Friday, May 31, 2019

Into the Alps

If I’m headed eastward into a rising sun to start the day, I’ll opt for a baseball cap rather than helmet taking advantage of the cap’s visor to shield my eyes from the low sun. My helmet has the luxury of resting atop my tent and sleeping bag, with its strap looped through the bungee cords holding down my gear atop the rear panniers, letting it have a view of the scenery behind.

A couple mornings before my arrival in Cannes I somehow managed to forgot my helmet laying in the brush of my campsite in the woods.  I didn’t realize my oversight until I stopped to fill my water bottles at a cemetery fifteen miles down the road. The thirty miles to retrieve it was too much, as I had no time to spare to arrive in Cannes in time to meet up with Ralph and the gentleman renting us his apartment.

Rather than berating myself or feeling anger and despair about losing my helmet, the recent gift of a friend, I was confident that whoever it is that ensures the well-being of touring cyclists would look after it until I could return for it in what would be eighteen days.  It wasn't a tough task, as I’d left it in an isolated enough area that it wasn’t likely that anyone would stumble upon it.

I didn’t think much about it while I was immersed in cinema, though whenever it crossed my mind, I strongly visualized where I’d left it fully confident that it was still there.  After the movies were done and I returned to the bike, I heightened my perception of it as I pedaled along and felt increasingly sure that it awaited me.

I couldn’t directly head to it, as first I had to go to Nice, twenty miles in the opposite direction, for the exhibit on the Yellow Jersey at the National Museum of Sport.  From there it was a little over a hundred miles to the helmet.  I had hoped to camp once again where I’d left it the next day, but the mistral had kicked up and held me back.

That didn’t concern me in the least.  It just meant I could imagine a little longer that moment of pleasure of being reunited with it. I remembered vividly the dirt road I had turned off on into the forest and where I’d gone off into the woods.  I leaned my bike against a tree and continued a little deeper to where I’d camped, and there it was, shiny and upright, as happy to see me as I was to see it, resting peaceably beside the tree that had blocked my vision of it when I loaded up my bike. There was no evidence of any forest creatures coming by to give it a curious nudge or lick whatever salt there might be in its padding.  It was all ready to return to duty, nestled atop my head, getting a little higher view than me of all the fabulous French scenery.

I hadn’t only missed it as my head covering, but also as a protective receptacle in a corner of my tent for my watch and glasses during my sleeping hours.  The tent had seemed empty without it.  All was now well in my world.

We weren’t the only ones heading into the Alps.  There were brief spurts of convoys of small sports cars on communal drives, not an uncommon site on the scenic roads of France.  Groups in vintage cars or Deux Chevaux like to drive en masse.  Motorcyclists too, often with German plates.  Clusters of cyclists too are drawn to the spectacular riding in the Alps.  The French identify themselves with their strong cologne and their array of words of endorsement and encouragement—“Bravo” and “Chapeau” and “Respect” and “Allée” and “Courage”  and “Oh la-la.” English may have twice the number of words as French, but it lacks an equivalent to any of these, or at least the spirit.  It is in the French nature to respond favorably to someone doing something they like, such as with “Bon appetite” to anyone they see eating.  

The return to my helmet allowed me to approach the Alps on a more gentle route up a valley to Gap rather than tackling them head on from Nice.  Gap would be the Ville Arrivée on the stage originating at the Pont Du Gard, that I visited on the way to Cannes. Gap is such a frequent Ville Étape there were no banners or decorations mounted yet, not even at the usual finish line across from a small park and museum not far from the center of this city of 42,000.

The next day’s stage starting in Embrun twenty-five miles away deeper into the mountainous terrain also had yet to decorate itself for The Tour, as it too had been featured in The Tour every two or three years of late.  

The climbing got serious after Embrun to Briançon, the highest city in France, and then a sixteen-mile climb to the Col du Lautaret and the turn to the mighty Galibier.  I planned to stay at the Deux Glaciers campground half-way up the climb to be relatively fresh for the Galibier the next day and for my first shower since Cannes and first chance to get my iPad up to 100 per cent and to do some wash and have WIFI to give Janina a call, but when I arrived at the campground at seven p.m. I discovered it hadn’t opened for the season yet despite the great amount of traffic.  

It was lucky I had filled my water bottles fifteen minutes before just in case I saw a forest I couldn’t resist.  The campground was fenced in but it was easy to disappear into the bush beside a small nearby lake for much superior camping than the campground would have provided, other than the amenities I generally do without—hot water, electricity and WIFI.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Centennial of the Yellow Jersey

A visit to the special exhibit on the centennial of the introduction of the Yellow Jersey to The Tour de France at France’s National Museum of Sport in Nice made an excellent transition from twelve days of nothing but cinema at Cannes back to the world of the bike.  It was a twenty-mile ride to Nice, almost as many miles as I’d ridden during the festival on my daily commute from our apartment to the Palais, and mostly flat, which my atrophied legs welcomed.

The ride took me through Antibes past some of the highest priced property on the planet. Some of the miles were along the Mediterranean and some on separated bike lanes, making it more pleasant than it might have been with the constant flow of speeding traffic along this scenic route.

The museum was a couple miles inland adjoining a large soccer stadium.  There were no bike racks so I just locked the bike to itself and leaned it against a window that peered into the museum.  The young woman who sold me a ticket asked where I was from, then, “Is The Tour de France famous in Chicago?”  I said, “Yes, it is known by all.”  That made her happy.

The introduction to the exhibit stated that 271 riders have worn the Yellow Jersey, not counting Lance Armstrong, David Zabriskie, Floyd Landis, George Hincapie and Stefan Schumacher, Americans all other than Schumacher, who had been stripped of the honor for being drug-assisted.  Byarne Riis offered to return his Jersey after his confession, but they let him keep it. 

Much attention was given to the French rider Eugene Christophe, the first to wear the jersey when Tour director and founder Henri Desgrange decided before the 11th stage of the 1919 Tour, sixteen years after the first in 1903, that the leader needed a bright jersey to make it easier for the fans along the road to identify him.  Christophe wasn’t all that excited about having to wear it, especially when his fellow riders mocked him as looking like a canary and chirped at him.  But just like the Eiffel Tower, that initially had its detractors, the Yellow Jersey has become a world-renowned icon and a garment that every racer covets. 

The exhibit included quite a few of the Yellow Jerseys of the winners of The Race.  Those of Roger Walkowiak from 1956 and Oscar Pereiro from 2006 were hung side by side, lumping them together as two of the unlikeliest winners of The Race.  There was a jersey from 2003 signed by all the living winners of The Race on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.  Armstrong’s name was in a prominent position, as he had won the previous four editions.  A panel describing Armstrong’s reign was headlined “Soleil Noir” and referred to his era as “epoch frelatée” (the adulterated era).

