Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Trie-sur-Baise, Ville Départ Stage 18


The main plaza of Trie-sur-Baise was closed to traffic, as it was being repaved and given an all-round facelift in preparation for its role as the starting point of the fourth to the last stage of The Tour in less than two months.  The Yellow Jersey contenderswill be relatively relaxed as they assemble at the starting line, as this will be a stage for the sprinters—a 114-mile flat stage after two days in the Pyrenees with one more day in the mountains the next day followed by a time trial before the final ceremonial stage in Paris.

Shop owners and pedestrians were watching the construction crew give the tired plaza in front of the town cathedral its makeover.  When I commented to one cluster, “Pour le Tour de France?,” they answered with a gleeful chorus of “Oui-oui.”  Shop windows featured bicycles, but there was as yet no bike sculptures or edifices paying tribute to The Tour.  There were a few signs advertising the town’s role as a Ville Étape, but it had yet to begin decorating itself in earnest. 

It didn’t need to for me, as I could close my eyes and visualize its transformation and how thronged it will be, as never before, when The Tour, a circus unlike any other, takes over the town.  It is beyond the imagining of anyone who has not experienced it.  The dozens of electronic media outlets broadcasting the event all over the world with their miles of cables and satellite dishes alone will be unlike anything this town of 1,100 people has ever seen.  If the town’s people can be captivated by a handful of construction workers and their graders, they will be utterly boggled by what is to come.

I arrived in Trie-sur-Baise with a healthy dose of Tour fever having just ridden over two of its legendary passes—the Col de Portet-d’Aspet and Col de Menté.  Both had monuments commemorating a seminal Tour event. One of the three deaths of a racer during a Race occurred on the Col de Portet-d’Aspet.  It was the last of the three in 1995 when the Italian Olympic gold medal winner Fabio Casartelli,  riding on Lance Armstrong’s Motorola team, crashed into a wall on the descent back before helmets became mandatory.  There is a small plaque where the crash occurred and a large sculpture in a wide space within sight of it up the road.


Signs warned of a couple stretches on the descent of a seventeen per cent grade.  I was riding in the rain and didn’t need any reminder to be wary.  I was squeezing my brakes so hard and going so slowly on the descent I lost all the warmth I had generated on the climb and was close to shivering.  I gladly dismounted and ran along with my bike trying to hold it back to get the blood flowing and warm up..

The Col de Menté starts immediately after the three-mile, 1,400 foot descent from the summit of the Col de Portet-d’Aspet.  It was seven miles and a 2,500 foot elevation gain to the next summit.  It was after five pm and the rain was coming down hard.  At first it felt good to be climbing and warming up, but I was dreading the long descent in the wet.  After a mile when I came to a shuttered up vacation home with a chain across its driveway I opted to set up my tent behind it alongside a raging creek and tackle the climb with fresh legs and hopefully dry roads the next morning.  The best part of my campsite was an overhang where I could hang my Goretex jacket and soaked shorts and let them drip their moisture off rather than soak my tent, which had moisture aplenty as I set it up and from the rest of my gear.  

The night before I pulled into a campground in a light drizzle before another hard downpour.  I was able to get into my tent before the deluge that time..  I was the only one in a tent, everyone else in camping vans.  The friendly proprietor came to my tent half an hour later with an umbrella to rescue me and bring me to the commons area.  He and his wife had acquired the campground three months earlier and were in that early phase of wanting to go out of their way to please their clients in anyway they could.  They were both school teachers who had dreamed of running a campground.  They had been searching on the internet for campgrounds for sale.  They had fully transformed their life’s, moving from Normandy at the top of France to the Pyrenees at the bottom.  The storm had knocked out WiFi so I read a novel by Zola I had downloaded from Gutenberg.  When I told them I was reading Zola,  they looked at me quizzically, as I didn’t realize the French give the emphasis on the second syllable of his name.  While I was reading they brought me a cup of hot tea.  

They were just twenty miles from Barjac where I was headed in the morning for the Anselm Kiefer sculpture garden.  I was already looking forward to returning to their campground the next year with Janina, as I knew she’d truly win their favor with her French and being a fellow educator.  I was disappointed they didn’t know anything about the Kiefer site, but that was easily explained by their being new to the area.  But it was more disconcerting that the tourist office down the road didn’t know anything about it either.  

I showed the two women tending to the tourist office the Wikipedia page on it.  That baffled them enough for them to do a little searching of their own.  They learned that the Barjac I was looking for was 200 miles away, north of Nimes.  I had actually passed within twenty miles of it on my way to Cannes and would be near it once again in July during The Tour de France for a possible visit then if I’m not pressed for time.  Fortunately I hadn’t gone out of my way to visit this Barjac, as it was on my way to scout out Ville Étapes.  The tourist office just saved me a twenty mile side trip, allowing me to reach the Col de Menté a couple hours earlier than I would have otherwise.

My night in my soaking wet tent on the Col de Menté was the first in these travels where I didn’t have a mint syrup drink to please my pallet.  I hadn’t come upon an open supermarket all day to restock my depleted bottle.  I had to resort to one of my two emergency packs of ramen along with couscous for my dinner.  I passed through the only town large enough to have a supermarket during its 90-minute lunch closure.  It’s tourist office was closed as well, so I couldn’t inquire  about the precise location of a plaque on the Col de Menté to the crash site of Luis Ocaña during the 1971 Tour, one of the most celebrated crashes in Tour history.  

Ocaña was doing the impossible at the time, about to dethrone the two-time Tour winner and seemingly invincible Eddie Merckx.  He had a seven-minute advantage on him thanks to an earlier dramatic eight-minute stage win.  But he crashed on the Col de Menté in a downpour and was knocked out of The Race, allowing Merckx to claim the third of his five Tour victories. Merckx crashed on the same turn but was able to remount and resume riding.  Ocaña had been chasing Merckx and was hit by two or three other riders while he was down, fully incapacitating him. Ocaña did manage to win a Tour in 1973, a year in which Merckx skipped The Race, doing the Vuelta and Giro instead.  Merckx was such a nemesis of Ocaña that he named his dog Merckx so he’d have the pleasure of having a Merckx at his beck and call.

I knew the plaque was on the west side of the Col, but not how far down.  Since I’d be descending myself I could easily miss it.  And I would have if Ocaña hadn’t been painted in large letters on the roadway in front of it.  I had been scanning cliff sides in hair pin turns, but it was hard to give them more than a glance trying to control my speed and watch the road.  At least the road was dry.  It was remarkable how much better my brakes were working in the dry conditions compared to how harrowing it had been in the wet of the day before.


The plaque would have been easy to spot if one were climbing rather than descending, as it was blocked by foliage and indentation to descending riders.  It came a little over two miles after the summit.  

The summit had a small monument to Serge Lapébie, a racer who died at the age of 43 in 1991.  His father, Guy, was a well-known racer who won two gold medals and a silver in cycling events at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and won a stage of The Tour in 1949 and who outlived his son by nineteen years.


After these two long climbs with prolonged grades of ten per cent my thighs were burning the forty miles to Trie-sur-Baise, but I was able to push it up what lesser grades came along a gear or two bigger than I had before, as I could feel my legs strengthening from the considerable amount of climbing I have done since leaving Cannes ten days ago.  I may not have the luxury of altitude-training, as the professionals will before The Tour, but the legs coming around.  Now it’s on to Pau, frequent Ville Étape and the arrivée for the 18th stage.





Sunday, May 27, 2018

Carcassone, Ville Arrivée/Départ



It’s just forty days until the start of The Tour, but neither Carcassone nor Millau, stage fifteen Ville Étapes, had any Tour preparations to give me a jolt of Tour anticipation.  The tourist offices of these mid-size cities, who have hosted The Tour in years past, weren’t even informed as to where the vast Tour village would be erected in their towns, the site of the peloton’s departure and arrival points that would attract thousands on Race Day and would be the focus of the cycling universe for a day. It was disconcerting that the biggest event in these towns this summer, if not the year, wasn’t at the forefront of its attention, as it is in other Ville Étapes.  

I’ll just have to wait until I get to the small town Trie-sur-Baïse, a first time Ville Étape, in a couple of days to get a high octane boost of Tour fervor.  In the mean time I just have to rely on the exploits of Chris Froome at the Giro to raise my anticipation level.  After he accomplishes what had looked impossible and wins the Giro, his third Grand Tour in a row, there will be a greatly heightened level of excitement as he now becomes a heavy favorite to win The Tour and join the elite five-win club of Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain, solidifying his status as one of the greats of the sport.  It will make this a historic Tour.  The attention accorded Froome will be at fever pitch.

Despite the lack of any acknowledgement of the coming of The Tour my visits to Millau and Carcassone weren’t without some degree of satisfaction.  They are both historic cities of splendor and character.  Millau sits along the Tarn River where it’s spectacular gorge finally widens enough for a city.  It is framed by high cliff walls that are spanned by a modern iconic bridge, a latter-day Eiffel.  The light posts down the city’s main thoroughfare were adorned with banners for an annual 23-kilometer running race that will take thousands across it, a rare opportunity for those on foot to gaze from its lofty height. The bridge alone makes Millau a must-see.


