of a politician from the sex-trade further fractures the movie. Phoenix actually calls the man who gives him assignments at one point and asks, "What the fuck is going on?"  There are so many strands to his nightmare, they never coalesce.  

We had both found the time to check the early reviews.  They were generally favorable, but rather sympathetic, acknowledging that Ramsey had been editing the film up to the last minute, so that it might not have been exactly what she wanted.  They all had hopes that she might be able to improve it and make it more palatable.  It was unfortunately not the bold master work worthy of the Palm d'Or, as Ralph and I had been hoping.  So that leaves the competition wide open.  Ralph thinks it could be one of the two Russian films or the Greek horror movie.  I think it could be the Swedish black comedy or the French gay rights movie.  For the first time other than my first festival fourteen years ago when "Fahrenheit 911" won the Palm d'Or, there has not been an exceptional film or two that entered the awards ceremony as a favorite.

The Un Certain Regard jury surprised all giving its top prize to the Iraninan film "A Man of Integrity."  Five films received awards, but the leading contender, the German film "Western," received nothing.  It was no surprise that the five-person jury, headed by Uma Thurman, would give the American thriller "Wind River" an award, produced as it was by Harvey Weinstein.  He accepted the best director award for Taylor Sheridan and read his acceptance speech.  When it came to thanking Weinstein, he said, "I'll adlib here and add, 'who is incredible,'" drawing laughs. The other winners were the Mexican film "April's Daughter," best actor to Jasmine Trinca the Italian film "Fortuna'" and the opening night French film "Barbara."  I had been hoping the French film "Workshop" would win the top prize as I had been turned away from seeing it and would then have the opportunity now, since the winner was screened after the ceremony.  

Since I had seen "A Man of Integrity," it gave me the opportunity to see the Claire Denis film starring Juliette Binoche as an artist in Paris.  She is divorced and has a string of short-lived affairs, antagonizing two of her lovers by complaining about their behavior in bed.  This dialogue-heavy film concludes with a surprise appearance of Gerard Depardieu.  It's not an official Cannes for me without seeing him in at least one film.  Ralph and I scanned the theater looking for Barry Jenkins, who cites Denis as one of his influences.  He included her "Beau Travail" in his program at the Walter Reade in New York this past January as one of his favorite films. He is at the festival serving on the short film jury, but we had failed to catch a glimpse of him.

"Let the Sunshine In" shared the best French film award with Philippe Garrel's "Lover for a Day," another movie set in Paris about people sleeping around and talking a lot.  A college student breaks up with her boyfriend and shows up at her father's small apartment asking if she can stay with him for awhile.  He has no reservations about letting her sleep on his couch even though his girl friend has recently moved in.  He is a college professor of philosophy and his girl friend is one of his students, the same age as his daughter.  He has an agreement with his girl friend that they can have affairs on the side, but when she does, he's not happy about it at all.  Filmed in black-and-white added more merit to the film than it probably deserved.

As tedious as all the self-indulgent ruminating in both of these French films, it was a welcome break from all the portrayals of devious, lying, stealing, violent-prone miscreants that had come to dominate the festival.  "A Ciambra," which won best European film in the Director's Fortnight, focused the deviance upon a 14-year old gypsy boy in Italy who is well on his way to a life of crime and a stint in prison, such as his older brother has just served.  He steals luggage off trains and breaks into homes and teams up with an older African.  The film is dizzying at times, it is so fast-paced.  The poor boy is faced by an extreme moral dilemma at the end that will define his life to come.  

Even more repugnant than the grypsy boy was a very suave woman who ghost writes autophiograohies of celebrities in Roman Polanski's "Based on a True Story." She's another of those "not-who-they-seem-to-be" characters who've populated many of this year's films.  She befriends a best-selling novelist played by Emaneulle Seigner, who seems to be her alter-ego.  They become such pals they begin living together.  Seigner gives her the password to her computer.  She answers her emails and sends out a mass email to all her friends to leave her alone so she can write.  For some unexplained reason she wishes to destroy the novelist.  It is so obvious one wonders when the novelist is going to order her out of her life.  This was another "get-this-over-with-movie" begging all bounds of credibility as it wallows in titilation.  The festival did Polanski a favor by giving this a Special Screening in the Lumiere.  At least it was saved until the end of the festival, just as last year's disaster by Sean Penn that has been fully suppressed. This was no disaster, just an insult.  It will find an audience, just as did "Elle."

Cannes Day Ten

The middle of my day from eleven until six was consumed by a four-pack of documentaries, one after the other in Palias J with not even enough time between each for me to duck out into the light of the day.  Each was a reprise, having screened earlier as a special presentation.

"Twelve Days" by the veteran French director Raymond Depardon led off.  The title is taken from the period of time a mental patient can be held without his consent.  The film is a series of hearings between a judge sitting on one side of a desk and a patient with a representative or two on the other.  A feature film trying to embellish their painful stories of why they were confined and why they think they should be released or not could not be more dramatic.  One woman had been held for thirteen years as all she could think about was suicide.  She wanted to be released so she could return to her third floor apartment so she could jump out the window.  There wasn't a speck of humor in any of their predictments, only great pathos.

"Demons in Paradise" on the genocidal civil war in Sri Lanka going back to the '80s was equally powerful.  A documentary crew follows a man who escaped to Canada returning to the scenes of his terror as a youth after decades away. Tears repeatedly flow as he meets people who gave him and his family refuge at the time as they recall the horror of those times.  Among the recollections are executions entire villages were obliged to witness.  

Ninety-one year old  Claude Lanzmann recounts three trips he made to North Korea in "Napalm."  They were in 1958, 2004 and 2015.  Much of the movie is his voice over with footage from his latest trip, with a prolonged reminisce on a young woman he was smitten by on his first trip and how difficult it was to spend any time with her.  He calls himself "a foolish French Loverboy." The strongest impression she left with him was when she unbuttoned her blouse and gave him a quick glimpse of a black streaked scar under her breast from an American napalm attack, thus the title of the film.

The only screening of this batch that came to filling the 73-seat theater was a documentary devoted to Elvis called "Promised Land."  It is a tragic story in a way as were the other three with a bloated Elvis dying prematurely at 42 and the director making that a metaphor for the United States as he drives around the country in Elvis' Rolls Royce during the presidential election asking people how their life's are.  They aren't so good.  He is harassed for choosing the Rolls and not one of his Cadillacs, an American car. He allows people he meets to sit in the limo and gives some of them rides, including Ethan Hawke and Alec Baldwin.  Baldwin insists there is no way that Trump could possibly win.

My doc fest was bookended by the day's two Competition films.  A German woman married to a Kurd living in Germany in Fatih Akin's "In the Fade" warns a young woman that she shouldn't leave her bike unlocked parked out in front of her husband's store telling her it's a dangerous neighborhood.  The young woman replies that she will be leaving it for just a moment and rushes away.  Lashed to the bike is a bomb which kills the Kurd and his young son.  The police suspect that it is drug related as the Kurd served five years in jail for drug dealing.  His wife insists he is no longer involved in drugs.  The killers are eventually caught and put on trial.  This was the first film where I felt genuine tension as this well-done story about a real issue unravels with the most dramatic conclusion of the festival.  The only flaw was the woman leaving the bike not locking it.  She doesn't immediately set off the bomb, so there was the danger that someone would steal it before she could.

I felt tension too in Fracois Ozon's "Amant Double" until I realized Ozon was just toying with us as he ventures into horror and dreamland.  If I had been watching this in a press screening I wouldn't have been surprised if there had been sudden bursts of boos during the screening as this story about a young woman who falls in love with her shrink begins to fall apart.  After she moves in with her shrink, she discovers he has a twin who he doesn't acknowledge, so much so that he has changed his last name so they can't be linked.  He is a shrink too, so she decides to sit on his couch to try to get to know his brother better.  It begins as an intriguing psychological thriller taking place in Paris, but degenerates into a bunch of maddening hokum.