There was a replica of Christophe’s Yellow Jersey, as he chose to be buried in his actual Yellow Jersey.  I was delighted to learn the name of his cemetery, Malakoff, south of Paris, as another to search out.  Among the many relics in the exhibit was his fork from the 1919 Tour that he broke.  He suffered the same ill-luck in the 1913 Tour.  He was leading the 1919 Tour by thirty minutes when he broke his fork on the penultimate stage and lost over two hours.  He ended up third.  The public felt so sorry for his second stroke of bad fortune that hundreds donated money to him, more than the winner received.  The newspaper that sponsored The Tour ran a list of all those who donated, which ran twenty pages.  The exhibit had a sample of some.

The exhibit also had quite a few screens showing racing footage and interviews.  There was an extraordinary few frames shot by a spectator capturing the legendary crash of Luis Ocaña in the rain in the Pyrenees during the 197l Tour when he was in Yellow and a threat to defeat the seemingly invincible Eddie Merckx.  This is one of those seminal moments in Tour lore acknowledged by a plaque at the site.

Another video of particular note showed the great rivals Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor in a mob of fans at the end of a stage kissing one another while a reporter attempts to interview Anquetil.  Of more recent vintage was Christopher Froome running up Mount Ventoux in Yellow after his bike was wrecked near the finish in the 2016 Tour. 

One could put on a headsets and listen to interviews with many of the legends going all the way back to Louison Bobet in the ‘50s, one of a trio of three-time winners of The Tour before Anquetil became the first five-time winner.  There was also some historic footage of Bobet climbing the Izoard, near the Italian border, passing Fausto Coppi standing along the route with a camera in hand, as he had declined to race The Tour that year.

I spent over two hours devouring every item in the exhibit and would have spent even more time if my French had been good enough to listen to all the audio provided.  A very young and gaunt LeMond spoke French in one.  The usually grim and determined, stone-faced Bernard Hinault was shown in uninhibited ecstasy early in his career.  

Eddie Merckx holds the record with the most days in Yellow, 111, though he declined to wear the Jersey the day after Ocaña crashed out.  Fabian Cancellera holds the record for the most days in Yellow by a rider who never won The Tour—29.  Patrick Sercu, who recently died, holds the record for the shortest amount of time in Yellow—just twelve minutes during a nine-kilometer time trial in 1974 back in the days when there were two or even three stages squeezed into one day, really taxing the riders.

The sixteen riders who had to abandon The Tour while in Yellow, as happened to Ocaña, were acknowledged.  Most were victims of a crash, but some were sent packing due to drug violations.  The last was Michel Rasmussen in 2007 when it was discovered he had lied about his whereabouts for the drug-testers before The Tour.  There were three occasions when a rider won The Race on the last stage, earning the Jersey, but not getting to wear it in action—Jean Robic in 1947, Jan Jansson in 1968 and Greg LeMond in 1989.  A chart listed the first rider to wear the Jersey for the 24 countries represented by a Yellow Jersey-wearer.  Slovakia was the last country to join the club with Peter Sagan in 2016.

The exhibit couldn’t help but include Yvette Horner, the star of the caravan for many years playing the accordion, and a great fan favorite.  She was pictured three times through the exhibit with someone in Yellow—Bobet at the end of the 1953 Tour, Antonin Rolland, who never won The Tour but spent twelve days in Yellow in the 1955 Tour and Andre Darrigade, who won 22 stages, the fifth most and the most by a sprinter until Mark Cavendish came along.

The exhibit was curated with the assistance of the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), that runs The Tour.  A coffee-table-sized book was created in conjunction with the exhibit.  After it’s six-month run it could easily be made into a permanent exhibit elsewhere.  I would gladly seek it out again wherever it might turn up.  The Grand Départ for The Tour will be in Nice next year. They might as well leave it up until then.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Cannes Day Twelve, The Awards

Despite great enthusiasm from the press, Tarantino and his film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” were totally overlooked by this jury.  Nine of the twenty-one films in Competition received an award, two more than usual, as the Jury Prize was shared by two films and another film was given a special mention, making it a further affront to Tarantino.  His feelings couldn’t have been hurt too bad though, as he attended the awards ceremony despite knowing he wasn’t among the winners.

Not having seen it, the only one of the Competition films I had missed, I had no vested interest in it winning, other than if it did win it would make it all that more of a film to look forward to seeing.  I was pleased though that the jury sided with the black comedy “Parasite” by the South Korean Joon-Ho Bong.  It was just one of two films in Competition that gave me a “Wow” moment, that this was something striking and bold, going behind the ordinary.  The other was “Les Miserables.” It also could be said of the sexual excess of Kechiche’s film, though more out of amazement than appreciation.

Two of the favorites for the Palm d’Or, Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory” and Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” were fine films, but more bland than exceptional.   Both received awards, Sciamma for best screenplay and Antonio Banderas for best actor.  Best actress somehat surprisingly went to Emily Beecham from “Little Joe.”  The Dardenne brothers were unexpectedly given the best director award.  The Grand Prix for the second best film went to “Atlantics” by Mati Diop, the first black woman to have a film in Competition.  The other black director in Competition, Ladj Ly, and also a first-time director like Diop, shared the Jury Prize for his “Les Miserables” with the Brazilians Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano  Dornelles for “Bacurau.”

Former Palm d’Or winner Michael Moore was flown in to present it.  I can’t report on his smirky remarks as they were drowned out by the French translation on the telecast I was watching on a television screen standing with several dozen others outside the press room in the Palais complex, being denied access to the Debussy where it was being shown on its large screen.  Some years they let Market Pass holders in to watch it with the press and some years they don’t.  It was a great disappointment to be denied that privilege.

Sylvester Stallone was also among the seven presenters, given Grand Prix honors, one notch above Moore.  Catherine Deneuve had the queen’s role of being the Palm d’Or presenter.  Jury President Alejandro González Innarritu, whose English was also superceded by the French translation, gave an opening speech and then another before announcing the Palm d’Or.  I do know he said it was a unanimous decision.  The last time that happened was with “The Class.”

The first award given out was a special one the jury made up to acknowledge the Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s film “It Must Be Heaven.”  The FIPRESCI jury of film critics had earlier given it their Palm d’Or.  It was one of three films I caught up with today, actually the final film of the festival screened at ten p.m. after the Awards ceremony.  Suleiman wanders about Paris and Manhattan after leaving Palestine as a Jacques Tati character seeking a new homeland amused by curious sights—cops on roller blades, a huge pile of bottles besides an overflowing recycling depot, a street cleaner nudging cans with a broom through a drainage slot as if he’s playing golf, and such.  Towards the end in New York he encounters Gael Garcia Bernal, who had also been one of tonight’s presenters, who explains to someone that Suleiman “makes funny films.”  If I had seen this before the Awards Ceremony I never would have anticipated it receiving an award.  But I thought the same of “Bacurau” and “Little Joe” and also the Dardennes.  I would have been less surprised if Kechiche’s audacity had been awarded, even though it received the worst reviews.