I passed through Millau on Friday, it’s Market day.  The narrow streets of the centuries-old town center were thronged with the local populace perusing stands selling all manner of food and clothing.  Anyone within a several mile radius of any French town knows it’s a civic duty to come to the weekly Market.  It is a great hive of activity with everyone in a festive mood.  It was hard to push my bike through all the people stopping for a chat.  The conviviality is palpable.

Craig and Onni drive ten miles every Saturday to their nearest Market in Le Vigan.  Craig had to go to Le Vigan the day before Market day to file a report with the police regarding a break-in to a house they look after owned by a Dutch couple who only visit on occasion, but that wasn’t going to prevent him from returning the next day for the Market.  I arrived at Craig and Onni’s home just as Onni was leaving a note on their door informing me they had to meet the police at the house they were looking after.  

Three officers came and they kept Craig and Onni occupied for over two hours as they scanned for fingerprints and other clues, giving me plenty of time to shower and spread out my rain-soaked gear and put my legs up after a strenuous two hundred mile ride from Cannes.  The legs were happy for just a half day of riding after three days of straining up climb after climb. They’d had two weeks of inactivity, just coasting a mile down from the apartment where I was staying during the film festival, with the only effort required of them the mile incline back some time after midnight.  

Craig had  hoped to accompany me the next day at least part of the way to Millau, sixty miles away, but his much-in-demand wall-builder was available to help Craig that day on a staircase he was building in his garden.  He had priority above all else.  Craig’s multi-terraced garden looks more magnificent with each visit, not only the resurrected centuries old walls, but all that he and Onni and their partner Andrè have planted.

Craig had recently learned that a neighbor of his in Notre Dame de la Rouvière had created an extensive mosaic on the walls of the building where he also lives in Nimes and that it had some bicycling elements to it.  That gave me something to search out on my way to NDR.   It was on a narrow street just a few blocks from the Roman Coliseum that is the trademark of Nimes.  The mosaic filled one side of the block-long building and extended partway around the corner on another side.  There were political statements in French, English and Spanish.  One stated, “Where any view of money exists, art can not be carried on, but war only.” Daniel Ellsberg and Andre Gide were among names inscribed. Two bicycle wheels and three cranksets were embedded high up on the long wall.


I didn’t notice that the inaccessible roof of the building had also been taken over by his sculpture, which had a more prominent bicycle flavor.  They can be seen at http://heraultinsolite.blogspot.fr/2015/03/la-maison-dolivier-jullian-nimes.html.  One never knows when one will encounter a manifestation of personal art in France.  In Millau I came upon a three-story house in the old city with colorful adornments.


A couple doors down was a similar outbreak of artistic expression brightening up the dark narrow street.


Carcassone will not only host a finish and the start of a stage, but it will also be a rest day, the second of The Tour, between them.  It will be a most welcome day of rest after two strenuous days on the Massif Central and three murderous days in the Pyrenees ahead. Carcassone will be a great place for a day-off for Tour followers with a couple of World Heritage sites—it’s fortress and the Canal du Midi.  I had a glorious twelve-mile descent down to the Carcassone plain back amongst the vineyards I had left in Nimes.

My next destination as I continue to ready my legs for The Tour and scout out Ville Étapes is a vast sculpture garden outside the village of Barjac in the foothills of the Pyrenees covering more than thirty-five acres created by the German artist Anselm Kiefer.  It was the subject of Sophie Fiennes very worthwhile 2010 documentary “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow.”  This is also a scouting mission for a possible ride next year with Janina similar to our ride a year ago to all the Andy Goldsworthy sculptures in the opposite direction.  Those were in the shadow of the other great French mountain range—the Alps.  I won’t take Janina via Millau, as spectacular as it is, as that route, especial beyond it, has required an excessive amount of climbing, with one five, six, seven mile climb after another of a couple thousand feet.  It will be much easier to drop down to the Mediterranean, forty miles from Craig and Onni’s, and follow it.  I can’t complain about the difficulty of this route though, as my legs will be the better for it.








Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cannes Day Twelve—The Awards

Every year day by day the suspense builds to the awards ceremony as everyone speculates what films the jury will reward.  The day arrives almost with relief signaling the end of this movie orgy and days of limited sleep.  It is a joy to sit in the plush Debussy Theater one last time and watch the proceedings on the large screen taking place in the Palais next door.  Except this year they decided to restrict the Debussy to the press, even though they didn’t even fill a quarter of the seats.  Ralph and I waited at the entry to the theater along with a couple dozens others hoping they’d let us with Market badges in knowing there were plenty of available seats as they have in the past.  At 7:15 when the ceremony began and we still hadn’t been let in we were apologetically told the “big boss,” whoever that might be, said “no” this year.  

So we had to go over to the Palais complex and stand for an hour with a cluster of others in front of one of the several small televisions scattered around the sprawling complex. The volume wasn’t very loud and whenever someone spoke in English it was drowned out by the simultaneous French translation.  We couldn’t fully appreciate the eloquence of jury president Cate Blanchett’s opening remarks nor the speeches of the award winners nor the openingl harangue by Italian actress Asia Argento that Harvey Weinstein had raped her at Cannes in 1997 when she was 21.  She said it was nice to know that he would never be back.  She should have added he ought to be behind bars. 

Spike Lee was in the audience, indicating that he had been brought back to Cannes for one of the seven awards the jury hands out.  When it came down to the last two and he hadn’t been called to the stage, it looked as if he might have won the Palm d’Or he thought he deserved for “Do the Right Thing” in 1989 but was beaten out by “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”  Once again he was awarded the Grand Prix, but he made no fess about it, just yet.  He had to be thrilled to be given any award for this very average film that just happened to be politically relevant.  In the press conference for the jury afterwards French actress Lea Seydoux said, “fundamentally we knew we had to give it an award,” despite Blanchette emphasizing that at the very outset the jury had agreed not to let politics influence their decisions, just the quality of the films.  It didn’t hurt Lee either that director Ava Duverney was on the jury, as she said that she had always been a strong admirer of Lee and he had been a great influence on her.

Every jury has at least one highly queationable choice.  Other than that, this jury made easily defensible selections, other than not awarding Nuri Bilge Ceylon’s highly ambitious film any award. Some might question it for not giving “Burning,” the Korean film that received the highest score ever from Screen magazine’s panel of critics, any award, but not Ralph or I.  We both cheered that.  Hirokazu Kare-eda’s “Shoplifters” about a Japanese family struggling to get by was a most deserving Palm d’Or winner.  Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” about a Lebanese 12-year surviving in Beirut was a perfect Jury winner, though some thought it deserved the Grand Prix that Lee was given or even the Palm d’Or.  That would have been extraordinary if it had, but not without justification.

Pawel Pawlikowski merited best director for “Cold War” following a love affair in and out of Poland for several decades during the Cold War.  Little argument could be made about the best actor and actress awards either—Marcello Fonte as a twerpy kennel operator in the Italian gangster movie “Dogman” and Samal Yesyamova in the Russian film “My Little One” as an illegal immigrant in snowy Moscow frantically trying to find work.  I had seen the film earlier in the day, the only Competition film I had missed.  It was obvious this film would receive some award, especially with a Russian on the jury.  The film is shot in a non-stop snowstorm with sinister snow plows a recurring element.  It was an even more harrowing tale of survivsl with everything stacked against one than the Lebanese film.  Yesyamova has just given birth and escapes out a window of the hospital without her baby since she knows she can’t care for it and has to work even though she is hemorrhaging.  She meets a couple of decent souls in her struggles, but most of those she deals with are predators of some sort.  Not only the character she plays but the role itself had demands beyond comprehension.

The Italian film “Happy as Lazarro” and “Three Faces” from Iran shared the best screenplay, allowing the jury to dispense one more than the usual seven awards, and then went one further by giving Godard a special Palm d’Or as his film defied all norms and couldn’t be compared to any other in the field.  Blanchett said the jury couldn’t stop talking about it, but because it was so unique and unclasifiable, they had to put it in a category of its own.  Blanchett was the star of the press conference, highly articulate and cogent.  Towards the end Duvernay complimented her for her  “exquisite” handling of the jury, drawing out and  paying attention to all eight under her command.  Canadian director Denis Villenenve sat beside her, clearly serving as her chief assistant.  The two of them did the bulk of the talking.  Kristen Stewart didn’t utter a peep nor did several other of the jurors.  It will be available on YouTube, and will be well worth viewing.

Much as I needed to, I wasn’t able to sleep in for once on this day of repeat screenings of all the Competition films, as the film I most wanted to see again, “Summer,” about rock-and-rollers in early 1980 Leningrad, was playing at 8:30. . I joined the long line at eight and was lucky to get in to the 500 seat Soixante, the second largest of the five theaters hosting the repeat screenings.  The Debussy, the largest with 2000 seats, was playing “Cold War,” “Blackkklansmam” and “Shoplifters,” the festival guessing those were the three films people would most want to see.  It was as if they had a foreboding of the jury’s choices.  It was no surprise they programmed “Burning” in one of the smallest theaters.  

