Cannes Diary 2

This is the Cannes diary, 2007, Day 2

Vendredi, 18 Mai 07

Les Cinephiles, I have come to realize, are Les Bottom-Feeders. On the way in today I was accosted by a dozen or so Cinephiles looking to score an “invit’ “ to today’s film at the Palais. Remember that Cinephiles can go to the proper events at the Palais, but only if they have a pass to do so. Also remember that every day at Cannes I must wait in line to see what kinds of “invit’s” are available. As a result, the Press Area is always overrun with hopeful desperate people, trying to get invitations to films you have decided not to watch. I have taken to hiding my badge in my shirt pocket so as not to be mistaken for a Cinephile. This makes the Cinephiles CERTAIN that I am press, or even better, and they crowd me looking for an invitation.

Who can blame them? The Cannes Cinephiles program looks to have been curated by old ladies with a penchant for “message” movies Of Great Importance. We get to see, for example, the Brazilian drama “La Voie Lactée (not the Buñuel film, btw) and the Iranian film about women wearing veils (this one is important enough to screen twice), while half the Competition films don’t play at all. I should be haranguing people for passes too – otherwise I’ll be watching sitting through two screenings of the 80’s Turkish film “Yol” somehow resuscitated for this year’s program, instead of new films by better directors. Where is the”phile” in “Cinephile?”

I recommend a bus pass when you are here. Walking about has already destroyed my feet.

Á 8 heure (8AM): I eagerly await at “Espace Cinephile” for my passes. I have begun to despise the EC and everything it stands for. It really is just a place to focus the rabble so they don’t get in the way of doing business. Inventing the title (“Cinephile,” for heaven’s sake) and pretending there is something special about it is really condescending. From what I can tell the major qualification for a Cinephile badge is a pulse. I think you can redeem soda pop cans in France for a qualification.

Cheapest pop I can find, btw, is a 12 oz. can for 1.80 Euro in a kiosk next to l’EC. That’s actually highway robbery. A can costs 1 Euro anywhere else. And that’s still inflated, considering a can costs 75¢ in the U.S.

By 9AM I have my results. I can see the Assayas film, but only at a 12:30AM screening. I have no idea how I would get back the 10km to my hotel. Sounds like torture. Spend 25 Euros for a cab? I might remind the reader that “Some Online Journal” has not empowered me with any kind of expense account. If I wait around and kill time for this film, I will have to either walk the 10km at 2AM or pay the equivalent of $50 US to be driven back. Later in the week I will choose to walk the 10km. This day I decide not to see the film.

There’s a Korean movie at 3PM, a Chinese film at 5PM, but I have no idea what they are yet. I grab what passes I can and hope to make the screenings. I walk past the line of Cinephiles, chock full of high school kids on tour.

Careful reading of the passes reveals, to my horror, that fancy dress is required. To attend a premiere at Cannes in the Palais, even if one is admitted to the side entrances, one must be attired in evening dress or a tuxedo. This had never occurred to me while packing, and I find I am without a tuxedo. I am told that I can find one for sale at the “Monoprix” store (kind of like “Target” for France). I decline, though I am told it will be “cheap.” It figures that the K-mart of Cannes would stock tuxedoes.

I remember the Quinzaine, always a good standby. “Quinzaine des Réalisateurs” films have their own screenings, their own prizes, and their own venues. Both the QR and the SIC (Semaine Internationale des Critiques – “Critic’s Week”) are open to public, and tickets may be purchased. As a result of this availability, and of the generally high quality of the Quinzaine films, I saw quite a few of them. I wait in the line, broiling in the sun like a lobster, hoping to get in to whatever is playing. The sun is punishingly hot, and the Cinephile line is completely unprotected. The press lines has an awning and cover from nearby building shadows. While my brain is boiling in my skull, there are two realizations I make.

#1. “Quinzaine” in French means 15, not 14. A fortnight is only 14 days.
#2. This “Quinzaine” is only 10 days long.

Cannes is actually kind of beautiful, nonetheless, with centuries-old architecture and gorgeous weather. It’s way too hot for one such as I. After all, I was drawn to my profession by the prospect of spending long periods in dark and windowless rooms. I’m getting sunburned while I wait for a period longer than I will spend watching the film. This is only the first time, but I quickly realize that I will spend far more hours in the hot Cannes sun waiting for films than I will spend enjoying any of them.

Even the dopey kids behind me in line – who style themselves Visual Effects artists and have business cards to prove it – even they decry the uselessness of the Cinephile badge. They have also been trolling the market screenings looking for something worthwhile.

UN HOMME PERDU –  Dir. Danielle Arbid

This film is a crashing bore. Adequate photography and super clichéd story combine to make a film containing no fewer than 1000 shots of people drinking and smoking. How many times must we watch a film set in bars? This is a particular kind of anthropology at its most annoying.

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Mr. Poupaud gets the girl. Again and again.