I knew there was little chance of the French film “Sibyl” receiving an award, though its star Virginie Efira could have been considered for best actress for her performance as a shrink who is divesting herself of her clients so she can write a novel.  Her clients are all upset.  She remains faithful to one, an actress two-months pregnant who is about to go off to shoot a movie on a remote island with the father of her child who wants her to keep it, though she doesn’t.  The shrink is summoned to the island to help her through it and to get the movie made.  The script was inventive enough to warrant consideration for an award too if it had had more gravity.

I got an early, early start to the day, getting in line at seven a.m., an hour-and-a-half before the screening of Almodovar’s film, and there were a hundred people ahead of me.  All day the lines were massive for the final screening of 20 of the 21 Competition films.  I had seen the film earlier, but with French subtitles.  I gained much more from the film with the English subtitles.  I didn’t even realize the drug the film director was taking was heroin, as the French word is “cheval,” not a word in my vocabulary.  The added understanding certainly gave me a better appreciation of the film, but didn’t elevate it to Palm d’Or status. Giving Banderas the best actor was fully justified.

I would have liked to have seen “Les Miserables” again but it was playing at the same time.  For one of the few times I’ve attended the festival, there weren’t really any other films I cared to see again, so I could return to our apartment and begin packing before I needed to get in line for “Sibyl” five hours later.  Getting an early start on packing meant I could get off early the next day for Nice to see a special exhibit on the 100th anniversary of the Yellow Jersey at the National Sports Museum.  Then it will be into the Alps to preview this year’s Tour climbs.  I am as eager as ever to be back on the bike and end my two weeks of sleep and food deprivation.  As always I have much cinema to digest.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Cannes Day Eleven

A pocket-sized fold-out schedule of each day’s films is printed each day.  Occasionally there are revisions from the original schedule in the program.   Luckily my eye caught that the Sylvester Stallone Master Class had been moved up two hours from four to two p.m. and also from the 500-seat Bunuel Theater to the 2,000-seat Debussy, returning to the venue where the first two were held when the festival started this feature some ten years ago with Martin Scorsese the first subject and Quentin Tarantino the next.  Those luminaries had no problem packing the Debussy.  In subsequent years that hasn’t always the case, so the Classes had been moved to the more intimate Bunuel, generally filling, but not always.

The festival wisely returned to the Debussy for Stallone.  There were already 200 people in line two hours before it was to start when I exited the Palais and got in line for the next movie in the Palais at one.  I had planned on attempting the Stallone event after the movie when it had been scheduled at four, but doubted getting in line an hour before it started would be early enough.  But with this revised schedule I had to decide if I wished to skip the one o’clock movie and go for Stallone.  I couldn’t help but be infected by this early enthusiasm I was witnessing and succumbed to the lure of this once-in-a-lifetime event of sitting in on a conversation with Stallone.  I could try for the film I was in line for later that night at the Olympia at eight p.m. rather than attending the Un Certain Regard awards ceremony as I had planned or try for it the next day at the Soixante.

I began to feel worried that my two-hour wait standing in the sun was going to be for naught when those with press and priority badges kept pouring in before those in my line were granted entry.  Oh well, at least I would have plenty of company in my frustration.  But finally the priority line ended and they began letting us in.  The balcony had just started filling when I gained entry.

When Stallone took the stage, walking up the aisle through the theater, I thought it was someone else preceding him as he was dressed so casually, an unbuttoned flannel shirt over a black t-shirt.  But his bronzed face and his waves to the standing ovation confirmed that it was him.  He seemed to be humbled by this reception and the honor of this event, speaking affably and graciously and at such length it was well that he wasn't interrupted by clips from his career.

He told how “Rocky” was an extremely lucky accident.  He was a struggling actor, paying expenses by parking cars, a year before “Rocky.”  It was shot in 25 days on a budget of less than a million dollars with many of those working on the film doing it for nothing.  They had no dressing rooms, having to change clothes in the back of a car.   The only reason they shot the seminal scene of him running up the steps was because they could shoot it so cheaply.  He doesn’t consider it a boxing movie.  “It’s a movie about a man finding a woman,” he said, adding, “It could have been a movie about a man fixing bicycles.”  The studio didn’t think there would be any kind of audience for the film, wanting to relegate it to the minuscule drive-in circuit.

He said he is as inspired as ever to make movies.  Every day when he reads the newspaper he sees at least four ideas. He likes eavesdropping on others and picks up story ideas from stray comments.  “I never stop punching,” he said.  “I always think I have something to prove.”
Though he has 25 screen plays to his credit, he knows the agony of writing and discouraged his daughter from becoming a writer. As regards his legacy, he said he would just like his children to represent him well.  Someone from the audience  prefaced a question by saying, “Thank you for existing,” bringing a burst of applause.

Between the Master Class and the length of my first movie of the day, three-and-a half hours, I only managed three movies for the day.  Abdelatil Kechiche’s “Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo” was half an hour less than advertised having been rushed to completion in time for the festival.  There were no credits yet, explaining some of those missing minutes.  If Gaspar Noe were on the jury this hedonistic sex and dance extravaganza would easily be his choice for the Palm d’Or, though it received the lowest rating from the Screen panel, with two critics giving it zero stars and five just one.  So Xavier Dolan no longer has the ignominy of the worst rating.  At least Dolan wasn’t one of the four movies inflicted with any zero stars, one of which was Tarantino’s film.

It has two prolonged scenes, the first on the beach and then the rest of the movie at a nightclub.  An 18-year old girl from Paris on holiday is picked up on the beach by two slick Tunisians who own a restaurant.  Kechiche’s camera lustily caresses her body as well as those of the female companions of the Tunisians, who they join.  The conversation flows freely establishing interesting back stories on all of them, as they hang out on the beach and then at the night club.  Unlike Noe’s “Climax” of a year ago that was a similar uninhibited dance fest of the younger set, these characters don’t speak in cliched generalities, but from the heart on issues that truly define them.  The dance couldn’t be more erotic with women brazenly wiggling their derrières while clutching poles and others tightly clutching one another unabashedly kissing.  The 18-year becomes a very willing sandwich between the two Tunisians plunging from one mouth to another.

Nothing though can top a triple-X cunnilingus scene in a bathroom with a woman alternately sitting on a sink and on a guy’s face straddling him on the floor.  As with every scene it goes on interminably.  Some of the dialogue-free dance scenes allowed me to pull out my iPad as I sat in an isolated corner of the unfilled Palais and finish off my report from the day before and send it out.  As offensive as the movie may be to some, others will find it commendably artful.