I was bowled over once again by the “Pscho Killer” scene in “Summer” and a second show-stopping fantasy scene of a concert when the band on stage and the audience let loose, sending the crew of men in suits monitoring the concert into a frenzy trying to get everyone to contain themselves and threatening them with jail.  Preceding the homage to the Talking Heads, who the band members refer to as “the heads that talk,” the rock and rollers are berated for being a disgrace to the motherland and for singing songs of the enemy.  They reply that the Sex Pistols are working boys and aren’t the enemy and the same for the Beatles.  The film didn’t have a strong enough thread to earn it any awards,  but it remains one of my favorite films of many from this year’s smorgasbord.  I was turned away from both “Shoplifters” and the Godard film later in the day, and was only able to get into to the lesser Japanese film “Asako” before “My Little One.” It was a fantastic time once again, but I am more than ready to return to the bike and exalt myself in a physical manner.

Cannes Day Eleven


Before the Un Certain Regard jury tendered their awards this afternoon in the Debussy theater I was finally able to have a word with juror Julie, director of the Telluride Film Festival, in the lobby preceding her taking the stage with her fellow jurors Benicio Del Toro, Virginia Ledoyen, Annemarie Jacir and Kantemir Balagov.   Usually I share a few screenings with her during the festival, but her jury duties had kept her so busy this was the first we had crossed paths.  She was full of glee over her experience and also over their choices.  I asked if they had to deliberate very long.  She said it went fast as they had been talking about the films they had seen all along and knew one another’s feelings.  She agreed with Ralph and I that Un Certain Regard had an exceptional batch of films this year, the strongest since she has been attending the festival.

Ralph and I were thrilled with their choices, as it means there is a strong likelihood Julie will program several of them for Telluride and we’ll get to see them again.  Their top prize went to the Swedish film “Border” about a facially disfigured border security guard with a gift for spotting smugglers and her friendship with a guy with a similar look and mysterious qualities.  It was easily the boldest, most imaginative film of the festival.  The teenaged boy undergoing a sex change in the Belgian film “Girl” was awarded best actor for his agonizing, sensational performance. “Sofia” won best script.  This story of a young unmarried Moroccan woman who shocks her family and faces prison time when she turns up pregnant may have been the most gripping film of the festival.   Best director went to the Ukrainian film “Donbass” that was the Opening Night film for this category.  I had missed it, but Ralph really liked this film on warfare. They also gave a Special Jury prize to the Brazilian film “The Dead and the Others” for its anthropological portrayal of the life of an indigenous people.

Julie asked what I thought would win the Palm d’Or.  She was hearing that “Cold War,” the Polish film by the director of “Ida,” a Telluride discovery, had a good chance.  I had just seen “ Capharnaüm,” a Lebanese film with the absolutely amazing performance of a twelve-year boy who is fed up with his abusive, indigent parents living on the margins of society and moves into the hovel of an African refugee and her infant son.  His gut-wrenching struggles to survive and care for the infant in a most unfavorable environment were remarkably well-portrayed.  This smaller film could win the favor of the jury simply for its subject matter.  Julie agreed that was a possibility, but she hates it when a jury allows that to dictate their thinking.  

Neither of us had seen the final film due to be screened in a couple of hours, the Turkish film “The Wild Pear Tree” by former Palm d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and knew that was a strong possibility.  Ralph and I feared we wouldn’t be able to see it until after the awards ceremony, as it’s lone screening the next day was at 7:45, just as the awards ceremony would be concluding.  But we lucked out and were allowed into the press screening today when there were plenty of empty seats in the Bazin for this three-hour movie.  We were concerned that we may have been too sleep deprived to do it justice, and that it might have been better to hold off on it until the next day, but it was so well done that it was the only film today that I didn’t nod off in.  If nothing else, it ought to win the award for best script. 

It is a series of long conversations, some going on for ten or fifteen minutes, between a young man just out of college trying to get his novel published while hoping to get a job as a teacher, with a series of people over a few days until a jump ahead of several months to conclude the film.  He still lives at home.  His father teaches grade school and has a gambling addiction. He has no money, even trying to cadge money from his penniless son.  The son hates the town he lives in.  He has a perpetual scowl on his face. His conversations generally begin with an air of amiability, but degenerate into diatribes of bitterness, even with a local novelist he goes to for advice.  This didn’t have the profundity of Ceylan’s Palm d’Or winner “Winter Sleep,” but was still an exceptional film of considerable depth.  It is not a sure winner, but with no clear standouts this year, it will be under consideration.

The Italian film “Happy as Lazarro” might also have some supporters.  Ralph and I finally caught up with  it today after missing it earlier in the festival.  A perpetual smile of benevolence graces the face of Lazarro, a guileless young man who lives in the country and ventures off to the big city.  His purity generally wins him favor from those he encounters.  The film adeptly bridges on the surreal in its commentary on a world of craven selfishness.  

I managed a fourth Competition film today, leaving me with just one more to see tomorrow.  Vanessa Paradis gives a swashbuckling performance as the producer of third-rate gay porn in “Knife and Heart.”  Á knife-wielding killer is murdering people she has worked with eventually derailing her productions.  The police aren’t all that motivated to track the killer down so she follows up on the mysterious clue of a feather left at the murder sites.  This wacky film isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, nor will the jury.  The film begins with a gruesome murder and is the fourth film in Competition to end with a murder (five actually if one includes Spike Lee’s film as it ends with the gruesome footage of the car that ran down a woman in Charlottesville). All this brutality is making the heartwarming Japanese film “Shoplifters” of an offbeat family full of goodwill and consideration more and more palatable as the Palm d’Or.  If it wins, Ralph says it will be the first time in his seven years of attending the festival, going back to the “Tree of Life” year, that his choice will have won.  In the “Tree of Life” year he was rooting for Ceylan’s film “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”

I inserted one of the Director’s Fortnight winners into my day—the best European film (though Gaspar Noé’s French film “Climax” won the best overall award, the Italian film “Lucia’s Grace” about a surveyor who becomes haunted by the Virgin Mary trying to make her resist abiding by the wishes of a corrupt developer.  The developer argues that if he did things properly he’d be locked up for being corrupt, so he had no choice in this world of ours.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Cannes Day Ten

Sixty-one films in ten days so far for me and only one “Wow” moment—the three minutes of “Psycho Killer”in the Russian rock-and-roll film “Summer” from Day Three.  There have been better films but none that gave that rare off-the-charts jolt of exhilaratin that a superior film such as last year’s Palm d’Or “The Square” delivered.  There’s still a chance it could come tomorrow with the final film playing in Competition, “The Wild Pear Tree,” by Miri Bilge Ceylon, whose last film won the Palm d’Or.  For the first time in my years of coming to Cannes I don’t have a strong favorite at this point for the top award.

Both of today’s offerings had the possibility of being that masterpiece we’ve all been awaiting by a Cannes regular who has won awards before, though never the top prize.  The first was “Dogman” by Matteo Garrone.  He returns to a territory he knows wells—Italian mobsters.  The dog man of the film is a twerpy guy who runs a small  kennel in a rundown building on the outskirts of a city.  He provides coke and minor services for some small time thugs who don’t much respect him.  They somewhat belligerently toss him a couple of bracelets as his cut for being their driver for a heist.  He is upset that they brag they iced a dog in the house they just robbed, putting it in the freezer.  He returns to the house and lovelingly revives the dog.  One of the mobsters who forces him to do things he doesn’t want to do is fully out of control.  Some of his cohorts think he needs to be eliminated.  The movie has the ring of truth unfolding as a true tale, but lacks the punch of a transcendent film. 

Screen’s board of critics gave “Burning” by Lee Chang-Dong a 3.8, the highest rating of a film ever, exceeding  “Toni Erdmann” from two years ago.  But rarely does the highest rated film win the Palm d’Or.  Erdmann was actually totally ignored by George Miller’s jury.  “Burning’s” score came as a great surprise, as this vanillaish story of another guy searching for a woman he had just developed a crush on, as in yesterday’s “Under the Silver Lake,” failed to connect with either Ralph or I.  We expected three-stars, not fours, across the board.  It had no buzz from those who had seen its early screenings, as the final one of the day at ten pm wasn’t even a third full.  Usually one has to be in line almost an hour early to be sure of getting in.  

The woman who disappears is most charismatic and has two suitors.  One is a dopey guy she knew growing up in their small rural community and meets up again in the big city at her part-time job trying to entice customers into shops with special promotions dancing out front and giving away stuff.   The other guy is a very smooth rich guy with a Porsche who she met on a recent trip to Africa.  The dopey guy, who claims to be a writer, works on his father’s small farm outside the city, is truly in love with her.  The other guy may be just toying with her.  Much is left unstated in the minimalist script that is padded into 148 minutes. I could have left after an hour.  None of the characters are developed enough to care about.  A few clues are given as to their motives, but not with much certainty.  It leaves one with plenty to question, if any of it mattered.

