Cannes Diary 1

Last year I attended the Cannes Film Festival, on assignment from Some Online Journal. I was to give a “festival report” of what happened there. The first draft of the article turned out to be over 22,000 words and included quite a bit of extraneous but interesting detail. More than one notebook was filled with my tiny, crabbed handwriting. These are the only-slightly-polished entries from those Cannes notebooks, presented for your reading pleasure and commentary. The original draft is heavily burdened by footnotes, which have been included in their original format.

Jeudi 17 Mai 2007

We arrive at Cannes after a long and arduous flight. Due to the increasingly chaotic air travel market, we find it is best to fly to London, then to Nice, and onward to Cannes proper by bus.

To attend the Cannes Film Festival, one only needs to apply for press accreditation, which can be done several months in advance, through the Festival’s website. The application process is fairly easy, and is presented in several languages. Within good time the Press Department will inform the applicant of the application status; whether or not a badge has been granted.

Apparently “Some Online Journal” does not merit a press badge at all. Not even the lowliest urine-colored badge that my traveling companions get. Their accreditation is also questionable. One of them finds himself arguing furiously with the press department about giving “American Cinematographer” access, while the other has had instant success getting in for “(Undisclosed Asian-American Magazine),” a hideous rag full of misspellings and childish writing. She has submitted examples of her writing for food publications, and was immediately accepted.

I am told that if I offered daily coverage on “Some Online Journal’s” website that I would be more likely to be accredited. Furthermore, repeated begging in bad French has almost no effect – not even sympathy is generated. I am told that I can have a consolation prize, however, and that my status as a film professor entitles me to a “Cannes Cinephile” badge.

Now, “Cannes Cinephile” sounds really good. Cinephiles are people who love movies, correct? This should be a one-way ticket to film heaven, watching as my butt-cheeks grow wider and wider from sitting in cushy theatres for hours every day.

I swiftly realize that the “Cannes Cinephile” badge I have been given is somewhere below the bottom of the food chain. 20-year old vapid college student volunteers get better privileges and more access. With my pathetic badge I cannot enter the Palais or its environs without some kind of special ticket or permission. Even accompanied by the properly badged officials I cannot go in. To be honest, the Cannes Cinephile badge is more of a Scarlet Letter – a clear warning to the festival’s coordinators that you are not under any circumstances to be taken seriously.

There are, however, special screenings for the Cinephiles. They are actually held out of town, as if there is further effort to keep our kind AWAY from the Palais and the true proceedings. These venues are about a 30-minute walk from the Palais, and about 10-15 minutes by bus. The Cinephile schedule is completely at odds with the regular press schedule, and the opportunities to see films are much fewer, with some offerings not being available at all to the Cinephile.

For example, I noticed that there was not one opportunity for me to see any of the films in the Un Certain Regard category, even though there was clearly a line labeled”Cinephiles” right in front of the venue.

This made attending the festival very difficult. I would imagine if one did not care much what one saw, then the Cinephile designation might not be so hard. But for those who know the films or the directors, and have a list of films they would like to attend, “Cinephile” is a heart breaker.

Every morning at the “Espace Cinephile,” our special tent where the faithful wait in line, special tickets are issued that allow mere mortals (and the demi-urges that we are) to attend the proper screenings at the Palais. The Festival never says what these are in advance, and the Cinephiles must queue up for them from about 8:15 AM until 9AM when the “E.C.” opens. Thus, we can wait 45 minutes to an hour only to turn away, disgusted, when tickets to a revival screening of “Hondo” appear instead of a pass to one of the films in competition.

Cannes is first and foremost a film market. So market badges are the best badges to have in some ways. Press badges start with rose-colored ones, then blues, oranges, and yellows. Market badges have low priority in press screenings; press badges have low priority in market screenings. Then there are the volunteer badges. Volunteers can go to all screenings, but have low priority. Cinephiles are behind everyone for anything except Cinephile screenings, in which case they are still not first, but go in at the same time with ticket holders.

Entrance to the various screenings is highly controlled by this badge system, and since the screenings are all over town in dozens of venues, this becomes rather Byzantine and ridiculous rather quickly.

This documentary follows photographer Ed Burtynsky as he plans and executes several photo shoots, all of which involve large-scale industrial processes. Burtynsky shoots, for example, both the construction of oil tankers and, later on, their deconstruction and parting out on a toxic infected Indian beach. The Three Gorges Dam and coal strip-mining sites are also featured. His imagery is stunning in and of itself – it seems as though the camera crew would have to be aggressively bad not to capture images of amazing power and colossal magnitude just by aiming the lens. Burtynsky’s photography is interesting and compositionally sound. The film drags by the end, as the photographer expounds on the political implications of the massive undertakings he is filming. They all risk becoming quite preachy about “globalization,” whatever that might mean.

Not in my backyard: Tire dump in the third world.

This film was actually rather poorly attended, and that is sad. “Manufactured Landscapes” would be perfectly at home in any venue that screened Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s “Pripyat” or “Our Daily Bread.”  It is all the more galling when I see how many chuckleheads have lined up for screenings of the anemic “Death Proof.”