“Give Me Liberty” was also an uninhibited, energetic dose of cinema about a Russian immigrant working as a van-driver for the handicapped in Milwaukee.  He is under continual pressure to get cranky and demanding clients to appointments.  When he takes time out to take a group of elderly friends to a cemetery, his superior is frantic to know where he is, threatening to call in a stolen vehicle report to the police.  This was fresh, original cinema that there hasn’t been enough of this year.

I ended my day with the film I passed on for Stallone—“The Traitor” by Marco Bellocchio.  There always seems to be an Italian gangster film in Competition.  This was the true story of gangster Tommasco Buscetta, who in the 1980s became the first mob boss to cooperate with the authorities revealing the inner workings of the Costra Nostar. The film begins with a rash of mob hits.  Buscetta is arrested in Brazil, brought back to Italy and thus begins the dramatic trial of hundreds of his former compatriots, before he goes into the witness protection program with his family in the US.  If nothing else, this was a worthwhile history lesson.

While I was off in gangland the Un Certain Regard jury handed out their awards at the Debussy.  The jury overlooked the films of stark realism that I thought were the best of the lot (“Adam,” “Bull” and “Port Authority”), siding with films that had a dash of whimsy or splash of originality. This was particularly surprising considering the president of the jury was Nadine Labaki of “Capernaum,”  last year’s Jury prize winner of gritty street life in Beirut.  It was nice that the bicycling movie “The Climb” was given a prize, though I felt certain the other two American films, “Bull” and “Port Authority,” had a much better chance. The top prize went to the Brazilian film “The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão.”  The other winners were “The Fire Will Come,” “Beanpole,” Chiara Mastroianni for her performance in “On a Magical Night,” “A Brother’s Love,” “Liberté” and “Joan of Arc.”

And tomorrow the awards will be given for the Competition films.  I could see the nine-person jury splitting three-three-three between the Almodovar and Tarantino movies and the French “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” for the Palm d’Or and then having to fight it out maybe going with a compromise such as the Loach film as happened a few years ago or the bizarre South Korean film “Parasite”  or the highly-charged “Les Miserables.”

The four women on the jury could easily side with the arty, slow-paced French film and might be joined by Pawel Pawlikowski, who won best director last year for “Cold War,” to give it the necessary five votes for the Palm d’Or.  I can’t offer an informed opinion on Tarantino’s film, as for the first time one of the Competition films was not given a repeat screening the day of the awards. The other twenty will all be playing.  The Greek director of outrageous films Yorgas Lanthimos could team up with jury President Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñárritu in support of Tarantino.  As always, I am looking forward to the jury press conference immediately after the awards for their explanations as much as the award ceremony itself. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Cannes Day Ten

Only five films today rather than the usual six or seven as my day’s final screening turned out to be a collection of shorts rather than the Icelandic film “A White, White Day,” one of the Critics Week three award winners that had been scheduled to play along with the other two award winners at the Miramar in its final three time slots.  I, at least, got to see the other two.  They, as did every other film I saw today, featured a smoking scene at a moment of stress in the story.

The first of the day occurred when Xavier Dolan screams at his mother in “Matthias and Maxine,”  “you don’t have to smoke the moment you get up.”  Dolan clearly has mother issues.  This is his third film with extreme shouting matches between mother and son.  It’s not the thrust of the story this time, just a side story.  Rather the movie centers around Dolan and his best friend Matthias, who is now a married lawyer, despite having had a gay relationship with Dolan that is still simmering.  Dolan is on the verge of going off to Australia for two years.  As is Dolan’s signature, heated exchanges, snide comments and characters telling one another off lace the film from start to finish.  At a final farewell party everyone present is brought to stunned silence when Matthias lashes out at Dolan referring to him as “ink stain,” as the Dolan character is disfigured with a red Gorbachev-like blotch covering the right side of his face. This dialogue-laced story won’t expand Dolan’s audience, but those who appreciate his style won’t be disappointed.

The day’s next two films, “Oh Mercy” taking place in Roubaix, France and “Summer of Changsha” taking place in Changsha, China, feature police interrogations where the person on the hot seat asks for a cigarette.  “Oh Mercy” began as if it could be another “Les Miserables” with a young, eager, idealistic cop new to the job trying to solve first a crime of arson, then murder.  It doesn’t have the intensity of “Les Miserables,” as rather than street action it focuses on the prolonged interrogations of two young women accused of murder with a quartet of cops trying to break them.

An older cop who is awaiting his resignation to be accepted is working on one final murder case in “Summer of Changsha.”  There are an abundance of wrinkles to the case, beginning with the sister of the murder victim telling the police her brother appeared to her in a dream and told her where his dismembered body could be found.  The woman has been brought in by the police to see if she can identify a hand that has washed up. She recognizes it as her brothers from a childhood scar. The woman has a complicated back story and may not be as innocent as she seems.  She too needs a cigarette when the pressure builds up for her.

A severed hand prances around Paris in the animated film “I Lost My Body” that was awarded the top prize by the Critics Week jury.  The hand is secondary though to a love story between a pizza delivery guy and a librarian.  The story is strong enough that one forgets that one is watching an animated film until the hand makes a periodic appearance.  The guy is smart and sensitive.  A furniture-maker he apprentices himself to starts to ask him if he has a lighter than catches himself saying “of course not” realizing he’s not the type to be a smoker.  

Jesse Eisenberg stars in the Irish film “Vivarium” that was also a Critics Week award-winner.  He and his girl friend are looking for a house and follow a salesman to a vast suburban development that no one has moved into.  The salesman disappears and they can’t find their way out of the development actually running out of gas after hours of driving around.  They keep returning to the house the agent showed them.  They can’t escape.  

This sci-fi thriller is meant to be some kind of metaphor of being trapped in suburbia.  Eisenberg starts dIgging a hole hoping to end up in Australia.  And guess what, it turns out he’s digging their graves.  He too becomes so stressed that while sitting in the sanctuary of the car with his wife, he lights up a cigarette defying his wife who shouts, “Not in my car.”  When it became clear this movie wasn’t going anywhere, it became almost as tedious as yesterday’s “Liberté.”

Critic Week screenings are preceded by a short or two, so I didn’t realize I was in for a series of them at the next screening.  A Danish short that starts out in a supermarket where a young woman encounters a friend who had recently blocked her on Facebook looked like it might be the Icelandic film I was anticipating.  When it wasn’t, I was wishing this had been a feature especially when they leave the supermarket separately and ride off on their bikes melding into the flow of other cyclists in Copenhagen.  An hour plus of shorts to end the day was a stark contrast to the four-hour film by Abdellatif Kechiche that awaited me at 8:30 the next morning in the Palais. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Cannes Day Nine

Knives were the weapon of choice in today’s first two movies just as in the Dardenes movie.  If they had taken place in the US with the easy access to firearms rather than in Japan, the Ukraine and Belgium they would have been entirely different movies, especially the Dardenes’ movie.