The Un Certain Regard field has several strong contenders for its top prize—“Sofia,” “The Harvesters,” “Border” and “Girl”—so much so that it was almost a relief that today’s two films didn’t further muddle the field.  The German film “In My Room” turned into a post-apocalypse movie when with no explanation everyone has disappeared from the world save one guy.  He’s visiting his dying mother out in the countryside when he awakes one morning and cars are abandoned on the road and stores are empty.  It is as strange and inexplicable to those watching it as it is to him.  He contentedly goes  about living and becoming self-sufficient on a small farm.  He is eventually discovered by a good-looking woman who speaks English and they continue to exist without questioning anything or feeling as if they are under any threat.  This was a genuine ho-hum of a movie that the critics could embrace if they wanted for being so understated.

“The Gentle Indifference of the World” takes its title from Camus.  The two protagonists of this movie from Kazakhstan are both reading Camus.  One is a young woman of intelligence whose father has recently died and is put in the position of having to marry an ogre to pay off his debts.  The other is an unrefined admirer who is a genuinely good guy.  As a stand-alone this might have had some interest, but it doesn’t distinguish itself in any way amongst the many films it is up against.

My other two films for the day were both awardwinners from the Critics Week.  The films in this sidebar generally lack the polish of other invited films, but can shine with their heart and grittiness.  That was true of both “Woman at War” from Iceland and “Sir” from India.  Both center around a woman.  The woman in Iceland is an idealistic middle-aged music teacher who gets around on a bicycle with a large wicker basket on her handlebars.  She has large portraits of Gandhi and Mandela in her apartment.  She is an ardent environmentalist who is knocking down electrical towers to discourage a Chinese company that wishes to further develop power in Iceland with “suicidal” fossil fuels rather than with the more environmentally friendly geothermal power that has been the hallmark of Iceland.  The country is in a state of terror wondering who the sabateur could be.  A Latino touring cyclist equipped with Ortlieb panniers and wearing a Che t-shirt is apprehended several times as a suspect.  The plot has other fresh twists, but not much supporting rhetoric in this quest to “stop the war against the earth.”

In “Sir” a young ambitious maid from rural India has just started working for a young man in Mumbai who has called off his marriage because he is too devoted to his job in his family’s construction business to text his fiancé five times a day as he thinks she desires.  The maid is very sweet and obsequious. The guy recognizes her genuineness compared to the rest around him and takes an affection to her. When the woman who directed this first film introduced it, she said, “It is extremely important that this film be seen and talked about.”  That may be overstating it, but it does deserve to be seen.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cannes Day Nine

I had the rare opportunity this morning to bequeath an Invitation I wasn’t going to use on someone for the 8:30 screening of  “Under the Silver Lake.”  Instead, I was going to take advantage of the chance to see “At War,” a Competition film I’d missed, and try for Silver Lake at a later screening in the day.  If one doesn’t use an Invitation he is given a demerit and faces the threat of no further Invitations.  Ralph neglected to use one several days ago when he showed up at the Debussy and discovered he’d left his pass back at our apartment a mile away.  He was so frustrated by his much dreaded oversight, he didn’t think to give his Invitation away, and received a reprimand for it not being scanned.

There is always a gauntlet of irritating people in front of the Debussy and Palais holding up signs asking for Invitations.  I preferred to give mine to someone in the orderly ticketless line. There were at least fifty already by eight am.  I tried to give it to the person first in line but he was blocked by barriers and the security guard couldn’t understand what I was trying to do.  Others in line did, so I gave it to one of them to try to pass it up to the person who had been waiting the longest.  I know it got used, as I didn’t receive an alert that it hadn’t.

There were less than thirty people gathered to see “At War” at the smaller 500-seat Soixante theater when I arrived an hour early for its nine am screening.  This French film could have been called “On Strike,” but it was much more than another movie about factory workers going on strike over the threat of their plant, that employed 1,100 workers being shut down.  Their protests escalate to genuine battle even overturning the car of the CEO of the company with him and his two security guards confined to  it.  The well-orchestrated dialogue of the very angry workers in virtual screaming matches with each other and management couldn’t have been more realistic.  It comes as fast and furious as it did in “Sextape.” This very French film raised pertinent present-day concerns.  The highly unexpected end gave it all the more power.  

The day’s other Competition film “Under the Silver Lake” by David Robert Mitchell dealt with a young man in Los Angeles who faces eviction from his apartment.   He doesn’t seem to be concerned as he pursues a woman from his apartment complex who unexpectedly moves out during the night just hours after he’s initiated what he expects to be a mating of some sort.  The film falls into a Lynchian noir universe of semi-absurdity that made it as irrelevant as “At War” was relevant.  Women continually tell him he smells.  He blames it on skunks in his neighborhood. Regular flashes of the Hollywood sign on the hill, once in the distance beyond a bust of James Dean, imply this movie was supposed to be some moral tale about Tinsel Town.  This interminable 139 minute film didn’t seem like it would ever end.

A most gripping movie about an unwed woman having a child in Morocco could not have been more realistic or powerful.  The young woman managed to keep her pregnancy a secret from her well-to-do family and even herself as she was in extreme “pregnancy denial,” as she knew if she were pregnant it would destroy her world.  This movie had all the intrigue and twists of an early Farhardi movie.  “Sofia” will be a strong candidate for “Un Certain Regard’s” best picture.  This movie puts another dent into the patriarchy.

The day’s other Un Certain Regard film, the Portuguese “The Dead and the Others,” dives into the culture of an isolated Brazilian tribe.  Rather than having much of a plot, it is an anthropological rendering of their ways with long scenes of older topless women singing and going about other activities.  It was hard to lose oneself in their world compared to the two other truly powerful films of the day.

I had hoped to see “Under the Silver Lake” immediately after “At War” in the Soixante, but I fell over 200 people short of getting in, as with the festival winding down there are few Market screenings to diverse the crowd.  Also, all the young staffers who had been working in Market booths can now go see movies as their duties wind down.  I talked to several who had seen fewer movies than I’ve seen in any one day.  Denied  the movie I planned to see, I got to see “Big Bang,” a consummate French film of affairs and seductions and sesssions with shrinks as three adult children cope with their aging grandmaother and 60-year father who’s still sleeping with secretaries and is about to become a father again.  The plot had strands galore, but it was a most credible effort, and a pleaaant diversion among the day’s heavier fare.  It included a suicide attempt by a wealthy entrepreneur who has everything except a satisfying relationship, just as did the Italian commercial film yesterday.

My day ended with a French lesson, relying on the French subtitles for an Argentinian film, “The Snatch Thief.”  The film opens with two guys on a motorcycle grabbing the purse of an elderly woman just after she makes an ATM withdrawal.  The woman clutches her purse and is dragged along for a block by the thieves.  She is hospitalized.  One of the thieves goes to the hospital to see how badly she was injured.  She has lost her memory.  He returns to where he had thrown away the contents of her purse to retrieve her keys and check out her apartment.  He decides to move in and pretend to be a friend of the old woman, turning into her caretaker when she is released from the hospital.  This original premise may not have been fully credible, but it made for a nice finish to the day and an affirmation that my French vocabulary is more extensive than I realized.



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cannes Day Eight

One can always see a strong representation of a film’s nationality at the screenings here.  Italian films draw Italians, Spanish films draw Spaniards and so on.  As I stood waiting in line for Spike Lee’s “Blackkklansman” and after I sat down in the theater I heard more English all about me than I’ve heard since leaving home.  It was at once comforting and annoying.  Hearing French and German and Chinese adds to the aura of being at Cannes, an extra aroma to savor, so all the English, particularly loud, self-serving American English, had a disconnect effect.  

Still, it was interesting to hear the younger folk thrilled to be at Cannes and older professionals talking the biz.  It was another layer to authenticating the Cannes experience.  All are lamenting the lack of stars this year.  A young woman, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, said she felt sorry for all the attention lavished on stars.  She said Madonna's daughter Lola was a class mate of hers at Ann Arbor, and she left after two years, never really fitting in.

Seeing an American film at Cannes, especially those with a Hollywood lineage, amongst all the other nationalities, exposes their lack of subtlety (one could almost say intelligence) and heavy-handedmess, though that may be partially because their milieu is all too familiar.  As engrossing and entertaining as Lee’s film was, its manipulative ways undermined the  power it might have otherwise had. Lee adeptly tells the story of the first black officer in the Colorado Springs police force in 1979 who bored by his rookie desk duty manages to persuade the chief to let him work undercover.  He responds to a Ku Klux Klan recruitment ad, convincingly posing as a white supremicist when he calls the phone number.  When he is invited to come to a meeting he sends a white officer working on his detail, who happens to be Jewish, or so the movie portrays him.  

One fears many elements of the story have been embellished or altered to make it an even better yarn than it actually was, maintaing a high degree of tension.  There is much comedy to the story, especially with David Duke being a prominent character and being duped by the black officer.  But Lee resents the movie being called a comedy, saying he doesn’t do comedy.  Unlike many of the movies here that require a high degree of concentration, one could simply sit back and let Lee take one along with a fair amount of lecture points along the way.