Later, while trying to enjoy the terrible cuisine of Cannes, (1) I have my first encounter with the “Burn”-mobile. BURN is apparently the trade name of some kind of energy drink. As a promotion, the Burn people have contracted out a kind of truck with a long, low flatbed, to drive around the streets of Cannes. In the back of the truck is a “DJ” and some dancing people. I use the term “DJ” lightly, because he is merely another fashion model type who is apparently tweaking the knobs on a computer playing the same repetitive 8 bars of electronic music. Our fashion model (tight U-neck T-shirt, sunglasses, chain around waist, stands with legs wide apart, nods sagely with beat) pulls faders up and down to add the drums or remove the guitar riff, thereby seeming to Master the Ceremonies. His dancing pals hoot and holler, and the woman with the cowboy hat seems to be brandishing an empty can of “Burn.”

The odd thing is that these people aren’t really doing much except annoying everyone around them. They’re not handing out free drinks, that’s for sure. No one is dancing to their music. The bass pumps out of this car at an unbelievable level, and people actually get up and leave when they park in front of restaurants.

CONTROL – Dr. Anton Corbijn
This is Corbijn’s feature debut, although he has been a photographer and music video director for decades. As a first-time feature director, he was up for the Camera d’Or , although he ultimately did not win it. Perhaps the Cannes Jury felt that giving the Camera d’Or to a man in his 60’s was not the right message for the prize.

Being a rock star has its downside, too, though I can’t think of what that might be at the moment.

Every shot is beautifully composed and maximized for excellent tonal range. The bleak landscapes of Macclesfield seem perfect for Corbijn and his cast, who turn out solid, believable performances. The whole film has a documentary feel to it, as if Corbijn and company were shooting yet another MTV special rather than a historical narrative.

This is the story of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the influential band Joy Division, who was famously depressed and whose music proved it. Curtis, an epileptic, was also an energetic, peculiar performer whose dance stylings were partly patterned after his own seizures. His band seemed about to break into the big time when Curtis, in one of his down periods, decided he’d had enough and hung himself.

This film is based on a memoir written by Curtis’s widow. Perhaps because of this provenance the whole enterprise suffers from a kind of eager verisimilitude. In depicting a depressed man and his eventual stumble to suicide, the filmmakers have run into the difficulty of making what is an intense internal struggle an external dramatic event. The script comes off as leaden, the participants distant and mopey. Perhaps there is too much emphasis on “resurrecting ghosts,” as Baudrillard would have it. In the end, Control is an impressive debut film, and certainly worth seeing.

This film is part of the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, the “Director’s Fortnight.” Perhaps a word on the structure of Cannes is in order. At the core of Cannes is the market. Pavilions along the famous beachfront are dedicated to the sales of motion pictures. These films are screened in facilities on the waterfront as well as in several theatres around in the town of Cannes. Beyond the market is the actual Cannes Film Festival, which concerns us primarily. A dozen or so films play for the Competition, from which the Cannes Jury will select one to receive the Palm d’Or (the first prize) and also the Grand Prix (the second prize).

Other prizes include the Jury Prize and the Best Director prize. This year a special “60th Anniversary Prize” has been awarded to Mr. Corbijn. This is not a usual offering. Other prizes go for Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Short Film, and the “Camera d’Or” to the best first time director.

Several films will play “Hors Competition,” or OUT of Competition. These are usually big-budget films that have premieres at the festival, but are not competing. This year the HC films include “Ocean’s Thirteen” and Michael Moore’s “Sicko.”

In the late 1960’s, as a response to what the Cannes organizers thought was a stuffy, conservative competition, several new competitions were established. These began with “Un Certain Regard,” and now include various offshoots including the popular “Quinzaine des Réalisateurs” (Director’s Fortnight) and the “Critic’s Week.” Cannes also sponsors the “Cinefondation” screenings and “Cannes Classics,” which are more repertory in nature.

And beyond all these programs, there is the Cannes Cinephile series, which seems to be organized by completely different people, and though it includes some of the Competition films, it does not include all of them. Cinephiles screenings also include a variety of spurious programs, including a series of films juried by children.

“Control” is featured at the Quinzaine, and it is the last film my pals will see with me, due to schedules. While we waited in line we witnessed even more embarrassing behavior, as the festival seems to draw out some of the most desperate types. A young man came shouting by, announcing his brilliant screenplay, which we could read if we were very interested. “I’m here all week, folks,” he crowed, handing out leaflets. These described his potential property, “The Third Man, set in Mexico,” which included something about a secret journal, a novel, some daVinci code-like puzzles, and this example of startling dialogue:

You speak of souls. Well, my friend, here in Mexico we do not save souls. We lose them.

I feel certain this gifted writer benefited from a severe bidding war.

(end day one)

(1) For reasons which escape me, Cannes is utterly devoid of good food. This is in stark contrast to Paris, where one cannot, as the colorful locals of my upbringing used to say, swing a dead cat without hitting a good restaurant. This leads the inexperienced traveler to thinking that France is a land of lovely eating. Cannes will prove you oh so very wrong. {back}

3 comments on “Cannes Diary 1

  1. Hondo? No fooling? Was it in 3D? Now, watching John Wayne speaking French in 3D would’ve been worth 100 Quentin Tarentinos!

  2. No 3D on that “Hondo.” Ugh, if you can stand to watch John Wayne, it’s all yours. I’ll agree it IS worth more than 100 Tarantinos, though!

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