In “Homeward” a father instructs his son on how to use a knife in a fight, slashing one’s adversary across the thighs and then on the forehead to blind him with blood.  They are driving across the Ukraine to Crimea with the corpse of the father’s oldest son to bury him in their homeland.  They encounter various difficulties along the way, including being robbed and being denied crossing into Crimea.  This somewhat standard fare didn’t take any false steps nor inflate the drama more than necessary giving a glimpse of life in the region.

Knives don’t come into play until the over-the-top climax of “Parasite” by South Korea’s Joon Ho Bong . This cross between last year’s Palm d’Or winner “Shoplifters” and “Wild Tales” of a few years ago intricately plots a family of ne’er-do-wells taking over all the staff positions of a well-to-do family with two children—the chauffeur, house-keeper, tutor and art therapist.  One scene was so outrageously choreographed that when a packet of ketchup  is squirted on a tissue in a garbage can to imply the housekeeper has TB and is coughing up blood the audience in the Palais burst into applause.  This intricately plotted black comedy somewhat deflates with an over-the top blood bath at a child’s birthday party.

This was the first of three days of repeat screenings of all the Competition, Un Certain Regard, Out-of-Competion and Special Screening films.  Two that I most wanted to see didn’t fit into my schedule—a documentary on Maradonna and Gaspar Noe’s “Lux Aeterna.”  I was able to see however Werner Herzog’s “Family Romance, among the Special Screenings.   I had been turned away on my first attempt.

I was third in line this time showing up an hour early for this non-documentary on a service in Japan that provides fill-ins to masquerade as a family member or some other position.  The first in this series of vignettes is of a man in a suit meeting a young girl.  Her mother has hired him to pretend to be the girl’s father who she had never met.   Another of the vignettes is of the same guy being enlisted to serve as the father-of-the-bride at her wedding as her real father is an alcoholic and might prove to be an embarrassment.  Herzog must have been torn between making a documentary or a feature of this cultural oddity, but it gave him the chance to break the rut of the many documentaries he’s been making lately.

Another long-time director now in his 80s, Claude Lelouche, was also granted a Special Screening slot for “The Best Years of Our Life’s,” allowing his stars of “A Man and A Woman” from 1966 to reprise their roles with Jean-Louis Trintignant in a nursing home with memory issues visited by Anouk Aimée.   Lelouche missed the 50 anniversary of this seminal film despite doing a follow-up in 1986, twenty years after.  Trintignant doesn’t recognize Aimée on her first visit, though he says she bears a strong resemblance to the love of his life.  On her second visit she greets him with “cou-cou,” an informal “bonjour” that doesn’t turn up very often, just the second time in all the French films I’ve seen this year.  There were some quite touching scenes that devotees of Lelouche will embrace and those not enameled with his style will think pandering.

Ralph failed to warn me to skip the nonsensical “Liberté” he’d earlier seen in Un Certain Regard, a film of debauchery taking place in a forest during the French Revolution.  The program categorized it as an “experimental film,” one of the few.  A woman sitting next to me had the right idea, texting throughout the whole film.  If she had been a “Me-tooer” she would have been screaming in outrage at some of the scenes.

Ralph and I were turned away from a climate change documentary produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, who was on hand to introduce it, so we slipped over to the Bunuel for a Cannes Classic, Lina Wertmueller’s renovated “Seven Beauties” from 1975.  The 90-year old director was too frail to take to the stage, just rising from her front-row scene to acknowledge standing ovations before and after the film.  Her star Giancarlo Giannini spoke a few words in Italian after Thierry Fremaux’s introduction.  It was the second film, along with Malick’s, with footage of the Nazis and Hitler.  Whenever I indulge in one of these great films from the past, I think I ought to take more advantage of the one or two the festival offers every day.

Three days to go with the first batch of award-winners announced by the Critics Weekly jury.  Their selections will screen tomorrow, something to look forward to, along with Xavier Dolan’s film to start the day in the Palais.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Cannes Day Eight

Going on less than five hours of sleep after the Malick movie kept me up until two a.m., I nodded off a few times today, never for long, but when I returned to the waking world I wasn’t always sure what world on the screen I had been submerged in.  Today it had been Portugal, Turkey, Spain, Belgium and France.

I began the day with Isabelle Huppert at a family gathering in Portugal in Ira Sachs’ “Frankie.”  Huppert is an actress who only has a few months to live stricken by a cancer that she has once put into remission returning without hope.  She is well enough that only those in the know are aware of her situation.  Marisa Tomei, who has worked with Huppert on various movies and has become a good friend, doesn’t know the reason for the gathering until Huppert passes out while they are off on a hike.  Huppert was trying to play matchmaker hoping Tomei and her son would hit it off.  Meanwhile her step-daughter is in the midst of breaking up with her husband,  one of nine subplots in this theatrical piece rich with articulate dialogue.  A lot is packed into the single day this movie covers.  Greg Kinear is on hand for awhile accompanying Tomei on a break from working on a Star Wars movie as the second DP.  He oozes sincerity.  Both he and Tomei, as well as Huppert, shined, effortlessly practicing their craft.  After seeing over fifty movies the past week their natural performances stood out.

“Fire Will Come” opened and closed with a raging forest fire in Galacia.  A local farmer is just being released from prison for having been convicted of setting the fire.   He has distinctive chiseled features that the director is continually drawn to along with lingering on the rustic scenery.  Cinematography is the keynote to this minimalist, brooding tale of an alienated loner.

Vera is an aspiring dancer in Paris who has just gained admittance to the dance academy, though she tells her mother and lover she wasn’t among those selected.  She prefers for the time to work with an artist’s coop of dancers and painters, one of whom features bicycles in his painting.  The director has an affinity for the bicycle, as she has Vera get around Paris on a bike, but evidently the actress playing Vera in this film that takes it title from her name wasn’t very adept on the bike as she’s only seen pushing it or dismounting from it, other than one scene along a canal where she is very wobbly riding the bike.  Her dance too, ranging from ballet to modern, is less than stellar.  Half a dozen people in the audience fled the theater when a man, who is a benefactor for the dance troupe, forces Vera to remove all her clothes in his car then precedes to masturbate.