I was hoping to end my day with one of the award winners in the Critics Weekly sidebar.  I had no problem getting into the screening, but rather than a feature it was several long shorts.  They were well done, but not as fully satisfying as a full-fledged movie.  At least it only went on for an hour so I was able to get home by midnight.

Tomorrow will bring the screenings of the Un Certain Regard and Director's Fortnight winners. They haven't been announced but the obvious choices are "Western" and "The Florida Project." MWe are all waiting for that masterpiece that will blow us away and will stand out as the Palm d'Or, announced Sunday. The onky film left to be screened is that of Lynn Ramsey, the film I was most looking forward to seeing when the schedule was announced.  It's happened before that the last film screened took top honors--"The Class."

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Cannes Day Nine

Today was the first of two days of repeat screenings of all the Competition, Un Certain Regard and Special Screenings that have already played.  I was only one behind on the Competition films, but had missed six of the seventeen Un Certain Regard films.  I was able to catch up with two of them, including the Opening Night film "Barbara" by Mathie Amalric, who stars in the film as a movie director making a film about a singer by the name of Barbara.  As is the tendency at Cannes, it wasn't given the Opening Night honor based on the quality of the film, but rather the festival's respect and loyalty to its maker.  Barbara is the typical singer with a flawed character.  At least there was a sufficient amount of music to somewhat please those watching it.

"Fortunata" was my day's other catch-up film, also taking its title from the lead character, a flamboyant thirty-year old woman in a custody battle with her thuggish husband, a security guard.  These Italians go at each other as venomously as the Russian couple in "Loveless." She is a hair dresser with aspirations of opening her own shop.  Presently she simply makes house calls.   Neither of them are a particularly capable parent and their rebellious daughter, who is prone to spitting, is resistant to the shrink who has to issue an opinion on which parent is more capable.  There was no challenge following the story of this fairly standard commercial fare.

"The Desert Bride," premiering today in Un Centrain Regard, was a heart-warming love story with just a  strand of unpleasantness.  It is the first film by two women directors from Argentina about an older woman who has lost her job as a live-in maid and finds herself passing through a small town.  A guy her age, who is a traveling salesman, takes a shine to her and is able to attempt to win her affections when she inadvertently leaves her bag in his camper.  It goes missing and they go on a mission to find it.  She's initially resistant to his charms, but when she realize he is a genuinely caring guy, she starts preening like the women in "The Beguiled."  This came in at a tidy 78 minutes.

The Russian film "A Gentle Creature" in Competiton was nearly twice as long and felt like it.  It was as if the director wanted to make the audience feel trapped in the same Kafkaesque nightmare as the woman the story follows taking a long journey to visit her husband in prison.  When she arrives at the town where he's incarcerated she is subjected to one nightmarish run-around after another.  She has brought him a package of goods with such things as condensed milk that becomes a huge bone of contention.  This was an agonizing commentary on people unwilling or incapable of helping or caring about anyone but themselves.  In the present political climate of demonizing Russians, this will only add to their disfavor.

Frantic, conniving Americans were featured in "Good Time," by the Safdie brothers, the day's other Competition film.  This is their fifth film, but a great break through and discovery by the festival. Two brothers in the film, one played by one of the directors, botch a bank robbery.  The severely mentally handicapped brother played by the director is caught by the police.  His fast-talking, fast-thinking brother tries to bail him out, but then has to resort to other means to rescue him when he is sent to a hospital after an altercation in the prison over the television.  The manic-paced film is laced with one brilliant twist after another that would have Tarantino drooling.  This is another I'll be happy to see again this Sunday when we are given one last chance to see all the Competitin films spread out over the day before the awards ceremony with nothing else to see.  There are quite a few that fit in this category.  None that really really stand out as my pick for the Palm d'Or.  Hopefully that will be the Lynn Ramsey film Saturday, given the last time slot as Ramsey was still putting the final touches on it.

My day also took me to Afghanistan with the documentary "The Prince of Nothingwood" about a zesty Afghani director who has made over one hundred films and is a much beloved figure in his country.  Besides Hollywood and Bollywood he inhabits his own film industry of Nothingwood.  The French director of this documentary follows him all over the country filming movies and also showing his films to locals in small halls.  Crowds gather to watch him film.  He is ever the maestro.  Even when he's not on camera the director catches him in the distance entertaining the locals with his gargantuan personality.  


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cannes Day Eight

 I suffered my first day of rejection this year, turned away from two screenings and the Master Class with Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuaron.  The rejections came at the end of the day and left me with no film to see in the 10:30 p.m. time slot.  I allowed myself to be swept up by the buzz for "The Florida Project," a small American indie about a six-year old growing up poor in Orlando with Willem Dafoe, and joined a line for it at the 240-seat Arcades an hour before its scheduled start that I knew was probably more than the capactiy of the theater.  I had turned away from the line and was headed to my original choice, "Rodin," a Competitioin film that had gotten bad reviews and that I was willing to postpone until Sunday, when Ralph called out to me.  He was in line too.  If he was making an attempt on this, I figured I would too, as we hadn't seen many movies together this year since his credentials give him easier access to the Lumiere Palais screenings.  

We both fell more than fifty people short of getting in. I hopped on my bike and sped a mile up to the Miramar for the only other late night screening, but it too was full.  So it was an early night for me.  I got back to our apartment early enough to give Janina a call, who just arrived in London after crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary. She'd spent the day in London engaging I her favorite pursuit, visiting art museums.  We'll be meeting up in a week for a bike ride across the south of France. My biking has been suffering with my movie submersion, but I was able to get in a a couple miles this afternoon when Ralph and I were turned away from the Master Class.  I made a dash to the supermarket to stock up on groceries for the last four days of the festival (bread, milk, cereal, lentils and pâté), my first visit resupply of provisions since the festival began.

At least my day had gotten off to a good start with Sofia Coppola's "Beguiled," the second movie in Competition  starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidmann.  This remake of a Clint Eastwood picture about a wounded Union solider during the Civil War taken in by the women of a small girl's boarding school had enough sizzle to be a threat for Coppola to join Jane Campion as the only woman to win the Palm d'Or.  A little girl collecting mushrooms comes upon Farrell cowering under a tree.  She is startled.  He gently asks her if she is afraid.  She says she is and he says he is too.  But she is very kind-hearted and takes him back to her small school in a mansion in rural isolation.  Kidmann is the head mistress.  There are only five students and one other teacher, Kirsten Dunst.  Not all of them think it's a good idea to harbor the fugitive, but their "Christian" values prevail and they decide to look after him.  The women immediately all begin preening and dressing up to win his attention.  It is initially amusing, but then gets woefully serious.

I jumped from the American south to rural Russia for my next film, "Closeness," by a first-time director, allowing Thierry Fremaux to introduce the jury judging first-time films who were in attendance.  This was almost an ethnographic film featuring a small Jewish community that is trying to raise the funds to gain the release of two of its members who were kidnapped.  Style prevailed over substance.  I was hoping Ralph could tell me more about what we had just seen, but he too found it too muddled to fully decipher. 

The scenery is almost the star of the Argentinian film "The Summit," a ski resort in the Andes of Chile where eleven heads of state of South American countries with oil have gathered.  The story focuses on the president of Argentina.  Rather than concentrating on the intrigue of the leaders each battling for their own interests and banding against the United States, the film is sidetracked by a side story of the unstable daughter of the Argentinian president.  Christian Slater steals the movie in his lone scene as an American oil executive exerting his demands with a huge bribe to the Argentinian president.  It alone merits giving this movie a look.  His performance was a contributing factor to making me want to see "The Florida Project," knowing Willem Dafoe could equally ignite a movie.