Lars Von Trier was no less subtle than Lee in “The House That Jack Built” starring Matt Dillon as a serial killer.  This two-and-a-half hour movie is told in five parts—each involving a murder.  This venture into the morbid and macabre is nowhere as gruesome as it could have been.  Von Trier gives the audience plenty of laughs as Dillon recounts his career to an unseen Bruno Ganz character, who finally emerges at the end.  Dillon plays a smooth talking architect/engineer who is most adept at banter before he surprises his victims with their death.  He likes to get himself into hairy situations, even with the police, and work his way out of them.  His first victim is Uma Thurmon, who flags him down to help her with a flat tire.  Little does she know when she tells him he looks like a serial killer how perceptive she is.  If this had been in Competition, Dillon would have been a strong candidate for best actor if the film weren’t dismissed as a bunch of hocum.

I couldn’t fully appreciate “Asalo I and II” as I had to watch this Japanese Competition film with French subtitles.  It was a simple enough story of a young woman who falls in love with a guy in her town who disappears and then refalls in love two years later with a guy in Tokyo who is his spitting image, so much so she at first thinks he is playing with her refusing to acknowledge his new identity.  Nothing about this slight film seemed worthy of Competition. 

We were handed 3D glasses for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” from China.  This was another lackluster love story though more grandly shot than the Japanese film, looking more like a Competition film than Un Certain Regard.  It hardly needed to be in 3D, but evidently that is popular in China, which in the first quarter of this year passed the United States in ticket revenue, thus becoming the biggest market in the world for cinema.  

The day’s other Un Certain Regard film, “Euforia” from Italy, was standard fare—a guy with a terminal disease being looked after by his wealthy gay brother.  There are very standard subplots that didn’t distinguish this film at all.  

I also ducked into the Brunel to see the first hour of Jacques Rivette’s 1965 masterpieces—“La Religieuse.”  The star, Anna Karinina, was on stage for its introduction.  It is nice to know that whenever one needs a jolt of high cinema there is the daily classic.  Tomorrow it is “The Bicycle Thief.” A couple days ago it was “The Apartment.”  One of those young eager American film students attending the festival standing in line for the Spike Lee movie said he had gotten in line four hours ahead of time to make sure he got into “2001,” probably not a bad expenditure of time.

Cannes Day Seven

For the first time Thierry Fremuax passed on film by the French provocateur Gaspar Noé.  With his “Climax” relegated to Director’s Fortnight and just three screenings, it wasnt going to be easy to get into.  The two showings in the Croisette Theater would be a virtual impossibility without a higher grade pass than mine, leaving the only chance when it came down to the Arcades, where their was some egalitarianism among the passes.  It was just a matter of how early to line up.  Ralph and I wandered by before eight pm, more than two-and-a+half hours before its screening.  There was one lone twenty something wandering around asking where the line for “Climax” was.  “You’re the first,” we told him.  We weren’t desperate enough to lineup just yet.  Ralph wanted to go for dinner and I wanted to see at least the first hour of a Serbian film a block away at the Olympia.  

It was hard to leave “The Load” after an hour of the yet to be completed trucker’s drive on the backroads of  war-torn Serbia to Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bobbing.  Bridges are out so the grizzled guy driving the route for the first time is at the mercy of others telling him the way.  A long-haired young hitchhiker offers to guide him, but he doesn’t want his company.  He doesn’t realize he’s hopped on to the back of the truck until later, so reluctantly invites him into the cab.  When they come to a mystery intersection, he doesn’t know the way.  They guess right for a spell.  They get further directions when they stop at a cafe, but a boy steals the cigarettes they’ve been smoking while they’re stopped.  The realism is deftly portrayed and so engrossing I didn’t realize an hour of it had already passed.  I was glad to see what I had though.

There were only a hundred or so preceding me at the Arcades, but that was gradually inflated during my 90 minute wait by the budgers that no one objected to put me.  If Ralph had been with me we might have been able to gang up on them.  No one else seems to mind.  Only once before did I witness an older lady shame a young woman budger to leave by questioning her morals.  Foruntately I was close enough to the entrance of the 250-seat theater not to be too concerned.  Ralph didn’t join the line until twenty minutes later, well behind me.  He was among the last five to get in.

Whether good or bad, we were glad to have the chance to see one of the most anticipated films of the Featival and what extremes Noé might go to this time.  Had he gone too far for Fremaux this time or just bungled it?  It began with a prolonged dance scene to loud pulsing music of a couple dozen young professionals, mostly non-white, rehearsing an intricate number full of chaotic gyrations.  Noé keeps a head-on static camera for a long spell then begins his signature swooping camera movements.  So far so good.  After more than half an hour the dancers take a break and go off in twosomes for quick exchanges of conversation, mostly about sex.  Then someone starts have hallucinations and realizes the sangria they are drinking has been laced with LSD.  This causes a mini-riot of them wondering who did.  Then genuine chaos breaks out.  It goes on for the rest of the film with the camera turning upside down and every which way.  It is less than mesmerizing.  Fremaux was right.  This was pretty much of a dud, but a dud with some merit showcasing Noé’s sometimes spectacular film sense.

We had no regrets whatsoever seeing it, even though it came at the expense of seeing the repeat screenings of the day’s second Competition film.  The first, “Shoplifters” by frequent Competition-contributor Hirokazu Kore-eda, was a winner.  Ralph, who worked in Tokyo for fifteen years, was particularly pleased with this culturally sensitive immersion into the life of an unmarried couple who take on an aging pensioner and young kids to help them survive without having to really work.  A young boy is the guy’s shoplifting accomplice.  He isn’t overly pleased when the guy good-heartedly brings home a five-year old girl one night who is cowering in a cubby like a rodent.  The women of the household have some sympathy for her but are concerned about having another mouth to feed.  The girl is clearly traumatized and responds like a withered flower given water to their kindness.  She begins accompany the guys on their outings.  They have to eventually be caught, but even that is portrayed in a gentle, respectful manner.  The police interrogating this ring of ne’er do wells are amazingly kindly.  This unsantized portrayal of people on the margins was more heartwarming than unsettling.  The woman who ends up,doing time for the man, as in the earlier Chinese movie, does not regret their wayward path, saying it was fun.

We fit in another Japanese film in the Market, “The Scythian Lamb,” that also portrayed The Japanese as a people with compassion and scruples.  Six ex-cons, two women and four men, all murderers, are sent to a small port city for their reintegration into society.  They are unknown to one another and also to those who give them jobs.  Only the town’s mayor and two others, one who is assigned to look after them, know their past.  The most conscientious underling who gets about on a bicycle is told to keep them all apart.  That doesn’t work, as they can recognize the tics of those who have done time.  Gradually more and more people learn of their past, some responding sympatheticly and others not so.  This may have been a lesser film, but it was still a  worthy dose of cinema.

We were also transported to South Africa with Un Certain Regards’ “Harvesters.”  This was a most assured and genuine peek into the concerns of a farming family trying to cling to their way of life under the threat of being murdered in the night, the pall that clouds all whites in South Africa.  Their main concern at present is integrating a drug addict sixteen year old boy into their family.  They believe it is their Christisn duty.  The boy thinks they are brainwashed and battles the demanding fathers and kindly older brother.   There is much more underlying this story than at first evident.  

The day was also highlighted by a tribute to Pierre Rissient before the screening of a film he directed in 1982-“Five and the Skin.”  Thierry Fremuax began the proceedings explaining what a titan of cinema he was, even describing the theater named for him at Telluride and acknowledging Tom Luddy, the man responsible,  sitting in the first row. Bertrand Tavernier, his pal of over fifty years, then spoke for several minutes, initially choked up.  Another colleague read a tribute from his seat in the second row.  While he was reading Fremaux gestured to Scott Foundas summoning him to the stage to read an email on his cell phone  from Jane Campion giving Rissient full credit for her career. Fremaux noticed Todd MCarthy, who did the documentary “Man of Cinema” on Rissient, standing off to the side and invited on stage.  Mc Carthy said he didn’t really have anything prepared,  but he still had much to add. He too was semi-choked up saying there was no one in the world with his depth of film knowledge and what a great loss he was.  He missed him greatly.  He said he spoke to him nearly every day in the past several weeks as he was watching a series of films from the ‘30s.  Rissient could remember details from each.  The tribute was reminiscent of the Roger Ebert tribute after his death in the large Chicago Theater on State Street across from the Siskel Center.  McCartthy, Foundas and Luddy flew in to speak.

As Fremaux started to introduce “Five and the Skin,” he was so overcome by his emotions that he couldn’t continue..  Luddy was among those who rose to give him a hug as he left the stage.  Then proceeded a several minute standing ovation. A French writer hanging out in Manila is the subject of Rissient’s film.  It a a poetic meditation on his life and the city and his love interests with an occasional reference to Fritz Lang, one of Rissient’s heroes who made a film in Manila shortly after WWII.  If Luddy puts this on Telluride’s schedule this fall, it will be very tempting to see this rare film once again. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Cannes Day Six

At the half-way point of the festival it has almost become a tradition that all and sundry bemoan there hasn’t been a great film yet, nor even a film worthy of the Palm d’Or.  That may have been partially been put to  rest with this morning’s Competition film “Three Faces” by Iranian master Jafar Panahi, who is respected for his films and also for riling those in charge of his country and not being allowed out.  