Three young sisters living with their father in a remote village in the mountains of Turkey take turns working as a servant for a doctor in the city who is a friend of their father.  The sisters are all very headstrong and contentious.  The two eldest have both been dismissed from the job, one for getting pregnant and the other for being belligerent.  The youngest is about to be given the chance at this opportunity to escape the tedium of their existence even as her sisters both hope to be given another chance on the job. Former Palm d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan could have had his hand in on the dialogue of some of the confrontational scenes of various members of the village that escalate to high drama.  This spellbinding film, “A Tale of Three Sisters,” had already played at Berlin and was seeking more distribution,  which it richly deserves.

The Dardene brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, can always be counted on for a film of contemporary relevance.  “Young Ahmed” takes on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Belgium.  Thirteen-year old Ahmed has fallen under the spell of his iman, castigating his mother for her drinking and his sister for his attire.  He has been given reason to abhor his teacher and shows up at her apartment intending to kill her with a knife.  She thwarts him.  His iman tells him to turn himself in, as he’ll only have to do nominal time.  The bulk of the movie is his time in dentention where he is upset at how nice everyone is.  As with his going after his teacher, he continually acts on impulse.  The Dardenes don’t reveal much about his thought process, nor his conversion to this half-baked fanatic.  There is no rhetoric to be alarmed by offering any kind of insight into any of the characters.  The confidence one has in the Dardenes that this will all be satisfactorily explained is never realized.  

This is no threat to become the Dardene’s third Palm d’Or. None of Screen’s panel of ten reviewers gave it more than three stars.  There have been only fifteen four-star reviews of the dozen Competition films screen so far.  Seven have received at least one such review.  Almodovar’s had four and “Portrait of a Lady” three.  My favorite “Les Miserables” received none, though was picked up by Amazon for one-and-a-half million dollars, their largest acquisition ever with hopes that it will be France’s Oscar nomination.  It is being called this year’s “Copernaum,” last year’s Lebanese film that received an Oscar nomination and won the Jury Prize.  It has easily been the most intense, energetic film so far.  

It could exceeded by Tarantino’s film, which played in the Palais this evening for only those with formal attire.  Neither Ralph nor I were granted an Invitation to the next day screening for commoners and it has no extra screenings, the only film with such a treatment.  All day people were walking around with signs hoping to get a ticket for one of its two black-tie screenings.  We just have to hope Sony allows it to be shown Saturday when all the Competition films are repeated before the Awards Ceremony. 

I was kept out until after midnight once again ending with “An Easy Girl” a French film that takes place in Cannes.  It follows the shenanigans of two teen-aged girls, one promiscuous who sun bathes topless and let’s guys feel how soft her skin is, and her ugly duckling companion.  They end up on board a luxury yacht with the easy girl spending the night with its owner and the other sleeping on a couch.  I had not an iota of interest in any of these characters.  Not a sole though walked out on this “Director’s Fortnight” entry.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Cannes Day Seven

Today featured three films about strong-willed, fiercely independent women in France, Morocco and the US.  In “Adam” an unwed, very pregnant young woman is desperate to find work in Casablanca.  She randomly knocks on doors asking if she can work as a maid.  She is refused by all.  The last person to turn her away sees her sleeping in a doorway across the street from her that night.  She suffers a great quandary, before hesitantly inviting her to sleep on her couch that night, but not for more than two or three days.

The pregnant woman bonds with the woman’s young daughter, who is devastated when her very austere mother sends her away.  They go looking for her and invite her to return.  The mother, who is widowed, continues to be distant and barely welcoming until the girl cooks up a traditional noodle dish that she can sell at her small bakery.  She still resists anything more than a faint friendship, but decrees she can stay until she gives birth to her child, which she intends to put up for immediate adoption and then return to her village.  The Un Certain Regard jury may have to give the women a joint best actress award for their most resonating performance, unless they give the film the best picture award, which precludes giving it any other awards.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” also had two strong performances by its leads—a young woman who has been commissioned by a mother to paint the portrait of her daughter, who has no desire to be painted.  She has just left a convent and the mother in 1760 France has arranged a marriage for her with an Italian the daughter has not met nor wishes to.  They live on an estate along the sea in Brittany.  The two women take walks along the water as the painter studies her features then begins painting her on the sly.  As the two women in Casablanca, it takes a while for them to warm to each other, but once they do, they form an unexpectedly strong bond.

“The Conductor” is the exhilarating success story of Antonia Brico, who against all odds broke the gender barrier to become a symphony conductor in the 1930s—the first woman conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and then others.  Brico is of Dutch heritage.  She came to America as a child after her mother put her up for adoption, then returned to Europe as a young woman, where she had a better chance to overcome the prejudices against women becoming conductors.  It wasn’t easy at all.  She returned to the US before WWII and established an all women’s symphony with the assistance of Eleanor Roosevelt.  This Dutch feature strikes many feel-good moments—some contrived and others genuine.

“The Projectionist” was another great success story, this of a Cypriot, Nicolas Nicolaou, who immigrated to New York as a 12-year old.  He began work as a teen at a small movie theater in Manhattan and eventually built an empire of small theaters throughout the city including the legendary Village art house.  He is a long-time friend of Abel Ferrara, who recognized him as a fine subject for a documentary.  He returns to his roots in Cyprus and then spends considerable time hanging out with him in New York.  The title of the movie doesn’t really apply to him, as he was always a manager, not a projectionist.  When he began accumulating theaters in the ‘70s a good many of them were adult theaters.  He has turned down offers of millions for some of his properties, remaining loyal to the world of cinema.

It was a two documentary day, with the other an Italian production on the Prado museum commemorating it’s 200th anniversary.  This highly polished production is narrated with considerable vigor by Jeremy Irons.  Norman Foster also provides some commentary on the role he played in adapting the sprawling building that dates to 1630 that houses the museum’s vast collection comparable to the Louvre.  It even has its own Mona Lisa that was painted simultaneously as DaVinci’s by a colleague with the identical background and smile.  A representative of the film passed out brochures of several other films on art that his company is distributing on Monet, Gauguin, Caravaggio, Frida Kahlo, Tintoretto and one on the Nazi obsession with art.  They all looked worthwhile, some of which are presently available for viewing in the Market.

I hadn’t been granted an Invitation for the screening of Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” his much-anticipated first film in Competition since the Palm d’Or winning “Tree of Life” ten years ago, so I had to try to catch the repeat screening at 10:30 at the end of the day, not the best time-slot for this three-hour film.  I was fourth in line two hours ahead of the screening, allowing me to sit in the entry out of the rain.  The guy behind me sat with chin on chest getting a nap.  