Denied the Master Class led me to "El Hombre Que Cuida," a barebones movie from the Domincan Republic that is a shining example why checking out anything on offer here can lead to a gem.  It was the honest, realistic story of a guy who looks after the luxurious beach house of a wealthy Dominican.  His arrogant son, on break from college, shows up with a friend and a girl they have picked up.  The caretaker is intimidated into letting them spend the day. He's not happy about doing it, but feels he has no choice, though it could cost him his job.  Everyone plays their role as if it were real life.

"Last Laugh" likewise rang so true I thought at times I was watching a documentary of a Chinese family trying to decide what to do with an elderly mother who is on th waiting list for a hospice,. One says, "The life she leads is worse than death."   Her medicine is draining what little reserves they have.  The daughter she is presentry staying with pleads with her sister to help.  The family conferences degenerate into furious shouting matches. The grandmother hardly says a word, sitting glumly with head bowed through most of the movie until she is stricken with fits of quiet laughter, thus the title of the movie.

Even though this was just a five-movie day, my fewest since Day One, it was still Another Fine Day of Cinema.  With just four days remaining the pangs of withdrawal are creeping in on me. 


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cannes Day Seven

An organization every year gives out an award for the best performance by a dog in a film here.  Barbara Scharres of Chicago's Film Center gives out a similar award for cats.  If there were an award for the best slap, a frequent cinema device, there would be two strong contenders from the seven films I saw today.  Both were female on female.

The lead character in "Montparnes Bienvenue," a thirty-year old woman who is havimg a tusnami of a break-down, wanders the streets of Paris looking for a place to crash each night after breaking up with her boyfriend.  Friends and strangers who take her in send her packing almost as soon as she arrives.  A woman on a train recognizes her from their student days and invites her to stay with her.  After several days she realizes she isn't the person she thought she was and is angry with her for pretending she was.  The imposter tells her she can slap her if she wants, and she surprises her by immediately giving her a wallop and she returns it in kind making for a rare double-barreled pow coming out of nowhere, as the best of slaps do.  The woman's woes aren't as gut-wrenching as they might have been with even her mother telling her she never wants to see her again, as she has a vibrant personality and a survivor's spirit.  Laetitia Dosch makes herself the front-runner for the best actress award from the Un Certain Regard jury with her swashbuckling performance.

The wife of the publisher of a small book company in Seoul unleashes a barrage of slaps upon a young woman she takes to be her husband's mistress in Sangsoo Hong's Competition entry "The Day After." Its her first day on the job and she hasn't become his mistress yet, though their intimate, scholarly conversations sure seem to be leading in that direction.  Shot in black-and-white, this was a refreshingly intelligent film of prolonged conversations.  The wife was right that her husband was a philanderer, and he admits it to her there in his office in the presence of his new hire, but assures her it has ended.  The slap victim isn't sure if she wants to work for this guy, but he is impressed by her intelligence and convinces her not to give it out, at least until the plot takes another turn.

I had earlier in the day caught up with the lone Competition film I had missed, the Russian "Loveless" that played on Day Two and continues to have the highest score from Screen's panel, the only film with better than a 2.7.   It too deals with infidelity.  A couple with a twelve-year old son can no longer stand each other.  They are in the process of divorce.  Both have lovers they are ready to move in with.  Before that happens their son disappears.  The husband isn't concerned, figuring he will return in a day or two, but the wife is in a panic.  She calls the police.  The officer knows that in the majority of such cases the runaway shortly returns, so can't mount a search, but he recommends a voluntary organization that can help.  It amounts to a highly competent and concerned army of volunteers as committed to the task as the ACT UP group was to the cause of gay rights in the earlier Competition film "BPM (Beats Per Minute)."  They leave no stone unturned, and are highly professional in all their encounters from walking through fields and checking out abandoned buildings and hospitals and the morgue.  The film doesn't  have the transcendence of a Palm d'Or winner, but it was at once a gripping tale and an insightful commentary on present day Russia.

Similar to "The Day After," the day's first Competition film, "Radiance" by Competiton regular Namomi Kawase of Japan, was a restrained film appealing to the cerebral.  A noteworthy photographer is losing his sight.  It is nearly gone.  He meets a young woman who writes film descriptions for the visually impaired as he battles his continuing loss of sight that hasn't quite relegated him to a walking stick. Having to give up his camera is like losing his heart, he laments.  They develop a friendship without any of the sexual tensions of "The Day After."  This does not depart from Kawase's oeuvre that has little chance of attracting an audience  beyond the smaller art house circuit.

My three-Competition films for the day has me all caught up, something I have never accomplished until the last day of the festival in my fourteen years of attending the festival.  It will be exciting to be able to see my favorite films on the last day rather than trying to see ones I  missed.  I'm not doing so well with the Un Certain Regard films, but I did manage two today.  The second was an Italian film, "After the War," that largely takes place in France where an Italian left-wing activist has been in exile for years.  After the execution of a university professor in Italy, he is blamed for ordering it and Italy wants him back.  He takes refuge in a cabin in a forest with his not-all-that-willing teenaged daughter.  The tension doesn't build as much as it might have, making this merely a competent, not exemplary, film.

My day was rounded out by two by-the-numbers documentaries that will please those interested in the subject matter but won't be a must-see to others.  "Becoming Cary Grant" had a special screening in the Bunuel with twenty or more of those involved with it either on stage or in the audience.  It book forever to introduce them all.  After a clip of Frank Sinatra giving him an honorary Oscar and a session with his shrink, It iturns into a fairly chronological bio pic from his birth in Bristol, England.  Later comes a period in his life when he had a weekly five-hour session with a psychiatrist who administered him LSD as he tried to figure himself out.  Among the traumas he had to overcome was his mother walking out on her husband and children.  Even at the height of his acclaim, Grant felt as if he would like to  be the Grant figure that everyone admired. 

"Written By Mrs. Bach: Broken Silence" makes the case that Bach's second, much younger, wife wrote some of his music.  A line-up of forensic and hand-writing experts, including a woman who investigated Kurt Cobsin's suicide note, all conclude that she can be credited with being a composer of work with Bach's name on it.  An assortment of women musicians agree and comment on how women often don't get their due.  A ten-year old prodigy from Tel Aviv, who has been composing operas since she was six and has been a virtuoso on the violin and piano since she was four, is offered as proof that women are capable of composing.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Cannes Day Six

 

At last, at the half-way point of the festival the much-anticipated lone cycling movie, presented in the Market, was screened in then 32-seat Grey 4 theater this afternoon.  There were more empty seats than filled for this warm-hearted tale of a soothsayer and his beloved yellow bicycle that had been his father's.  It is a distinctive bike that everyone in the surrounding countryside knows and identifies with him.  When it is stolen by a couple of thieves who use it as their getaway vehicle after robbing the wealthiest family in the village, he is devastated.

The thieves suffer a flat tire so take it to a bike shop.  The repairman knows the bike, so the thieves have to make up a story that they are relatives of the bike's owner and he lent it to them.  In rural India in the 1950s phones are a rare commodity, so the owner can't call to verify that, plus he is so trusting of the thieves that he invites them to lunch and then gives them some money to deposit in a bank when they return the bike to its owner's village.  They continue on the rough dirt paths that constitute roads having to explain their possession of the bike to others.  News travels slowly so no one knows of its theft.  It is clear from the gentle tone  of the movie that they won't get away with the bike.  The only question is how will its owner will regain it. I wished I could have been so confident when my bike was being held hostage by Turkish Air at the Madagascar airport two months ago.

