The biggest change is that the first screening of the Competition films will now be their gala presentation in the Palais with the cast walking up the red carpet and everyone in attendance attired in formal attire. It used to be a press screenings the evening before and another at 8:30 the next morning that other pass holders could attend. Now those attending the Palais screening will be watching the film without the press having had an opportunity to pass judgement and effecting their reaction to the film. It had to be not so pleasant for those involved with a film to walk up the red carpet in smiles if the press had savaged it earlier in the day.. I don’t attend screenings that require formal attire, so now I won’t be seeing unreviewed films, unless I can manage to avoid the reviews. My biggest concern though is whether this new screening schedule will make it easier or harder for me to get into the Competition films. That remains to be seen. This policy mostly effects the press. The much respected and very personable festival director Thierry Fremaux was surprised to receive a standing ovation from the press at Monday’s press conference when he explained these changes and others.
Another big difference from years past is this will be the first time I won’t have a chance to encounter Pierre Rissient, one of the powers behind the scene at both Cannes and Telluride, as he passed away at the age of 81 in Paris this past Saturday. The intimacy of Telluride has allowed me to have an occasional interreaction with him and even here at Cannes. I was once able to get him a t-shirt at Telluride that he coveted and also to convey greetings to him from a mutual friend in Chicago who had once worked with him. Whether at Telluride or Cannes he was always a magnet attracting significant figures in the world of cinema from Clint Eastwood to Werner Herzog. I’d like to sit a few rows behind him and watch all the luminaries come by to pay their respects. I could always feel his great passion for cinema radiating whenever I was within range of him.
My first time through security this year I had my water bottle challenged with the guard pulling it out of my backpack and showing it to his superior. The new regulations that had been handed out when I picked up my credentials and program stated one could bring in a 500 ml. bottle, about the size of my bottle. I had brought the sheet along just in case, but the man in charge said it was okay. I was happy to see the guard only looked in the main compartment to my pack and didn’t make me open the zippers to the three smaller compartments. The initial long line was processed fairly quickly so I had no concerns about making it to my first screening.
With a minimal offering of films on Day One with only the Opening Night film of any significance, it didn’t much matter what films I chose. Rather than selecting films based on subject matter, I elected to go by nationality sticking with French films for my first four choices to see what glimpses of familiarity they would grant me. I wasn’t expecting anything particularly profound, as they were all described in the program as comedies. Not a one was described as dealing with “social issues,” as many of the films in the program were, though in a way it could be argued that each of these “commercial” films raised issues of some pertinence.
“The Freshmen” dealt with the extreme pressure of medical school with little more than ten per cent of first year students qualifying to continue on to a second year. The movie focuses on two guys who are on their second attempt to qualify. They team up in their studies. They know that getting one answer wrong on the final test can be the difference between becoming a doctor or being relegating to dentistry or being a vetinarian or physiotherapist or high school biology teacher. They test each other bantering around all sorts of medical terms as if they are speaking another language. They are fully consumed by trying to cram all they can into their heads. Though the program described it as a comedy, as there were some comic elements, it was mostly an all-too serious indictment of how dehumanizing the learning process was. One describes medical students as being “closer to reptiles than human beings.”
“Family Council” was the only one of the four that didn’t take place in Paris and have at least one glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Paris was by far the most popular city mentioned in the program as a setting for a film. An American film that played today, “Under the Eiffel Tower,” was among them. The second most popular city was Berlin. There is even a documentary celebrating Berlin (“Symphony of Now”). “Family Council,” as did “The Freshman,” began with a pop song with English lyrics. The family is three children who are tired of looking after their cantankerous aging mother and decide to kill her by putting rat poison into her drink when she comes for her weekly visit. The mother has more spunk and vitality than her children, but like the father of one of the medical students, she is inclined to being spiteful towards her children. There was no mistaking this as a comedy, though it was hard for me to laugh when a fast-riding, Lycra-clad cyclist is distracted by the beauty of the mother and plunges into the body of water he’s riding along.
