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.

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