A bicycle was also a feature of Volker Schlondorf's "Return to Mantauk" playing in the Market after debuting in Competiton at Berlin this January.  Stellan Skarsgard plays a novelist visiting New York from Berlin to promote his novel.  His publicist is a young energetic black woman who gets around the city on a bicycle, pushing it along on the sidewalk at times as she ushers Skarsgard to his next appointment.  Schlondorf also shows it hanging in her tiny apartment.  When Skarsgard visits an old lover there is a bicycle in her penthouse of an apartment.  A rental bike flashes by when he leaves her apartment.  Schlondorrf was the guest director at Telluride last year.  I was hoping the latest from this Palm d'Or winner for "The Tin Drum" would be exemplary enough to make it to Telluride this fall so I could congratulate him on his bike advocacy.  This tale of a lusting male pursing a lover from seventeen years ago even as he is visiting his wife who is pursing her career in New York while he remains in Europe wasn't of that level, but it was still worthwhile cinema.

"Until the Birds Return" could be a Telluride contender with its sincere portrayal of life in today's Algeria.  It is another solid Un Certain Regard film without the perversion or extreme behavior that might have earned it a Competition slot.  It is three separate stories that touch upon the struggles and hopes of men and women in the country, including a French woman married to a wealthy Algerian who has had enough of the country and wants to return home.

I thought it unlikely I could get into the Market screening of Bruno Demont's "Jeannette" that had earlier played in Director's Fortnight, but there were only twenty others in line when I showed up half an hour early for the screening.  There was no rush of those with priority passes or even of us commoners, not even half filling the theater for this oddball musical on the youth of Joan of Arc.  It was originally intended for television, but was adapted for a big screen audience as well. It is told in two parts--Joan as an eight year old and then as a sixteen year old.  She dances and frolics, doing cartwheels and the splits, and sings as she tends to a herd of sheep.  She laments the English occupation of France and fears she must do something about it.  More than fifty movies have been done on Joan of Arc, but probably none as fun as this one.

As anticipated as the cycling film was the first film in five years from two-time Palm d'Or winner Mkchael Hanake--"Happy Ending" starring Isabelle Hupert.  I had to wait until the end of the day to see it, as it had played earlier in the middle time slot at the Lumiere rather than at 8:30 a.m., which I can easily gain entry to.  Only two people were in line at eight p.m. two hours ahead of time, so I ducked into an adjoining theater for a taste of a Polish film that was too lackluster to stick with and risk missing Hanake.  Half an hour later there were only ten people in line for the 300-seat theater, but I took my place.  It was close enough to the entrance I could sit and read the trade papers.

Huppert is at the reins of a wealthy family's construction business.  She is grooming her son to take over but they both know he will never be able to overcome his incompetence and she'll have to find someone else for the job.  Huppert lives in the family's mansion with her 85-year old father, who wants to end his life.  After he fails by driving into a tree he tries to enlist the help of first his barber, then his thirteen-year old granddaughter, who has made an attempt of her own.  The rather skeletal plot contains other dark, unsettling strands that Hahake jumps to with little connective tissue, more the style of a neophyte than a master.  None of Screen's panel of reviewers gave it more than three stars, a fair assessment. 

The day's other Competition film, "The Killing Of a Sacred Deer" by Yorgos Lanthimos ran the gamut with two four-star reviews and two of zero-stars.  Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman seem to be living a perfect life.  They are accomplished physicians, have two young children and live in a dream house.  As idyllic as it appears,mthe music of doom that assaults the audience from the outset portends otherwise.   Farrell reprimands a teen-aged boy who comes to visit him at the hospital.  He is the son of a patient who died on the operating table of Farrell. Farrell seems to have a fatherly relationship with the boy, but we soon learn the boy has not forgiven Farrell for the death of his father and wishes revenge of the eye-for-an-eye sort.  The movie descends into horror, making it two hours of agony to sit through despite the great artistry of those making the film.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cannes Day Five

Kenneth Turan began his conversation with Clint Eastwood in the packed Bunuel theater by asking if it was true that he had sat through "The Unforgiven" the day before after introducing it in the Debussy.  Eastwood replied that he had only intended to watch the first five minutes, but that he became caught up in it and watched it to the end.  "It seemed like just five or six years ago that I had made it, not twenty-five," he added.  Eastwood doesn't see many movies these days.  He told Turan that his movie-viewing is mostly older films that he pops into his DVD-player. The last movie he had seen was Sunset Boulevard.  "I like Billy Wilder," he said.

He acknowledged an affection for France and said he was considering a movie on the Americans who thwarted the train terrorist.  Eastwood is 86.  Turan asked him what kept making movies.  He had no better reason than because he liked doing it and it gave him something to do.  He said he liked playing golf, but he wouldn't want to have it become an obligation of retirement every morning.

This was the first Cannes "Master Class" since their inception over ten years ago that did not include clips from the subject's work.  They always highlight the proceedings bringing back warm memories for both the audience and the artist.  It wasn't until half-way into this hour-long conversation jumping from film to film that Turan mentioned a title that brought applause from the mostly young audience--"The Bridges of Madison County."  Turan asked if it was fun working with Meryl Streep.  His response was a mere "yes."  When Turan waited for more, he added, "She was okay."  It wasn't that he was being an uncooperative subject or had anything against her, as he is a genuinely gentle sort who had nothing negative to say about anybody, just that he is taciturn by nature and didn't elaborate much in any of his responses.  He could have told he respected and appreciated her to such an extent that he made a special trip to the Telliride Film Featival to surprise her at her tribute over fifteen years ago.  He greeted her with a line from "Bridges" and nearly brought her to tears.

I had been nervous that I might have to leave this conversation early if it was too clip-heavy in order to make it to my much-anticipated next screening of the Andy Goldsworthy documentary.  I needn't have worried, as Turan came close to exhausting his pages of questions on his lap in less than an hour.  Before he ended their talk he asked Eastwood if there was any movie he had missed that he would like to talk about.  That brought a "no," and I had no worries about getting to "Leaning Into the Wind" in more than ample time.  I was the lone Goldsworthy devotee in town as I the first in line over at the Olympia half an hour early.  No one else was eager enough to turn up until shortly before the screening began--and it was a mere handful despite  the great acclaim the previous documentary the German Thomas Rieselsheimer did on this extraordinary Scottish nature sculpture--"River and Tides" sixteen years ago.

This picks up where the other left off spending time with Goldsworthy at his rural Scottish home constructing works with leaves and twigs and rocks.  A new work he has become fascinated by is laying on the ground on his back with arms slightly detached from his sides whenever a mist appeared and then arising after several minutes leaving a dry patch of the outline of his body.  Like much of his ephermal art, its image will have to endure in a photo and one's memory. The film follows Goldsworthy to Brazil and Spain and France to his various work, including several around Digne that Janina and I will be biking to after Cannes.  This was a welcome soothing dose of cinema.

I squeezed in one other Market screening, "7 Minutes," along with the day's two Competition unveilings and an Un Certain Regard film.  Seven minutes is the amount of time an Italian textile factory wishes to extract from its workers fifteen-minute break in order to not move the factory to France.  An eleven-member board of women representing the 300 workers is debating whether to accept these conditions.  This was originally a play and made for a very worthwhile film. Each of the women representing an assortment of ethnicities is a strong character with strong opinions.  Their engrossing deliberations raise many relevant issues of our times.  

The dialogue in Noah Baumbach's Competition entry "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" sizzled with equal fervor.  Dustin Hoffman is a bearded sculptor living in Manhattan recently retired from teaching and on the verge of selling his house.  He doesn't feel as if his work has received enough recognition and resents that a friend is having an exhibition at MOMA but not him.  He spews his anger towards the world upon his wife and three children, who are tormented and willful in their own way.  Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson and Elizabeth Marvel all shine even if their characters are less than sympathetic.  