More simple than seminal, this is an effortlessly executed film of wide ranging social commentary that might find some support for the Palm d’Or.  A well known Iranian actress and prominent director are driving to a small village in the mountains in search of a teenaged girl who texted the actress a video of her hanging herself in frustration of the repression she is suffering in her village, preventing her from going to college to pursue a career in acting. They’re not sure if the video is a hoax, but are concerned enough for the actress to abandon the film she is working on throwing the director of the film into a panic. 

When they reach the isolated village, the locals are thrilled to meet the famous actress and also hope the distinguished looking man accompanying her is a government official come to improve their lot.  Everyone spontaneously disappears when they learn they’ve come in search of this young girl, as she’s considered a hellion that no one can countenance.  A lone young girl takes them to her home, where her crazed brother throws a tirade over her wanting to leave the village to further her education.  The girl disappeared three days before and no one will admit to knowing her whereabouts.  They go to the cemetery and see a freshly dug grave.  They peer in and see an elderly woman laying there saying she is getting accustomed to her future home.  The film is a succession of such dainty morsels tinged with comedy and poignancy as they pursue their mission.

My day’s other Competition film, “Girls of the Sun,” lacked the depth or legitimacy of Panahi, as it tackled the subject of a band of Kurdish women participating in an offensive to regain their home town.  It may have been artfully shot, but it was a fanciful glorification primarily of the woman in charge of the battalion and a woman reporter courageously going into battle with them.  The director, Eva Husson, is preoccupied with closeups of the grim face of Golshifeh Farahani.  She berates the male commandeers for not being aggressive enough.  

The women of the jury used the Opening Night screening of the film as an opportunity to gather 82 women in the film industry, including Agnes Varda, representing the number of films that have been directed by women that have been selected to play in Competition in the 71-year history of the featival, compared to over 1,600 by men,  to march up the Red Carpet.  They weren’t necessarily calling the festival sexist, just the industry.  Rarely is Thierry Fremaux and his circle of advisers criticized for their selections. They are after the best films available.  Rarely does anything turn up in Director’s Fortnight or elsewhere more worthy  than what they have selected. This film though might have been given a little extra sway overlooking it’s hookey portrayal of its subject.  It was waterdowned  “Rambo.” It was the first of the nine films screened so far to receive zero stars from two of Screen’s panel.   The lone three star review got its aggregate up to a woeful one star.

I managed three Un Certain Regard films, one after another.  I wouldn’t have bothered with the Argentinian film “Murder Me, Monstor,” if I had known it was a horror film.  It looked good, but I had no interest in the search for the creature that was biting the heads off of people in a rural community.  The Indian film “Manto” told the true story of the controversial writer Saadat Hasan Manto during the tumultuous four year period during India’s Independence and partition.  He leaves Bombay for Pakistan where his writing is deemed obscene and is put on trial.  It gave a good history lesson of those times and the Hindu-Muslim conflict.

“Girl” goes all too deep in examining the subject of a Belgian teen-aged boy undergoing the process of a sex change.  It is a queasy experience for the boy and it is a queasy experience watching it.  He wants to become a ballerina.  Those he dances with don’t know his gender, but wonder why he never showers with them.  He tapes up his genitals so they won’t be seen. Those at his high school know, as one of his teachers puts it to a vote whether the girls are okay with him using their bathroom. At a sleepover with all the girls, they demand to see his genitals, one of many, many uncomfortable moments in the film.  The hormones he is taking aren’t giving him the breasts he wants.  He’d like to increase his dosage, but his single father and his doctor are opposed to it.  He has no real friends other than his six-year old sister.  With his long blond hair and continual feminine smile he does look like a girl,  though he is taller than all the girls he dances with.  He is in genuine anguish, as one might expect a person undergoing such a transition to be.  This was quite well done, but not a movie-going experience that many would want to endure.

I was also able to insert a  dopey film on the French Revolution, “A Violent Desire for Joy.”  Revolutionaries take over a rural convent, forcing the monks to exchange their habits for uniforms.  Whatever humor or commentary the makers of this film intended was utterly lost in this infantile exercise.  I regretted I had been turned away from the mid-afternoon Competition film in the Lumiere putting me on track for this rather than Wim Wender’s documentary on Pope Francis receiving its World Premiere before opening in the States later this week.  

The quote of the day from my reading of the trade papers came from Debra Granik, who directed the Oscar best picture nominated “Winter Bone.” She’s in Cannes with  “Leave No Trace” that debuted at Sundance and is playing in Director’s Fortnight: “On a good day directors are visual anthropologists and on a bad day they are voyeurs.”

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Cannes Day Five

I managed to arrange my schedule today so that only twice did I have to pass through a security check before a screening.  It is a tedious and nerve-racking procedure inching along with the crowd waiting to  have ome’s pack perused for contraband, never knowing how picky the guard will be, so it’s always a relief to avoid it.  I was able to  slip into the Palais complex of theaters from the Debussy after the day’s first film bypassing the guards out front.  Then I was able to see three films in the complex without further frisking.  The only headache was being blocked by a  massive clog of people scrummaging to get into the Christopher Nolan conversation at four pm.  I would have joined them if it looked possible to get in, but instead opted for the lone Depardieu film playing in the Market, missing the first few minutes due to the pileup of humanity.

The day began with the much dreaded Godard film “The Image Book.”  It was rumored to be ninety minutes of silence.  How was I  to manage to stay awake through that after getting less than six hours of sleep the last few nights.  Only the stream of people walking out could keep me awake.  The stream of people exiting the theater didn’t need to keep me awake, as the film surprisingly held my attention with its array of film clips and concocted images and monologue.  What it all meant I can’t say, nor could any of the early reviews.  They all agree that it will take months of study by academics and Godardomaniacs to find whatever meaning or sense there may be in it. It was another French film with the mention of Rimbaud. The critics gave it the benefit of the doubt.  It is the first film that earned an aggregate score of three from Screen’s panel.  Only Michel Simone, the noted French critic, gave it less than two stars.

For the first time I hadn’t been granted an invitation to the day’s second Competition film, “Ash is Purest White” from China, playing in the Lumiere, so I joined the line at the Soixante.  My 45-minute wait was rewarded and my pack was spared review.  If I hadn’t gotten in I would have had to attempt to see it at the Olympia at ten pm, something I didn’t want to do as it was 144 minutes long. Usually I’m out of my last screening around midnight, late enough.  The length almost wasn’t objectionable in this superbly told tale of a small-time mobster and his devoted girl friend, who is someone not to be trifled  with. Zhao Tao’s charismatic performance puts her in contention for the best actress award.  The film abounds with energy and style while giving  a fine portrait of present day China. The film is given a jolt by three scenes with people dancing to “YMCA.”

“My Favorite Fabric” gave an even better view into its country—Syria.  A suitor comes from the US comes to marry one of three daughters living with their widowed mother in a cramped apartment in Damascus in 2011 with the country in chaos.  He declines the 25-year old somewhat dumpyndaighter for the younger prettier one.  The mother doesn’t care, as she just wants a ticket out of the country for her family any way she can get it.  This will be in contention for an award from the Un Certain Regard jury.

Marion Cotillard is always a threat for an award.  She is superb as a gorgeous blond party-monster in “Angel Face.”  So is her eight-year old daughter, who is left alone for days at a time when her mother goes off on one of her benders.  She loves her daughter very much but likes partying even more.  If Coltillard weren’t such an unredeemable character this film would have been slotted into the Competition catergory rather than Un Certain Regard.  

Gerard Depardieu is similarly deluded and waylaid by his lusts in “The Other Woman” playing in the Market.  He has left his wife of twenty years for a younger, gorgeous woman.  His best friend, played by another French heavyweight, Daniel Auteil, who directed this farce, lusts without restraint after her when she comes over for dinner.  Auteil’s wife is initially adamantly opposed to having the woman in her house, and is outraged by her at first when she meets her, but comes to accept her.  Auteil is made into a bumbling fool by the young woman and is continually launched into fantasies with her.  The only redeeming fragment to this movie was a brief bicycling scene with Depardieu and Auteil coasting down a dirt road on mountain bags in very baggy clothes to camouflage their girth.  Man-mountain Depardieu looked as if he’d never been on a bike.

Guys smitten by a woman was the premise of the Japanese film “You, Your, Yours.”  Three young goofballs who live in a very cramped apartment overlooking the apartment of a young Korean girl obsessively watch her every movement.  They discover she is enamored by Brad Pitt, the rock legend Yutaka Ozaki and 19th century samurai icon Sakamoto Ryoma and assume their identities.  She is totally oblivious to them and they remain in the background, happy to simply regard her as their princess.  A Japanese audience might relate to the exaggerated buffoonery of the guys.  This wasn’t the wild romp I imagined it might be. 

The Italian drama “Youtopia” examines an 18-year old girl addicted to the internet engaged in a cyber-relationship with a guy she only knows through his cyber character.  She also earns money on the side stripping for internet lusters.  When she learns from her mother that she has to come up with 27,000 eruos or they will be out on the street she turns over a wad of money she has earned and encourages her mother to earn on the side as she does.  When they are still well short of what they need, the girl decides to auction off her virginity on line.  Her mother doesn’t object.  This Market offering had the relevance and disquieting impact that Cotillard’s movie lacked.  It was a nice little find amongst the mass of Market offerings.