“Rolling to You” was the lone romantic comedy of the lot, though the importance and value of sex was broached in all of them, as one might expect from a French film. This comedy might challenge the tastes of some. A brash, fast-talking CEO of a sports shoe company who is about to turn fifty is sitting in the wheelchair in the apartment of his recently deceased mother when a beautiful woman who just moved into the apartment building walks in through the open door and assumes he is handicapped. She says she can help him whenever he wants as that is her vocation. He decides to pretend he needs the wheelchair and takes on the challenge of trying to seduce her. He’s thrown a curve when she invites her to her family home for lunch and she introduces him to her equally beautiful sister who is a world class violinist and confined to a wheelchair. It isn’t always easy to go along with the quasi-seriousness of their increasing interest in one another. He doesn’t know how to fess up without losing her and even tries a trip to Lourdes with her to come clean. The highlight of the movie for me was a round of menthe á l’eaus with a group of others confined to wheelchairs after the violinist competes in a tennis match. No mention is made of the drinks. One has to know the culture to recognize what the bright green drinks are at the table they are all seated at. There was also a reference made to the French habit of doubling the first syllable of one’s name into a nickname such as Pou Pou for Poulidor. The violinist asks the CEO, whose name is Jocelyn if she can call him Jo-Jo. Then follows a repartee of double syllables of just random words.
“Sisterhood” rang a bell of recognition too when at the very start one of the characters takes a selfie, as “selfies” are one of the hot topics of Cannes. All 40,000 of those attending the festival are handed a card when they pick up their credentials emphasizing that selfies are forbidden on the red carpet, though no threat was made of having one’s credentials withdrawn. This comedy, like the other three, was based on a simple premise that might have.been given to a screenwriting class to develope into a script. This premise was three young women all struggling to get by inherit a deluxe Parisian apartment from a father they never knew, nor did they know one another. The three sisters are extremely disparate and don’t seem as if they can possibly get along. There is an Arab, a Jew and a party girl among them. But their trying to get along is only half the story. The other half is the rest of their father’s family contesting the will and wanting the apartment for themselves. Like the other three films, this dealt with real issues that might not necessarily qualify it as a comedy in Hollywood terms. It further distinguished itself as a French film with lots of smoking and kissing on the cheeks and a mention of a philosopher—Spinoza. José Bové, the man who burned down a McDonald’s, also gets a mention.
Though none of these rank as much more than ordinary films, they were valid representations of mainstream French cinema and a glimpse of present-day French society. None left that feeling of exaltation that a significant film can. I was lucky to have that from my final film of the day, an American documentary on the art world—“The Price of Everything.” The only French film available in that final time slot was an animated feature. Those I skip. There are about as many of them in the program as horror films. Fortunately there are way more documentaries than either. I skipped several today that I hope to catch up with later—a biopic on Roberto Duran, an assault on Everest by a Spaniard on skis and the account of a group that rafted across the Atlantic. There are many other docs that I hope to include in my viewing—Jane Fonda, John McEnroe, Pope Francis, the making of “Platoon,” the story behind “The Great Escape,” women who are infatuated with boy bands, Joan Jett, Studio 54, The Best Sommelier in the World, Whitney Houston, Carrvaggio and on and on.
Today’s doc on the exploding value of paintings and the increasing interest in the super rich to include them in their portfolios focused on a Sotheby’s auction where paintings sold for millions and millions. The film included interviews with artists, art historians, gallery owners and collectors, strong personalities all, any of which could have merited a documentary of their own. The woman handling the Sotheby auction was ecstatic at the skyrocketing prices of art. She highly endorsed the sale of art rather than the donation of it to museums. She thinks museums have too much art to show it at, so it is like consigning it to a cemetery where it will be buried and unseen. When a very prominent collector featured in the film recently donated 40 films valued at $400 million to Chicago’s Art Inatitue it was with the stipulation that it would remain on display for 25 years. This is a film I’ll be happy to see again with Janina. She had already read about it so it ought to get some distribution back home. It was a good film to end the first short day on, leaving me eager for more.