One could debate whether Jean-Luc Godard is sympathetic or reprehensible in Michel Hazanauricius's "Redoubtable," recounting Godard's short-lived marriage to his young actress Anne Wiazemsky, eighteen years his junior.  It is 1967 and Godard is at the height of his fame, as exalted as the Beatles in film circles.  He's tired of making films that entertain and wishes to revolutionize.  His last film starring  Wiazemsky about China and Mao is universally dismissed, especially by the Chinese. He devotes himself to the riots going on in France and is at the forefront of the 1968 boycott of Cannes.  He marches and joins rock-throwing rioters, but wherever he goes he is recognized by fans asking why he can't make another "Brearhless."  It's hard to be nice to such people.  He turns confrontational with everyone from innocents in cafes to those with accounterments of wealth at parties. Even his wife rebels against him when he gets in the face of Bertolucci as they stroll about Rome. He is not the man she married, she tells him.  When she accepts a role in an Itallian film his jealousy flares into another storm resulting in a climactic action she can not forgive.  It is hard to find any redeeming features in the man, justifying Agnes Varda calling him a "dirty rat" in her documentary here at the festival. Screen's panel of eleven reviewers gave this the lowest score of the eight Competition films so far played, not so much that it was a bad movie, but that many of them hated to see their icon cast in such a low light.  

My day's Un Certain Regard film, "Before We Vanish," was about aliens who had infiltrated Japan in preparation for an invasion of earth. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is an old hand at delving into subjects that trespass upon the surreal.  This bridges upon the comic and the profound as it wallows along to the point he is trying to make.  Even though this was my second film of the day I had a very hard time not nodding off, especially coming off Baumbach's much stronger film.




Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cannes Day Four

Clint Eastood's Master Class scheduled for this afternoon was postponed until tomorrow, freeing up my day. I was prepared to sacrifice two hours waiting in line for what could be the highlight of the festival scheduled for five in the Debussy.  The past few years the Master Class has been held in the much smaller Bunuel.  It was a relief that it had returned to the thousand-seat Debussy, as Tarantino and Scorcese had filled when they had been given this career retrospective.

The cancellation allowed me to make an attempt on the two o'clock screening of the two-and-a-half hour Competition entry "The Square" at the Soixante rather than waiting until the eleven p.m. screening, which would have kept me from getting to bed until two a.m., an hour later than I've been managing. Even though I arrived less than fifteen minutes before the start of the film, luck was with me and I was among the last to be seated for this Swedish film by Ruben Ostlund, whose avalanche film "Force Majeure" was an award-winner three years ago.  

Juror Maren Ade, director of last year's hit "Toni Erdmann," will no doubt champion this black comedy, as could jury president Pedro Almodovar, who said that "Erdmann" was his favorite film in 2017.  It starts out as if it's going to be a series of episodic bursts of outrageous behavior beginning with a young pretty blonde American interviewing the director of Stockholm's art museum, asking him two oblivious questions and then leaving it at that.  Then we see the director walking home and intervening in an altercation between a man and a woman that has repercussions that reverberate through the rest of the film.  It does settle into a narrative of a sort, but is laced with not always connected in-your-face encounters of  brutal honesty and moral quandary that has the audience squirming, glad they're not caught in the quagmire. The film may not have the magnitude of a Palm d'Or winner, but it will have its advocates.  It could be Ade's opportunity to make up for the indignity she suffered not receiving a single award from last year's jury after being deemed the front runner for the Palm d'Or.

The day's first Competition film, "120 Beats Per Minute," will be a strong contender for best screen play if not more.  Written and directed by Robin Campillo, writer of the brilliant "The Class," that won the Palm d'Or by a unanimous vote of Sean Penn's jury, it is an insider's look at Act Up Paris in the 1990s, the gay advocacy group that didn't hold back confronting and disrupting individuals, groups and corporations that were resistant to gay rights.  There are extended scenes of the group's weekly meetings plotting their strategy and their attacks, which include rampaging through a drug company squirting fake blood everywhere and spreading the ashes of one of their comrades on a luxurious buffet.  Its members are deeply committed to their cause, but can't always agree on the best means of promoting it.  They argue passionately.  There is a considerable amount of injections as they each fight their personal battles with AIDS, and intimate sex as well.  The men are happy to passionately kiss to shock. One wonders if it can maintain its opening brilliance.  It lags at times, but it is still a remarkable portrayal of people fully devoted to something they believe in.

Agnes Varda offered up my other French movie of the day--"Faces Places (Visages Villages)."  She and the photographer JR drive around France photographing and interviewing people and mounting giant renditions of JR's photographs on walls and barns and trains and water towers and other unlikely canvases.  One is stacks of giant freight containers in the Le Havre docks. After initially interviewing three of the dock workers Varda arranges to meet their wives, saying we always hear about the frequently striking men but not their wives.  JR photograph them and put the photos up in the yard, making their husbands very proud.  Varda asks the wives how they respond to their husband's strikes.  One says she always stands behind her husband.  Varda asks, "Don't your stand beside him?"  She agrees that yes she is beside him.  She ends the movie by going to visit her long-time friend Jean-Luc Godsrd, who she hasn't seen in five years.  Unfortunately, she is stood up and calls him a "dirty rat" for this indignity.  Otherwise, this is a very warm-hearted portrayal of two artists with an affection for one another practicing their craft.

The day also included another special presentation of a documentary by a prominent auteur--Barbet Schroeder's rather shocking "The Venerable W."  W is a fear-mongering Buddhist monk in Mynamawr who denounces Muslims as an evil force in the country that needs to be suppressed.  In his sermons refers to them as "kalars," the local version of "nigger."They only contrive four per cent of the country's largely Buddhist population, but he makes them out to be a fast-breeding threat that could take over. His preaching inspires violence and the passage of laws limiting religious freedom.  Not all of the Buddhists agree with his teachings, but as Trump has demonstrated, loud-mouthed zealots appealing to basic instincts can cultivate an impactful following.

This was my first day without a Market screening, as my two other films were in Un Certain Regard.  The Chinese film "Walking Past the Future" portrays the contemporary downturn in the Chinese economy and how young and old are pressed to find work.  It opens with an older worker being fired from his job, at least the third firing I've seen in a film so far.  The bulk of the film follows the plight of a young woman who is somewhat unwillingly convinced to buy an apartment she can't really afford and then being forced to supplement her income.  One of her extra sources of income comes from allowing herself to be a guinea pig for new drugs.  She has a weak liver and this only leads to trouble.  This film didn't have the power or impact of yesterday's Iranian film or the film on Bulgaria the day before that were also slices of life of those societies, but it did give a worthwhile glimpse.

"Wind River" missed its ten p.m. starting time by forty-five minutes due to a bomb threat in the press screening of the Godard bio-pic preceding it in the Debussy, so I was kept out until nearly one a.m.  But it was well worth it.  Director and screen-writer Taylor Sheridan introduced the film along with three of his cast members. Taylor had previously written the dazzling scripts for "Sicaro" and "Hell or High Water," both of which played Cannes, but this is the first film he had directed.  He said he made this movie from his soul and with such truth and honesty that he could look his friends in the eye, implying the other films didn't live up to that with their fanciful elements.  Un Certain Regard tries to include a film of impact from Sundance. This murder mystery that takes place in winter-time Wyoming was this year's selection.  Sheridan proves himself not only a premier writer, but director as well.  He fully captures the unbridled machismo of rough, trigger-happy men living in a frontier setting.  