The sumptuous Austrian mountainous scenery was mesmerizing from the start.   A young farmer and his wife are being ostracized by his small village for his refusal to support the Nazi war-effort early in the war.  His priest is willing to take his conscientious-objector stance to the local bishop, but to no avail.  The day finally arrives when his draft notice comes in the mail.  He enlists but when he refuses to pledge allegiance to Hitler is thrown in prison ending up in Berlin.  He is threatened with execution, but remains steadfast in his stance.  His lawyer says he could be put on hospital duty, if he’ll only take the pledge, which should be easy enough to do since it is “only words.”  

As is Malick’s style, there are occasional dreamy voice-overs, but not of much philosophical dissonance, just meandering questioning of fighting in an unjust war and if it is better to suffer injustice than to do it. Malick doesn’t make a particularly powerful indictment against war or make this individual overly heroic.  His wife visits him in prison as execution day nears and tells him she supports him in whatever he decides to do, against the arguments of all others who want him to save himself.  He doesn’t argue his case, so one just must grant him favor for being true to his convictions, which have never been strongly articulated.  This was no “Tree of Life.”

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Cannes Day Six

Thanks to a full-page ad in today’s “Screen” I discovered a Belgian cycling movie playing today that I had somehow overlooked in the program.  The ad didn’t do much good as only nine of us were drawn to “Coureur” for its lone screening during the festival, though at least the flashy ad would have alerted distributors to it.

The cycling is very authentic, training and racing in two hotbeds of cycling—Belgium and Italy.  A 19-year Belgian wins his national title as an espoir then joins an amateur team in Italy against the wishes of his father, a former racer who has raised the funds for a Belgian team to pay his salary.  That negotiation is one of many shady dealings that form the underbelly of this tale.

Drug-taking and blood-doping, including taking blood from his father, are treated as standard operating procedure, which will effectively kill this movie for the cycling community.  It is hard to believe it is as brazen as this film portrays, especially since the doctors and coaches providing the drugs from EPO to human growth hormone don’t give any advice on how to avoid detection.  It is generally accepted that riders this young aren’t drawn to drugs.  It’s not until they are a couple of years into their careers, some put the figure at 1,000 days, that the toll of the sport starts wearing them down to such a degree that they resort to unsanctioned assistance that could get them banned.

The team infighting, including a Russian waving a gun, a rider putting a stranglehold on a teammate at a meal over a salt shaker and a brawl breaking out at the end of a race among teammates upset that the young Belgian won the race defying team orders, also begged credibility.  But one couldn’t object to the ample footage of guys riding their bikes hard.  That never gets old.  The open monologue got it right with “If cycling is in you, you can fight it all you want, but it won’t go away.”

On the first of my two bag checks preceding the Competition screenings at the Palais today a guard discovered two oranges in a woman’s purse.  She wasn’t going to let them go to waste, so stood off to the side and gobbled them down before going in.  During both my entries women guards challenged my Sky water bottle, not recognizing it for what it was, suspecting that it could contain contraband of some sort. Later in the day a guard to the theater complex found my spoon and gave me a thumbs up for having my own eating implement.  Not since that one earlier incident when a guard discovered my pâté sandwiches has a guard checked the zippered pocket on the flap to my pack. That was really bad luck.

A Romanian film, “The Whistlers” by Corneliu Porumboiu, a Cannes regular, kicked off the day in fine fashion.  Whistling is how the residents of the Canary Islands learned to communicate in secret among themselves.  A corrupt Romanian cop who has gone to the Islands to recover 30 million euros learns the whistling technique to outwit those he is competing with, including his superior, a woman, to find the loot.  The intricate plot and first-rate filmmaking made this pleasant escapism.

The day’s other Competition film, “The Wild Goose Lake” from China, also featured cops trying to solve a crime, conducting a massive search for a cop-killer.  Just when it was beginning to look at the half-way point of the festival that rape had become a taboo subject,  it rears its ugly head among all the mayhem in this stylized thriller, though the rapist gets his head bashed in.

Between the Competition films I managed to get into the morning Alain Delon Master Class conducted, or “hosted” as the Festival terms it, by Samuel Blumenfeld of “Le Monde.”  It included a number of clips from films by Visconti and Melville, concluding with one from “Mr Klein” by Joseph Losey that Delon produced and was in Competition in 1976.  It didn’t win anything as it was about the still taboo subject of the French complicity during WWII of rounding up Jews.  It would be shown later in the day at his official tribute in the Debussy when he would be given an honorary Palm d’Or.  Delon said that Thierry Fremaux had been trying for years to get him to come and accept such an award, but he always declined, saying the directors of his films deserved it more than him.  Fremaux finally convinced him to accept it as all his directors have died and this would bring them recognition.

It stirred a bit of controversy when it was announced he would be receiving this honor from those who object to his right-wing politics and accusations of having abused women.  Throughout his interview with Blumenfeld he continually mentioned it was women early in his career who discovered him, as he had never acted, and were responsible for his success.  He further lauded women saying, “A camera for me is a woman.  It is like looking into her eyes.” After the first clip from “Purple Noon,” one of his earliest films from 1959, he stood up and said, “I’ve got to leave.  I don’t see how people can look at me now after seeing how good-looking I was then.”

He did three films with Melville and was planning a fourth when Melville died, literally as they were discussing it.  Melville broke into laughter and died having a laughing fit.  After another clip he was brought to tears he said remembering the actress in the scene, who had passed away.  I stood in line later in the day with an American who ended up at a party with Delon.  He said he didn’t know who he was and was amazed at how people reacted to him.  “He’s more popular than Michael Jackson,” he said.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

There was no Eiffel Tower in the French comedy “I’ll Go Where You Go” even though two sisters drive 250 miles to Paris for a tryout to be a backup singer for Celine Dion’s European tour. One sister is a struggling singer and the other a doctor.  They don’t get along and rarely see one another.  Their father begs his successful physician daughter to chauffeur her sister hoping that will heal their ruptured relationship.  She only agrees to do it after he tells her he’s just been diagnosed with cancer and must start chemotherapy the next day and bringing his daughters together is all he cares about.  The sisters are initially taciturn, but then can’t help but argue over past grievances. It gets so bad that a hitchhiker they’ve picked up abandons them.

This was the third French film I’ve seen in the past week with a party scene where everyone has a stick-‘em pasted to their forehead with a name on it that they’ve got to try to guess.  It must be the latest thing in France. Skydiving too must be gaining in popularity, as it was a subject in two of the French movies, one depicting an actual dive and another comparing writing a novel to skydiving, saying both are more difficult the second time.

The day’s final final, a French comedy “On A Magical Night” about infidelity had enough depth, artistic flair and dab of originality to earn a berth in Un Certain Regard.  It didn’t resort to the stick-‘em game, but it was authentically French with an abundance of smoking, even close-ups of burning cigarettes and assertations that a cigarette was needed when the action heats up.  There doesn’t seem to be any movement among French filmmakers to defuse the glamour of the cigarette. 