Cannes Day Four

The producers of the adaption of revered French writer, illustrator and New Yorker cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé’s novel “Raoul Taburin” thought there would be enough interest in it to pay to have it screened in the second largest of the Olympia’s nine theaters and to have it restricted to buyers only.  This was a movie I had to see, as it was the second of two bicycle-themed movies in the Market.  Generally if a buyers only screening doesn’t fill those with Market badges are allowed entry, so I wasn’t too nervous about not being able to see it.

There were less than ten buyers waiting in line when I  arrived fifteen minutes before the six pm screening.  The representative of the film said I could count on getting in.  It attracted a mere thirty or so buyers and an equal number of non-buyers, not even filling a quarter of the seats.  The movie is narrated by its protagonist, Raoul Taburin, telling his life’s story of growing up in a small French village wishing to follow in the footsteps of his father, a bicycling postman.  Raoul is unable to fulfill his wish as he never learns how to keep his balance on the bike, a dark secret that haunts him all the days of his life. Growing up it ostracizes him from his friends, who all go bicycling.  He lines up for the town’s annual bike race, but remains at the starting line claiming his chain fell.  He forces himself to start out with his classmates on a sanctioned all-day bike ride and has a spectacular crash complete with a couple of aerial flips I nto the lake after a steep descent that makes him a legend in the town.  Despite his inability to ride a bike he has a great love for bicycles, taking them apart and putting them together, and becomes an apprentice in the local bike shop.  He eventually takes it over.

The parents of the woman he marries died in a tandem accident, so he vows to her he’ll never ride a bike again and keeps that vow until a famous photographer moves to their village and would like to take a photo of him riding his bike.  This leads to a grand denouement.  Though the movie is centered around the bicycle, what bicycling there is remains very simplistic, mirroring the story.  Even the passing of The Tour de France through the village is rendered as a bare sketch with only a local rider shown.  He wins the stage when there is a monumental crash wiping out the peloton, the remnants of which are shown in the far distance with the local riding past a long row of  cyclists laying on the road.  The winner of the stage returns to live in the village.  He steals Raoul’s girl friend and remains his nemesis for decades.  Whenever he appears in the movie, even into his fifties, he is still clad in his uniform and his cycling gloves.  Never once though is he shown with shaved legs.  Realism takes a holiday in this semi-sweet family movie.

I ended my day with a similarly sanitized and romanticized version of the short career of a legendary Argentinian boy thief who remains in jail 45 years after his crime spree, the longest-serving prisoner in the history of Argentina.  Many of his eleven murders and countless  thefts, large and small, are recounted in this Un Certain Regard entry entitled “El Angel,” alluding to what the angelic-looking, blond curly-haired thief was dubbed by the press—“The Angel of  Death.”  He seems born to be a thief and goes about his calling breaking into homes and jewelry stores and gun shops with a fearless, casual, almost naive, effortlessness, seemingly thinking he could never be caught.   This very polished film will no doubt be as big of a smash in Argentina as “Bonnie and Clyde” was in the US. 

The day began with the much-anticipated Polish film “Cold War” by Pawel Pawlikowski, winner of a best foreign picture Oscar for “Ida.”  As with that, it is shot in luscious black-and-white giving the rather ho-hum love story more gravitas than the script does.  The film spans several decades beginning in 1946 tracing the love affair of a musician-director of a choral group with a younger beautiful blond singer in the troupe.  He proposes they escape to the West when they go to perform in Berlin.  She fails to meet up with him, deciding not to go through with it without telling him.  They end up meeting over the years for quick, passionate flings in Paris where he ends up and other places her travels take her with the possibility that fate might bring them together for good.  Neither seems overly committed to their relationship failing to bring the movie to any kind of boil.  It agreed with some though, as it was the first of the five films screened in Competition to receive any four-star reviews from Screen’s panel with three of the ten critics giving it their highest rating, earning it an aggregate of 2.9, the highest so far.

As this was just another so-so love affair, the day’s other Competition film, “Sorry Angl” from France, was just another movie about a gay love affair that is derailed by AIDS.  The performances and script made it a perfectly enjoyable film, but it’s not a subject that hasn't been told countless times before.  It was laced  with many of those signature elements of a French film that added to my enjoyment—frank talk between lovers evaluating their sex including a woman who is concerned her boy friend is more gay than heterosexual, a boy whose name is Louis who doesn’t like his nickname Lou-Lou, a visit to Truffaut’s grave and a ten-year old who quotes Rimbaud.

My day also included a pair of documentarues—a standard Bergman doc with a series of talking heads and lots of clips from his oeuvre and a wacky Australian doc on fans of boy bands.  With this the 100th anniversary of Bergman’s birth, there are two documentaries on the master.  This was “Searching for Ingmar Bergman”  by Margareth Von Trotta, who knew him well.  She opens her film with extended clips from “The Seventh Seal” from 1957 which she saw in Paris in the early ‘60s, making her a lover of cinema and that Trauffaut wrote about in Cahiers du Cinema anointing him as a new talent who would elevate cinema..  She interviews many of his actresses and several of his children.  One of his daughters once complained to him that he’d saythat he missed the actors he worked with, but never his children.  He said that was because he didn’t miss them.  A son who went on to become  a filmmaker and worked with him also spoke of his father’s obsession with his art above all else.  One of Von Trotta’s themes is that Bergman’s skill as a writer isn’t fully appreciated, and that if he had been a writer rather than a filmmaker he might have won the Nobel Prize for literature.

“I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story” is among the contenders for the most eye-catching title of the festival.  Though the film is by an Australian and several of her subjects are Australian, she ranged to the US to find more.  She traces the phenomen of young girls obsessed with boy bands to the Beatles.  The most interesting of her subjects is a red-haired single mother of two who was one of those originals and is still fully devoted to her teenaged obsession. She used to,practice signing her name as Mrs. Paul McCartney.  The rest of her subjects are all young women who have dropped all to the exclusion of more contempary bands such as the Bsckstreet Boys..  One went on a cruise with Take That that was 99 per cent women.  She admitted it was a bit creepy being among others who all dreamed of being the girl friend or wife of one of the members of the band.  Another quality that most of them shared was being significantly overweight.  One is proud enough to have the vanity license plate Boybands that strangers frequently photograph.

I was able to slip in one other film—“Lives on Track,” a slight French film that turned out to be a small delight.  It is a series of conversations between seat mates on a train showing nothing more than the two conversationalists in their high-backed seats, most of them including a retired dancer of some note.  Most of those who sit beside her recognize her and know the significant performances of her career.  As we get to know her torments and prickly personality the film becomes more and more engaging.  This was a testament to giving anything on the schedule a chance.  Only six others cared to duck in to the twenty-five seat screening room in the Grey hotel.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cannes Day Three

This was a near dream day of cinema with bold and innovative films from Russia, Egypt, France and Sweden, any of which could have been a day’s highlight.  It began at 8:30 with the Russian Competition entry “Summer,” a black-and-white period piece of rock and roll rebels in 1981 Leningrad emulating what they knew of rock and roll on the other side of the Iron  Curtain.  They were as passionate about their music and expressing themselves as those who inspired them.  It wasn’t easy for them to perform, but when they did they had fans who fully responded.  

The film’s cinema-verité style with an abundance of music morphed on occasion into extraordinary dream sequences of outrageous behavior.  It will be difficult for any film in the festival to top a three minute scene of Psycho Killer on a train after some officials start harassing the long-haired musicians for their anti-Soviet behavior.  It was positively electrifying—one of many musical scenes of great impact and commentary.  The musician prancing down the aisles of the train belting out “don’t touch me, I’m a real life wire” is digitally enhanced with a white border outlining his body and other dazzling special effects.  This has to be seen to be believed—rock and roll in all its glory.  I am eager to see this again on the last day of the festival when all the Competition films are screened one last time. 

The day’s other Competition film, “Yomeddine” from Egypt, immediately afterwards was equally engrossing and sincere, though not of the same energy level.  It was a full immersion into the life of a man whose face and arms are deformed by leprosy.  He’s just lost his life and decides to embark on a trip across Egypt with his donkey in search of the family that abandoned him to a leprosy colony when he was an infant.  He is accompanied by a ten-year orphan by the name of Obama who is likewise ostracized by society. They encountered realistic adversity along the way.  This was another film unlike any before it and another remarkable achievement.  Two in a row was almost too much to take.

I was able to take a brieather with a lightweight Italian comedy in the Market with the catchy title of “Grannies on the Run.”  It stars 80-year old Claudia Cardinale.  She and a cohart plot to make a break from their nursing home to attend a concert in Venice.  In better hands this might have been hilarious, but I didn’t laugh once. 

 I didn’t object at all to the lukewarm nature of the film as I decompressed from my previous two exceptional doses of cinema  and looked forward to a conversation between film critic Elvis Mitchell and Ryan Coogler, director of “Black Panther” in the Bunuel.  These conversations had formerly been called Master Classes, but had been rebranded as a Rendezvous.  There were four of them scheduled this year, twice as any as usual, with three directors and John Travolta.  The festival recognized the phenomenon of “Black Panther enough to have screened it last night in the outdoor theater on the beach, the first time a film in current release has been accorded that honor.  And there was enough interest in Coogler that the theater was already filled 45 minutes before it was to start when I showed up for it.