A female FBI agent played by Elizabeth Olsen is sent from Salt Lake City to investigate the death of an 18-year old Native American woman found dead in the snow on federal land three-and-a-half miles from the nearest habitation.  She is barefoot and has been raped.  The agent is unprepared for the cold conditions, but she otherwise proves herself to the local authorities, who at first think she is in way over her head.  She relies on the expertise of a professional hunter, Jeremy Renner of "The Hurt Locker," who kills wolves and mountain lions that prey on farm animals.  He intimately knows the land and the people.  He had lost a sixteen-year old daughter several years before to similar circumstances, and still carries the heavy burden of that.  This fresh, gripping story with considerable amount of carnage has one unexpected, but legitimate, turn after another.  It justifiably received the most resounding applause of any movie so far.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cannes Day Three

The festival has made it easier to see the day's two Competition unveilings with an extra screening of each at the end of the day in the 314-seat Olympia theater.  If one misses their morning screenings, one can be assured of seeing it later in the day depending on how early one cares to get in line. I showed up forty-five minutes early for the 10:30 p.m. screening of "Jupiter's Moon."  There were only twenty people more eager than me.  That either meant the buzz wasn't very good for this Hungarian film, or people aren't clued in to this new slot.  Whichever, it was good news.

I was joined by Robbie, a recent graduate of Vanderbilt who I met at Chicago's film festival five years ago before he first attended Cannes.  He's become a Cannes regular, this being his fifth.  As always, he was full of enthusiasm for what he'd seen and what he looked forward to seeing.  He was concerned about staying awake for this two-hour movie so grabbed an espresso.  He needn't have bothered, as this energy-charged rampage of a disgraced doctor harboring a Syrian refugee who has the power to levitate defused any urge to fade out.  The fast-paced action combined with the surreal plot had us fully engaged.  Kornel Mundruczo's previous film "White God," which won best picture in Un Certain Regard three years ago, about dogs running with abandon throughout a city was equally remarkable. This was a movie we'll both gladly see again on Repeat Sunday at the end of the festival, not only to enjoy its cinematic flair, but to try to figure it out.  

The day's other Competiton film, "Okja" by Korean Bong Joon Ho, was a silly, if not ridiculous, tale of a giant food company that has developed a gargantuan pig for consumption.  They are initially experimentally raised all over the world.  One of the sites is on an isolated farm in the mountains of South Korea.  A young girl has fallen in love with the pig.  She is devastated when it is flown to New York be butchered at the company's base.  She follows the pig to New York to save it.  The film opens with an almost equally heavy-handed absurd speech by Tilda Swinton, impersonating a bad witch as the company's new CEO, inheriting the position from her father and sister, who she condemns as being hardened business people, claiming she is more sensitive and that this new food will save the planet.  Maybe children will find this film to their liking.  It wasn't worth my time.

I prefer the gritty realism such as presented in the Iranian "A Man of Integrity" by Mohammad Rasoulof. A gold fish farmer in rural Iran suffers one calamity after another as he battles a large company that wants his land and an evil neighbor who has it in for him.  The feuds lead to his arrest.  He is falsely accused of breaking his neighbor's arm.  He is told that only bribery will get him out of his troubles.  He needs to take out large loans and is on the verge of losing everything.  He tries to stand firm and not resort to any chicanery.  His wife, a school administrator, operates on her own to solve their troubles.  She tells the young daughter of their chief nemesis that pride often gets in the way of men, leaving it to the intelligence of women to solve their problems, eliciting a cheering laugh from all the women around me.  But her efforts of blackmail only deepen their troubles.  This was a gripping and disconcerting allegory of good battling evil.

My lone film relating to France today was "Madame" starring Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette as an American couple living in a Parisian villa. The film opens spectacularly with the two of them riding the ubiquitous rental bikes of Paris.  Keitel is struggling, complaining they weigh as much as a cow, not like the bikes in The Tour de France.  He collapses and Collette speeds on her way.  She is busily putting the final touches on a dinner party for that evening.  It has been thrown into disarray when Ketiel's son from a previous marriage has been added, making it thirteen at the table, an unlucky number that Collette can't countenance.  In desperation she forces her Spanish maid to be the fourteenth. She's not happy at all about having to masquerade as a guest.  One of the guests is smitten by her.  He thinks she's a countess of some sort and pursues her relentlessly after the party, much to her delight but the horror of Collette.  Unfortunately, none of their dates include a bike ride, nor does the Eiffel Tower sneak into the background at any time, unlike three other movies so far, but this was still a pleasant ditty of a movie.

"The Clapper" was another commercial-leaning comedy from the US that was my backup from a French film that filled before I even arrived for it, my only turn-away in thee days. It profiles a dorky guy who earns a living by being an audience member at infomercials filmed in Hollywood, standing to ask questions and clapping and laughing on cue.  A late-night talk show host picks him out as a regular audience member in different disguises and starts a campaigns, complete with billboards around LA, to discover who he is.  The clapper is horrified that he has lost his anonymity and with it probably his job.  People start recognizing him on the street and posting encounters with him on YouTube.  About the only person unaware of his celebrity is the pretty blond at the service station he patronizes that is the object of his affections, as she doesn't have a television.  Like "Madame" this was a harmless ninety minutes of cinema.

My day was rounded out by a pair of competent documentaries, one from Italy on Julian Schnabel and 
the other from Australia on kangaroos.  Schnabel is a willing subject in this chronological persuade of his career as a painter and filmmaker.  His children and two wives do more to explain him than he does.  Al Pacino and other friends, including galleria owners, are a,on the many interview subjects.  There was no mention of his being the poster artist for the Telliride Film Festival one year.  One of his sons says he most bonded with his father in the waves, as Schnabel became a passionate surfer when his family moved from New York to Brownsville, Texas when he was a teen, where they were virtually the lone Jewish family.

"Kangaroo" was an indictment of those involved in the mass slaughter of Australia's national emblem.  Many consider the animal a pest and a plague and allow night-time spot-light hunters on their property to gun them down.  It is a huge business with their meat and leather sent all over the world.  At one time Russia was the biggest market for the meat until they learned how tainted it was with bacteria.  It is nearly impossible for the hunters to get the meat properly refrigerorated after it has been harvested.  Animal rightists are also intervening in the killing as many kangaroos are wounded and suffer terribly before they die.  Baby kangaroos, joeys, are also miserable victims, left to die in the pouches of their crippled mothers.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Cannes Day Two

As with yesterday, my day's selections were French-centric with three of my seven films devoted to the land where I find myself.  I may have made a misjudgment though when after twenty minutes I aborted "Brave New Jersey," a schmaltzy American feature on how a small town reacted to Orson Welles's legendary 1938 Halloween radio broadcast of a Martian invasion for one of the French films, the documentary "Walk With Me" on a Buddhist meditation center called Plum Village in the Dordogne region of France.  I had hoped for some inspiration and enlightenment and more insight into the French, but this British production was so superficial it even wastes time on the visit of a female monk to her father in his New York nursing home. 

The center was established by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982.  It is home to some two hundred monks, male and female all with shaved heads, and has grown into a thriving business offering retreats to the public to practice mindfulness.  The film is interspersed with Benedict  Cumberbatch reading passages from a book by Hanh.  I was hoping the film would at least entice me to add Plum Village to my list of places to visit in my meanderings around France, but it didn't even succeed in that.

A second documentary on France, "Before Summer Ends," followed the travels of three thirty-year Iranians around France before one of them returns to Iran.  They stay in campgrounds and drive roads I'm most familiar with through rural France, but the movie is more about them than France.  The guy returning managed to avoid military service by becoming obese.  What he'll most miss about France is the alcohol aisle in the supermarket. One of the others avoided his military service by becoming a student in France, but is presently faced with the dilemma of never returning to Iran after ending his studies or doing his duty.  They travel with two young French women for a spell and teach them the three words for fart in Farsi.  Most fascinating was how the French woman director managed to sit in the front seat of their small car and film four of them crammed in the seat behind the obese guy at the wheel.