The plot concerns a French traveler (Melvil Poupaud) seemingly on a sex-tour of the Middle East. He meets a man with a mysterious past. He becomes obsessed with uncovering that past and hounds the guy- buying him as a guide, photographing him having sex with prostitutes, asking him questions, and the list goes on. This seems to be a cliché in French films – a slightly gay relationship as one man becomes obsessed with the other – who is he? What is he running away from? Ultimately who cares? Not I, though our completely unmotivated voyeur hero (he snaps pics of his own sexual encounters and his buddy’s) is so enthralled that he organizes his life around the mystery. The real motivation? The screenwriter desperately needs some kind of vehicle to reveal his prized character – which precious character seems about as exciting as a subdermal injection of rock salt. The screenwriter’s attempts to make him interesting result in the French photographer stumbling about acting like a jerk (puzzlingly so) and the Mystery Man becoming an even duller cipher, to the bitter end. Shot in skakeycam in exotic, yet somehow boring locations.

Dejected, I feel somewhat comforted by the fact that I’ve still got a pass to the Korean film this afternoon, and it does not require a change of clothing to attend. Finally! I have been allowed access to the famed Palais. A vast pyramid of exclusion, I wonder what Luis himself would think of the theatre they have named for him – the “Salle Buñuel.” More so, what would he think about them screening “Classics” there? I cannot imagine the old iconoclast thinking much of that plan.

Today’s offering is a Korean film from the early 60s. Ever since the ridiculously overrated clown show that was “Oldboy,” people can’t get enough of the Korean films. Some are profoundly great (“Presidentâ’s Last Bang,” “Spring in my Hometown,” “The Good Lawyer’s Wife,”) but most, like the output of any country, are substandard. My hopes are actually not very high.

The Salle sure is comfortable, though. A real step up from the venues I’ve been in. But since this screening is 90% Cinephiles who stood in line for passes it has lost some of the fun of being at the big table – now it’s like a guided tour of the White House.

BOUND BY CHASTITY RULES or THE RED GATE – Dir. Sang-Ok Shin

This film was made in 1961, when Korea’s film industry was little more than a few busted-up cameras and some short ends. Working in third-world conditions, director Shin somehow crafted a film with startlingly good compositions and an affecting, if melodramatic, story.

The director’s own story is bizarre and worth repeating. Hugely famous in the 1950’s and 60’s, he was writer, director, and producer of all his films. In 1973-74 the government of South Korea proclaimed that only a limited number of companies could legally produce films. This list did not include our director, for reasons no one is clear on. He was not necessarily controversial or difficult.

The upshot was that he was now prohibited from making any films. His immediate response was to go into hiding. From that point he turned up in odd places – eventually banned in China, Taiwan, and Japan. He showed up in Czechoslovakia in the 1980’s, and at one point released a few films under the North Korean flag (prompting South Koreas to proclaim he had been “kidnapped” by the North!) Later, he went to Hollywood and produced the perfectly miserable “3 Ninjas,” only to disappear again. He died last year (2006). Functionally, his career ended in 1973, and yet he continued to kick around, making what he could wherever he could, in whatever capacity was open to him.

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A relatively serene composition from the film.

This film, “Bound by Chastity Rules,” has been declared a National Treasure by the government of South Korea, most likely for the ethnographic material. The film is set in 1920, though most of the village life and ceremony depicted have been largely unchanged since the Jeosun Dynasty. Included are depictions of the village life, styles, fashions, agriculture, and festivals common in Korea for hundreds of years. It is most likely for these reasons the Korean government has given it a place of honor.

The fact is, however, that the cinematography, though crude in some ways (the film looks and sounds like a film from the 1930’s) is still full of stunning, superior compositions. It’s a 2.35:1 film and every dutch angle and oddball framing is visually delightful. Our presenter (and chief of restoration on the film) tells us that Oshima was very influenced by Shin, and a comparison between the two visual styles would bear that out easily. It would also be useful to see Shin’s films next to Imamura’s earlier works.

Every scene has violently canted angles and wide-angle lenses used simply to frame a line of four or five people facing the same direction. Everything is locked-down, and yet the background, the horizon, and every diagonal in the frame are used for maximum dynamic effect. The make-up may be stagy, and the props few and far between, but the quality of the image is superior to many of the films that were in competition.

The sound, however, was abysmal. It has been “restored,” but it sounds like voicemail. Considering the original was dubbed anyway, one wonders why they bothered to save the deteriorated optical track at all and didn’t just hire some new voice talent. I know, that’s heretical, but I cannot imagine any filmmaker hearing a soundtrack in such obvious decay and being pleased with the presentation. I would have let Jim Carrey and Bob Saget dub it over if I could at least hear what they were saying.

(end day two)

2 comments on “Cannes Diary 2

  1. “quinzaine” I think is 2 weeks counted differently.

    We tend to think of 2 weeks as, say, Sunday through the second Saturday. But if you count it with 3 Sundays, you get 15. So it starts ‘today’ whatever today is, and goes through two weeks from today.

    The 10-day ‘quinzaine’ must simply be a reference to it as a two-week period, i.e., containing parts of 2 weeks (one week and 2 weekends, probably?)

    It still seems as great a cheat as ‘jumbo shrimp.’

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