A husband is quite distraught to learn his university wife of 25 years is having an affair with a student, claiming he has been faithful all their years together, though she doesn’t believe it thinking affairs are necessary to keep a marriage together as she has had many over the years.  He says he made a mistake marrying her and that his piano teacher would have been a better choice.  The wife leaves for a hotel across the street for the night and then has imaginary visits with lovers and friends from the past including her young husband from 25 years ago and his piano teacher, reliving the past and trying to resolve their present predicament.  She peers down upon her husband wallowing in his misery, making this less of a comedy than a drama.

Cannes Day Five

The Master Class has become so popular that there are four of them this year up from the usual one or two.  This year’s participants are Nicolas Winding Refn, Alain Delon, Zheng Ziyi and Sylvester Stallone.  The first was this afternoon with Refn interviewed by Philippe Rouyer, television and “Postif” film critic.  

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 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 sex 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 she 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 poster 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 fill, 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 between 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 at their sport.  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 unknown 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 full 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.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Cannes Day Four

Just as Adam Driver parroted “this isn’t going to end well”  throughout Jim Jarmusch’s Opening Night film “The Dead Don’t Die,” that could be a refrain from the very start of Ken Loach’s “Sorry We Missed You.” From the opening scene it is clearly evident there is nothing but heartache and tragedy ahead for the struggling working-class family that is the subject of 83-year old Loach’s follow-up to his 2016 Palm d’Or winning “I, Daniel Blake.”  It is just a matter of how bad is it going to be for them.  I wasn’t entirely sure if I this was how I wanted to start my day at 8:30 in the morning feeling tension and despair for an hour and forty-two minutes sitting up in the nose-bleed section of the Palais operating on less than six hours of sleep, but so it was.

The film opens as a 40-year old guy applies for a job as an independent-contractor delivery-driver of packages.  He has to first decide if he wants to pay a daily rental feel for a van from the company he’s going to work for or buy his own.  He and his wife are heavily in debt but he convinces her to sell their car so he can afford to put a down payment on a van, even though it makes her have to resort to the bus for her job as a caregiver for people in their homes.

Among their woes is a rebellious teen-aged son who chronically skips school to spray paint graffiti.  He sells his expensive goretex jacket that his parents splurged on for him to buy spray paint.  His goodhearted eleven-year old sister is the anchor of the family, though she makes a gesture trying to save them that has grave consequences.

Any delivery driver, as I can attest from my two decades as a bicycle messenger, is going to face plenty of adversity dealing with traffic and the police and bad addresses and belligerent clients and breakdowns of one’s vehicle. It doesn’t take much to have a bad day.  Loach doesn’t pile it on too heavily, but the adversity that climaxes the film goes beyond most driver’s worst nightmare. Both wife and husband are squeezed to the limit by their corporate minders, the thrust of Loach’s agenda.  The film rings all too true from start to finish.  There are no phony contrivances as questionable plot twists as in “I, Daniel Blake.”

“Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic, in the Palais immediately afterwards promised to be the perfect anecdote to Loach’s glum primer on the contemporary workplace.  There was plenty of lively music to revive my spirits, but all too much of the movie dwells upon John’s lack of self-esteem, battling a host of demons—an unloving father, alcohol, a manager who started out as a lover and then turned on him, loneliness and all the usual accessories of fame.  There are enough strong and inventive musical numbers liberally interspersed to more than carry the movie.  I was just hoping it could have had fewer lapses into the “woe is me,” not only to make it a more sustained upbeat experience, but for John’s sake as well.  But he is one of the producers of the movie and wanted that side of his story told.  The movie is framed around him attending AA at the height of his career.  It ends with a few blurbs stating he has been sober for 28 years and that he found a mate that he has been with for 25 years and that they have a couple of children.

It was another quick exit from the Palais and then back in through the same gauntlet of guards checking credentials multiple times and passing through a metal detector and having my bag inspected.  I at least had earlier confirmed that I can bring in my small water bottle, so don’t have to leave it on my bike.

“Atlantics” returned me to Dakar, that I had flown in and out of a year ago for my ride through West Africa. This film has been receiving much attention as the first film ever in Competition by a black woman, Mati Diop, who had acted in a Claire Denis film.  It had received the first four-star reviews from the Screen panel of critics of films in Competition, though premier French critic Michel Ciment had granted it but a single star.  He’s going to become known as “one-star Michel,” as he has given out more one-star reviews so far this year than all the other Screen critics combined.  His years of experience and discerning eye do not grant the moody style and mystical bent of this tale of a woman who is being forced into marriage with someone she doesn’t love the favor that others have.  The woman is particularly distraught as the man she loves has left without telling her on a boat for Europe in hopes of a better life.  Her camera shows frequent shots of the rough open sea, but never the crowded unsafe boat he has left on. There are reports that his boat has sunk not long after it departed with no survivors.  As with yesterday’s animated feature on Kabul this was a worthy effort, but nothing exceptional.

I don’t seek out Russian films,  but upon Ralph’s recommendation I checked out “Beanpole,” a gritty post-WWII film that takes place in Leningrad.  It is another women-centered film focusing on two nurses seeking male companionship in a world that has been greatly depleted of men.  Food is also in short supply. They are willing to resort to whatever measures necessary to supplement their meager diets.  Their predicament is more desperate than that depicted by Loach, but it wasn’t as gut-wrenching since one could disassociate from the reality of it and appreciate the re-creation of this world.

Thierry Fremaux, who is a fan of The Tour de France,  invoked Eddie Merckx when he introduced “The Climb” and then asked, “How many of you have heard of Eddie Merckx.”  There was just a smattering of applause.  “The Climb,” the first film by Michael Angelo Covino, who also stars in this American dark comedy, opens with two guys bicycling up a climb in France.  The stronger of the two admits he’d had a long affair with the woman the other guy is about to marry.  He wants to pummel him, but can’t catch up to him.  This is a nice prolonged scene of cycling that culminates with a fight with a guy driving a Deux Chevaux who cuts them off, sending one to the hospital.

The film is told in chapters over a dozen or so years as their friendship wanes and ebbs.  The second chapter takes place at a cemetery where the union gravediggers get in a fight with the stronger cyclist when he wants to throw a shovel-full of dirt on the grave of his wife.  There is no more cycling until the end when the stronger cyclist ends up running a small bike shop and then goes cycling with his friend accompanied by his son on a bike with training wheels.  The only faux pas was the word “peddling rather than “pedaling” in the subtitles.  This was enjoyable enough that I let it be my final movie of the day passing on the choice of a Japanese gangster film and another about a dancer with no English subtitles even though the French 24 reviewer Lisa Nesselson’s review said that it was engaging from the very start.

This was a rare day without a Market screening, only invited films, all with some degree of merit.