My third French film, "Julie and the Shoe Factory," was one of at least three feature films in the Market on French workers battling to save their jobs, a favorite French theme. The movie begins with a young woman, Julie, being fired from a job and then her struggles to find another.  She is depressed and morose, puttering around so slowly on her moped that a group of old French guys in matching Lycra uniforms on bicycles pass her.  When she finally is hired to work in a shoe factory, she is so happy that she rides fast enough to pass the same bunch on her way home.  Shortly after she is hired, news breaks that her company is going to send its work to China.  The women in the factory hire a bus and drive to Paris to protest to the owner of the company.  This rather wane tale is given an occasional jolt when the characters periodically break into song.

My day also included two movies by name American directors--one at the top of his game, Todd Haynes, and the other, Alan Rudolph, attempting a comeback, but failing miserably.  Haynes, whose "Carol" many thought was the best film in Competition two years ago, led off the Competition slate this year with "Wonderstruck."  Haynes specializes in period pieces.  This encapsulated two, the twenties and the seventies, as it intersperses the stories of a young deaf girl and a young boy just rendered deaf by a lightening bolt.  Though it had some early poignant moments, one had to be patient with the movie awaiting for it to reach its dramatic conclusion.  It seemed at times an exercise in cinematic mastery, of a black and white silent film, and resurrecting bygone eras.  The story hinges on outrageous coincidences.  If one can accept them, they add to it's impact.  Unlike "Carol" with six Oscar  nominations, there is no hope for such acclaim for this.

Seventy-year old Alan Rudolph, protege of Robert Altman, hasn't made a movie in fifteen years.  "Ray Meets Helen" will surely be his last. Rudoph's frequent star, Keith Carradine, plays an insurance investigator who has just returned from Peru on an assignment that left him so sick he vomits on the customs official in LA, an early indication of the quality of this film. His next assignment is to recover $250,000 that fell out of a Brinks truck in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles. He discovers a young boy has most of the money and is willing to give it to Carradine.  Carradine is thrilled and intends to keep it himself.  He spends a hunk of it on a woman his age he meets in a fancy French restaurant who is also mired in despondency.  Only nine others cared to give this a chance and only three of us endured this nonsense to its conclusion.

Early in the day I passed on "Crazy for Football," an Italian film about a soccer team of the mentally impaired, but was able to see "Shoot," a soccer film from Vietnam later in the day.  It was a tribute to the Vietnamese love for soccer and abounded with loads of nifty close-up footwork.  Two brothers are the stars of a small team.  One of the brothers dies when they get mixed up with the mafia.  The other quits playing, but makes a comeback, first as s coach, and then as a player when his team is desperate for another player. It's feel good, triumphal conclusion will please those devoted to the sport.

The most solid and realistic film of the day and the festival so far came from Un Certain Regard--"Western," a superb German film about a group of Germans on a construction project in a small Bulgarian town.  They have trouble integrating into the community, not speaking the language, and coping with the lingering hostily towards Germans of many of the townspeople.  A shop owner won't even sell them cigarettes.  The men are starved for female companionship. When three women in bathing suits appear on the opposite side of a river where they are sun bathing themselves, they are imperiled by their lusts.   The film retains a tempered tone throughout, not resorting to any extravagance, including this episode.  This was cinema as commentary and art.  It saved my day.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cannes Day One

I spent all day Tuesday, the day before the films commenced, after I got my hands on the program at eight-fifteen a.m., reading the blurbs on the more than one thousand movies that will be filling my time the next twelve days.  I didn't finish the task until the next morning.  There's only one cycling movie, something from India, but still plenty to be excited about, including a follow-up to the Andy Goldsworthy documentary "Rivers and Tides" from sixteen years ago by the same director.  That is particularly relevant, as after Cannes Janina and I will be biking to a cluster of Goldswrothy sculptures on the fringe of the Alps. 

As always, nearly every movie, other than those designated as "horror," has some appeal.  With more than forty theaters and screening rooms showing movies all the day long and late into the night the options are dizzying. It is easy to have a back-up to a back-up if I'm turned away from my first choice.

I didn't have to resort to any back-ups on Day One with the 30,000 attendees still gathering. Only one of my five screenings was more than a third full.  The most popular of the movies I was drawn to was "Orchestra Class," a French movie about a class full of rebellious young teens, mostly black and Arabic and Asian, who don't much care about learning to play a musical instrument.   I slipped into one of the last available seats.  If I'd been a few moments later I would have seen J.K. Simmons in "The Bachelors," a movie I was very wary of as it wasn't even mentioned on IMDB. The only other movies this day with an American star was "Blood Money" with John Cusack and "Drunk Parents" with Alec Baldwin and Salma Hayak, though the latter was a last minute cancellation. 

The recalcitrant kids in "Orchestra Class" are won over by a new teacher, a violin maestro, inspiring them to learn to take to their instruments. They must overcome many obstacles, including losing their classroom, but they, along with their parents, band together to convert a warehouse into a studio where they can rehearse.  The movie predictably concludes with a sterling performance in a concert hall with a standing ovation and lots of tears. 

That was one of three music-themed movies for the day. The other two were bio-pics.  The first was "Django" about the highly-acclaimed gypsy musician Django Reinhardt.  The movie is devoted to a spell during World War II when the Nazis forced him to perform for them in Paris.  When he is told they are going to send him to Germany to perform for Hitler he tries to escape to Switzerland.  There are at least six other Nazi-themed movies on the schedule, including the documentary "Hitler's Hollywood" on all the films produced during the Nazi era.  

Mozart was the subject of the other music bio-pic, "Interlude in Prague."  It too focused on just a brief spell of his career, when some benefactors lured him from Vienna in 1786.  This was a British production and my only film of the day without subtitles.  Mozart runs afoul of an evil baron who is a rival with Mozart for the affections of a young opera singer.  As with the other two music-themed films there were performances in large halls full of extras.  The greater part of the budget for this film went to the lavish costumes and wigs worn by both men and women.  All three of the films were cinema as product rather than as an art form, straightforward formula.

A Czech film "Ice Mother" about swimming in icy waters gave promise of breaking that pattern.  It did feature a wacky older guy who lived in a mobile home with twelve chickens, "the same number of the apostles," but it was more about the contentious relationship of two brothers and their wives and children and their mother than about swimming in frigid waters.  The mother is alienated from her two sons and is embraced by the wacky older guy and the ice swimmers, joining their ranks.

The award for the oddest, most orginal film of the day went to "Me and El Che," my third French film of the day.  The centerpiece of the film is a photo of Che in Bolivia shortly before his death in 1967.  Che is surrounded by a group of his followers.  One of them is a young French man.  But missing from the photo is another French man who is the subject of this movie.  He's trying to remember, some 49 years after he joined up with Che as an eighteen year old when he happened to be traveling in South America, why he's not in the photo.  He even manages to track down the photographer, who can't offer him any explanation.  The guy begins to doubt that he actually met up with Che.  He can distinctly remember attending Woodstock two years later, but his Che memories are hazy.  He's almost glad he's not in the photo, otherwise he might be a suspect for revealing Che's location.  

It was a rare day at Cannes without a documentary on my schedule. I did drop in for thirty minutes of a documentary on two school teachers on the verge of retirement from the rural Irish boarding school they have taught at for more than forty years--"School Life."  They failed to win me over.  What I saw of them didn't seem to warrant a documentary.  Even though it has the seal of approval from Magnolia Pictures, quite a few others walked out on it before I did.  There is another Irish documentary that I hope to see, "Between Land and Sea," on Irish surfing, one of five movies on surfing, the same number as on soccer.