That meant I could go see “Border,” an Un Certain Regard film from Sweden.  “Yomeddine” had prepared me for having a prolonged gaze at deformity.  The two lead characters in this movie both have pockmarked faces and quivering lips and hair in disarray as if they are a different species.  One is a border guard who has the uncanny ability to sense if someone is carrying contraband.  She miraculously discovers a well-attired young man has a chip hidden in his phone of child pornography and then is enlisted by the police to track down those involved.  Her senses are mistaken though when she questions a guy who has a tormented face and mannerisms remarkably similar to her. They later discover they both have scars from being struck by lightening and a scar on their backside.  When he passes through customs on another occasion she realizes they have a bond and tracks him down to the hostel he is staying at.  He is foraging maggots in the forest and eating them.  He dares her to eat one as well.  She resists, but then succumbs and is delighted by it.  This mirrored the day’s first two films with its amazing originality..  This was a dabble in the supernatural without pushing it too far.  

The day’s other Un Certain Regard film, “Sextape” from France, continued the theme of bold originality with its frank portrayal of two glib, fast-talking teenaged boys trying to convince  their girl friends to give them blow jobs.  It is at once comical and disturbing.  The girls are sisters.  The older, more experienced sister has already succumbed to her boy friend’s demands/needs and makes it acceptable for her sister to go along with it.  She’s not so sure.  She continually rolls her eyes at the outlandish arguments of the guy she’s been set up with.  The boys are clearly idiots and the girls wise to their ways. The boys can be sympathetic characters, but are all too often reprehensible.   Feminists will be divided between being appalled by this movie and applauding it as a cautionary tale for all women.  The girls are at times noble and heroic. The dialogue and acting by the Arabic foursome is something to behold, but it can be most disquieting at times.  It is hard to imagine that people could behave as they do, but it was a convincingly realistic and empathetic portrayal and cinema of merit.  There is so much to laugh at, one isn’t as disturbed as much as one should be.

My day was further highlighted by a film of yore—“Beating Heart” from 1940 by French master Henri Decoin.  I planned to watch the first hour and then go see the Chinese black comedy “Looking for Lucky” that purported to be a “biting satire on every conceivable ill in modern society,” but I was so engrossed by the love story of a young woman escaped from a reform school and a diplomat that I had to see it to its end.  This had all the twists of Farhardi’s bungled “Everybody Knows,” but each was plausible and well-earned.  The surprises came one after another, but rather than cringing at their contrivance one could admire them for their genuineness and ingenuity.  We were all fortunate to be treated to this.

Cannes Day Two

Today’s screening of the Belgian documentary “Holy Tour” on fans following The Tour de France had the potential of being my favorite film of the festival, if not of all the Canne festivals I’ve attended.  Those high expectations unfortunately were not met.  It began with great potential of black and white documentary footage of fans on the Ventoux cheering the gladiators of old accompanied by the resounding music of “Gloria.  But rather than pursuing a historical line or even following a particular Tour from start to finish,, the filmmakers encamped on the Col d’Izoard last year for ten days as Tour followers gathered before the 18th stage of The Tour and restricted their film to those ten days.

They failed to find any charismatic or particularly interesting subjects.  The early arrivals were all elderly in camper vans.  The filmmakers didn’t draw out their fanaticism—how long they had been Tour followers and what drew them to The Tour and memories of their first Tour as children and subsequent Tours.  They mostly just let them reminisce about their personal past, the men going back to WWII.  When a couple of British guys in their 30s wearing Sky jerseys stop for water and say they are from London, the French guys react with “boom-boom.  You had a lot of bombing.”  The Brits were totally befuddled.

Only a dozen showed up for this first of the film’s two screenings and half walked out in the first half hour.  I couldn’t do that.  I was still enthralled by this mini-immersion into a world I have been a part of the past fourteen years.  It was nice to be taken  inside the various campers and witness  their denizens react as they watched each day’s stage on television before it reached them, particularly excited by the exploits of the French riders Bardet and Barguil.  They didn’t take kindly to fans who joined them who they could identify as being from Paris by their license plates and by their demeanor.  As I well know, Parisians are less liked than Americans by the rural French.  One commented, “They look like dogs and act like hogs.”

The filmmakers counted down day by day until J Jour (D Day) arrived when the masses finally converged and barriors were put into place and all the other accouterments. They were able to include a few shots of The Devil gladly allowing anyone to take their photo with him, though they didn’t catch his antics when the riders trickled past where the filmmakers had stationed themselves three kilometers from the summit.  They capture the frenzy of the caravan dispensing it’s goodies. I didn’t have to look for myself as I was out in the Atlantic on the Queen Mary with Janina, having abandoned last year’s Tour after the tenth stage.  I only recognized one group of fans, though I could fully recognize the flavor of the experience. I have one more bicycling film to look forward to—a French feature about a bike shop owner in a small town who has a secret that he never learned to ride a bike without training wheels.

I had high expectations too for the day’s other documentary—“The Eyes of Orson Welles” by Mark Cousins, film scholar without peer. Not a one of Cousins’ many film esssys has been a disappointment, and I knew he couldn’t fail on this as he is such a Welles fanatic that two years ago when Janina and I talked with him at the Traverse City Film Featival, where he serves on the board of directors, he showed us a Welles tattoo he had gotten the day before after watching “Citizen Kane” on the big screen for the umpteenth time.  I barely recognized him here in a tight-fitting tuxedo introducing his latest film.  He said it was his 21st time at Cannes and that he had many fond moments sitting in the first row of this theater, the Bunuel, that specializes in showing classics.

In his introduction he said so many films have been done on Welles we were probably wondering if there was a need for another.  Cousins had been given access to the hundreds of sketches that Welles had composed during his whole life, going back to his early teens when he was a student at Chicago’s Art Institute.  The film takes the form of a biography, as Cousins visits the many places he lived, beginning with Kenosha, and places where he shot film.  As with all of Cousins’ films, it is so rich in material, it will merit viewing again and again.

When I noticed a Mapplethorpe film playing in the Market I assumed it had to be a documentary, but instead the American production company called You’re Outta Control Pictures attempted to make a feature of his life giving it the simple title of “Mapplethorpe.”. The actor playing Mapplethorpe was well cast capturing his energy and the ever present gleam in his eye, but this low budget film fails to give more than a by-the-numbers review of his life.  Patti Smith disappears to Detroit early on and isn't heard from or seen until the end on his death bed.

Two other of the day’s features could have been documentaries as well—“Aga,” a Bulgarian film about two eskimos in the arctic and “Rafiki,” a Kenyan film about two lesbians.  “Aga” played at Berlin and was seeking distribution in the Market here.  It was full of remarkably intimate footage of the daily efforts of a husband and wife struggling to survive in their inhospitable environment.  

“Rafiki” is a story of survival too, as two young women defy their parents and the norms of their society and become lovers. They are beaten and hounded.  This was the first Kenyan film to be invited to play at Cannes, playing in Un Certain Regard.  Julie from Telluride is one of three woman on the five person jury.  They will be very much predisposed to award this very fine film. The woman director said her film couldn’t be shown in Kenya,  though she said she was proud to be Kenyan,, bringing applause from the many Kenyans in the audience.

I began the day with another invited film, the Opening Night film “Everybody Knows” by the frequent award-winner Iranian Ashgar Farhardi known for his intricately plotted films.  It’s not until half an hour in that this film taking place in Spain starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem answered the question of where it was headed after a wedding.  Then the question loomed, as it often does in Farhardi’s films, is it going to work or is he going to be too cute and convoluted for his own good.  It was too much for me and also for four of Screen magazine’s panel of ten critics who gave it a mere one star.  Janina reported that Milos mocked it mercilessly on his WBEZ review.  Ralph condoned the film and whenever we crossed paths later in the day he wanted to further discuss it. I didn’t care to give any more mental energy to justify or explain its many wrinkles than I had.  

My screening was somewhat undermined by having to check my mini iPad.  It hadn’t appeared on the list of banned items.  That was a tragedy as while I await films I compose these jottings, so I lost a valuable twenty minutes of writing time and then another few minutes after the screening to retrieve my bag.  It was absurd that I was denied my device when all around me people were pecking away on iPhones not much bigger than my iPad.  Those lost minutes left me twenty people short of getting into the next screening in the Debussy, the Un Certain Regard Opening Night film “Donbass.” So I dashed over to the Arcades for “Raising  Colors,”  a French film about a 23-year old woman who enlists in the army to the chagrin of her mother.  “Why can’t you just join the Green Party,” she asks, “if you want to help the country.”  She is put in the position of being a secretarial assistant to a career guy.  She is somewhat attracted to him and is frustrated he makes no pass at her.  The secretary of the CEO in yesterday’s French wheel chair movie was similarly frustrated, even complaining to him that not once in fifteen years had he complimented her scarf or sweater.  Such characters might now be written out of movies in this Metoo environment.