Refn is at Cannes with several episodes of his 10-part tv series “Too Old to Die Young—North of Hollywood, West of Hell.” These classes usually include clips from the subject’s work that they comment on, but there were none in this interview as Refn said he doesn’t like to talk about what he’s done and only agreed to the Class if he didn’t have to go there. So there was no dose of his fast-paced highly stylized cinema—including “Drive” for which he won Best Director at Cannes in 2010. This interview was also unique with Rouyer asking his questions in French and Refn answering in English. He often replied to the long-winded questions with a mere “oui,” but then would usually gracefully give a lengthy response.
Even though Refn came from a cinema family, his father a director and his mother a cinematographer, he didn’t initially want to become a film-maker. His family moved to New York from Copenhagen when he was nine. His ambition was to become famous, though he didn’t know how he would do it. But he was most certainly steeped in cinema. His first cinema memory was seeing “Nashville” when he was five. But it was seeing “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when he was fourteen that he saw the possibility in filmmaking. It all boils down to see and violence, he said.
He spends a lot of time watching YouTube seeking fresh ideas. An older woman in the audience during the Q&A said understood he didn’t read books and didn’t that make him shallow. He told her that most of the largely young audience in attendance would tell her to “Fuck off.” Otherwise all the questions, all but a couple in English, though often accented, were laudatory. He even invited a woman up on stage who had a small poser for him. He was personable and self-deprecating, and often mentioned his wife and children. He said he didn’t discover he was partially color blind until he was 24 and accompanied his wife when she was buying shoes and couldn’t believe she wanted to try on two shoes that seemed identical. He’s also severely dyslexic and has a difficult time writing. He said the best advice he received about film-making came from Elia Kazan when he had a coffee with him in the ‘90s. He advised him to just be himself, the same advise he now passes on to young filmmakers.
For the first time this year I wasn’t granted an Invitation for one of the day’s two Competition films—Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory.” Ralph suffered the same fate so we saw it at the end of the day at the Olympia. We feared a long line as it had already received the best rating from the Screen panel, as his films usually do. A day-long drizzle kept the line down, so we got in. The theater didn’t even full, maybe because others knew that there would be no English subtitles, just French, which was news to us. We stuck with it anyway, picking up the gist of the story of a drug-addicted older director, played by Antonia Banderas, reconnecting with people he’d worked with from his past intercut with Penelope Cruz playing his mother when he was a child. We’ll have to see the English-subtitled version at the end of the festival to appreciate its full impact.
Even though the day’s other Competition film, “Little Joe” was from Austria, the dialogue was English. This very subdued tale of a large plant breeding operation that has developed a flower with pollen that makes people happy, but possibly to their detriment, needed a huge injection of Michael Hanake to make it as disturbing as it was meant to be.
There was just a minimal line for Bruno Dumont’s “Joan of Arc” at the Debussy, his second film on France’s great heroine. The young girl playing Joan didn’t have to learn much dialogue as the film is mostly about others trying to decide how seriously they should take the voices that are directing her. The film alternates from the same rural sandy terrain of Dumont’s previous Joan picture and the grand cathedral of Rouen where the clergy debate Joan. She is certainly one of the most extraordinary persons in history.
After being turned away from an Algerian Un Certain Regard film and a French Director’s Fortnight at the two o’clock slot, the only film available in the Palais complex of theaters and screening rooms was a dreadful attempt at a movie by a 50-year Wall Street analyst—“Rounded Corners.” Two of the eight people in the audience walked out within a minute instantly recognizing it as worthless when a group of high-school girls chatter away merely reciting their dialogue betraying the ineptitude of the director who was on hand. It was the story of the 13-year old daughter of a Wall Street analyst, painfully played by the director, and her relationship with her young black summer baby-sitter. The two couldn’t be more different. The film could have been heartwarming as the two come to know each other, but the man making this movie was incapable of that. It had to be agony for any of his friends he subjected this to not to give their honest opinion of how worthless his movie was.
“Shiny Shrimps” had the potential to be the wackiest movie in the Market—a French film about an Olympic swimmer who calls a TV interviewer a “faggott” after he asks him too many unwelcome questions and is ordered to coach a gay water polo team if he wishes to continue swimming for the national team. He is a macho-jock through and through who approaches the assignment with extreme distaste. The water polo players are stereotypically prancing, effeminate gays who aren’t very good water polo players. They are trying to qualify for the Gay Olympic Games. The swimmer realizes if they don’t qualify his assignment is over, so he makes no effort to improve them until he discovers one is battling cancer unknowns to all and it is his final dream to make it to the Games, inspiring the coach to suddenly care. If any of the characters had been more than superficial, this could have been a rollicking good time. The script needed considerable help to elevate it. The film does hold the distinction of having the most prolonged Eiffel Tower scene of the festival as it remains in the background for a film minute as the team leaves Paris by tour bus to Croatia for the Games.
The day’s winner was “Port Authority” the third film in Un Certain Regard that was a first film by a young American director, this time a woman, Danielle Lessovitz. A disheveled, penniless young man arrives at the bus station in New York City hoping to meet his sister. When she doesn’t appear he seeks refuge on the subway for the night. He falls asleep and is assaulted. He’s rescued by a young guy who knows the streets and takes him to his homeless shelter. Thus begins a tale of gritty realism of woe and survival in the big city that turns into a transgender movie, that maybe or maybe not ends with hope.