As always, there are docs on a wide range of subjects--palm trees in Oman, the kangaroos of Australia, the Coppola family roots in Italy, the shower scene in "Psycho," the death of Jayne Mansfiield, the busiest maternity hospital in the world in the Philippines, Julian Schnabel and Manolo, the shoe-maker, to name just a few.  They and all else promise a rich vein of cinema in the days to come.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Fréjus, France



My French brother-in-arms Yvon happened to be taking a week's holiday in Fréjus, just up the coast from Cannes, coincidental to my arrival for the film festival, so we were able to enjoy an early rendezvous this year.  As he has done year after year in locales all over France where we have met up, he fulfilled his duty to the local press and its readership to once again have our enduring cycling friendship put to paper.

The "Var-Martin" found it worthy of page seven of its Sunday paper.  Yvon missed his calling as a Hollywood press agent.  Journalists can not resist his gushingly enthusiastic pitch of our story, especially its consecration at the cycling chapel Notre Dame des Cyclists north of Pau where we met thirteen years ago.  

Yvon and his girl friend were on the final day of their holiday when I arrived in Fréjus late in the afternoon Saturday, so we didn't have the opportunity to get in any riding together as we usually do other than from the entry of the vacation complex where he was staying to his quarters. There were more than 400 units and a wide assortment of facilities spread out over twenty-six acres.  Among them was a dining hall where guests ate from a lavish buffet.  It was one of thrifty-five such resorts scattered around the country where French postal workers could enjoy a bargain get-away.  

The Giro d'Italia was on the television when we walked into his room.  We watched the final hour of its eighth stage while Yvon served as the conduit for my interview over the phone.  Stephen Roche, a winner of the race, was one of the commentators, but my ear was not sharp enough to detect an Irish accent to his French.  Surprisingly, several of the interviews after the stage were conducted in English, including the one with the Spanish winner of the stage, who evidently didn't speak French or Italian. The crowds along the course were quite sparse, especially compared to the throngs at The Tour de France.  Since it was a French broadcast on the "L'Equipe" network, the female interviewer at the finish area grabbed all the top French riders for a question or two.

Before all the post-race festivities had finished we headed over to the boulodrome for the evening gathering of pétanque, a great passion of the French. It was early in the vacation season with it not warm enough yet to take to the Mediterranean, so there were only a couple dozen guests at the resort.  I would have been content just to watch, but with only five others gathered to play, they needed me to participate as well.   I've tossed the metal balls on a couple of other occasions, so I at least knew enough to launch them under, rather than over, hand and with backspin.  

I am gaining the knack, as I was on the winning team in both of my matches and on occasion had the closest ball to the target and even earned a "Bravo" or two.  For the first time I gained a sense of why this game is so infectious, indicating I'm becoming more and more French.  If I'm not careful I may develop a taste for wine. I felt sad it would be awhile before I could play again.  I could well understand now why Yvon plays this convivial game nearly every day.  It fully embraces the fraternité and equalité of the national slogan.

I didn't have to suffer total withdrawal though, as I had the opportunity to watch some experts at play as Frejus was hosting a five-day international competiton concluding Sunday in its ancient Roman arena. In front of the arena is a memorial to the 423 people who died on December 2, 1959 when a dam broke outside of Fréjus. Yvon was twelve at the time and remembers it vividly. He called it one of the worst catastrophes in French history.


I wasn't surprised to see a team from Madagascar among the competitors, as I saw many playing when I was there two months ago and knew it had won the World Championship in 1999.  They had the most colorful uniforms and were also the least rotund.


It was fascinating to study the wide variety of ball-tossing styles and to watch the three-person teams, both men and women, huddling together strategizing.  If I hadn't just played the day before I would have been baffled by the order in which players went, as it hinges on which team has the closest ball to the target.  Tossers can alternate from one team to another or three teammates could go consecutively.  The arena floor was filled with games being played.  There was no response from the spectators, the only sound the non-stop colliding of metal balls that might have been the chirp of crickets. 


I was sorry that Yvon had to be on his way early in the morning, so he couldn't further illuminate me to the intricacies of the game.  I was lucky that I had pushed hard to arrive in Fréjus a day earlier than I would have to meet up with Yvon, so I had all of Sunday to indulge in the pétanque. I could finally have a rest day after ten arduous days on the bike, as I didn't need to arrive in Cannes, less than twenty-five miles away, until the next day.  Ordinarily I pass though Fréjus late Sunday afternoon and then camp near the summit of the three-mile climb over the ridge that separates it from Cannes. 

The winds were mostly against me on my ride down from Paris with two days of mistral-force gales on the Massif Central.  It was such a strain climbing into the stiff wind that I broke my chain.  I didn't realize I had a warped link, but the breakage at least solved the mystery of why I suddenly had difficulty shifting from my middle chain ring to the smallest, where I was spending a considerable amount of time pushing into the wind and climbing.  When the winds finally brought rain, the winds diminished.  And yes, I would gladly take rain over a merciless headwind.  

I was up on the Massif Central to scout out Le Puy-en-Velay, a centerpiece for this year's Tour--the Ville Arrivée for the 15th stage, and the Départ for the next stage after serving as the second rest day of The Tour.  This picturesque city of 20,000 down in a valley is a favored starting point for the Camino de Santiago.  Pilgrims can receive a morning blessing at it's World Heritage Cathedral  perched on a Puy before setting out.  Billboards outside of the city announced the coming of The Tour.  It's tourist office was already festooned with strings of mini-Tour jerseys.  An electronic message board counting down the days until The Tour's arrival was at sixty-seven.


I had planned to follow The Tour route from Le Puy-en-Velay east and across the Rhone to Romans-sur-Isére, but having to arrive in Fréjus a day early, I turned south and headed directly to Salon-de-Provence, Stage 19 Ville Arrivée. The woman behind the counter in its tourist office was bubbling with excitement that Salon would be hosting The Tour for the first time.  It has been an oversight that this prominent city had never had the honor.  There were no decorations yet though other than a yellow stripe painted across the road where the stage would finish right across the plaza from the tourist office. 


It was 150 miles due east across Provence to Fréjus and Yvon on lightly traveled secondary roads that are the ultimate in cycling. I could fully luxuriate in the rolling terrain dotted with vineyards and small villages and forested mountainsides. It had been several years since I had approached Cannes on these roads, but I had a strong memory of many of its features, anticipating fountains spewing cold spring water where I had previously filled my water bottles and places I had camped and towns where I had obtained provisions. With the knowledge that I was in for much more climbing than if I had taken the main road for the truckers and those in a hurry a bit south, the strain lost some of its sting. 

Little had changed other than some of the fountains now bearing "L'eau non-potable" signs, that not everyone was observing. The most significant change I had observed in France was one supermarket chain now putting madeleins in the cookie aisle rather than with the bread.  Not being able to find them initially caused me more than a little consternation, as they are my favorite nibble and please my taste buds almost as much as menthe á l'eau.  But since bread is often shelved in a distant corner, it is to my advantage that they are now among the cookies.   I'll be stocking up on them when I arrive in Cannes, as they will fuel me during my imminent twelve-day movie marathon.

On my climb out of Fréjus I was flagged down by a motorist who had pulled over.  I figured it was someone who had seen the story in the day's newspaper as used to happen to me back in my messenger days after stories on me appeared in The Tribune and The Reader.  But instead it was a woman who had become sick from the winding road and wondered how much further it was to the summit.  This too hearkened me back to the glory of my bicycle messenger days--people asking for directions.  I could tell her it was just a kilometer to the summit.  Cannes wouldn't quite be within site, but I would feel as if I were there.