Cannes Diary 4

This is the Cannes 2007 Diary, Day 4

Dimanche 20 Mai 2007
If you do the math, you’ll find that I’m getting about six hours of sleep a night and maybe two meals a day – one of which might be crackers. Considering the pathetic state of Cannes cuisine, this turns out to be not only a big money-saver, but somehow healthier.

Far more time is spent in line or wearing out my arches (or my ass) than ever is spent seeing films. This is coming from someone who would gladly watch five or six movies a day if they were available to me. My traveling companion, who says he tops out at three movies a day, calls me “Iron Man” for this trait. Iron Butt is more likely. Anyway, since the pickings are very slim today (My lucky drawing in the Cinephile Ticket of Disaster Line today is my choice of Laurence Olivier Shakespeare disasters. I did not fly all this way to see sixty year old movies from such a mannered performer) , I decide to troll the markets and see what I’m able to get into. Since yesterday yielded as many good movie-watching minutes as bad, I’m still pretty hopeful.

TRIANGLE – Dir. Johnnie To, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark

This film is also playing Hors Competition (Out of Competition – the fancy premieres at which Hollywood films tend to show), so it’s not as absurd a choice as one would think. A stylish, but almost generic 1990’s Hong Kong film. Three directors? Did they hand it off like in “Casino Royale?” The film is confused and only seems fun when slapstick surfaces. One or all of the directors keeps at least 5 or 6 identical bags bouncing from one set of characters to another, in a scene that is more “What’s Up, Doc?” than “Infernal Affairs.”  I’m assuming it’s Hark. He has a tendency to put in that kind of door-slamming bedroom farce complication in his films – as in “Peking Opera Blues (1987).”  It’s kind of a “low” form here in the USA – no one ever takes its best practitioners very seriously – but I admire the inventiveness and timing that make it possible at all.

Drawing straws over who gets to direct next

The story of a trio of losers who find ancient buried treasure, it’s equal parts “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a character from “Straw Dogs” and the others from “The Great Race.” What, I’m not dropping enough film titles for you? That’s the problem with “Triangle,” it’s such a salad of bits and pieces it never actually settles into being anything of its own. It has a consistent look, but it’s the style and feeling of every commercial film that’s come out of HK in the last 15 years – as if someone very desperate is trying to recreate the successes of those older pictures.

After Triangle I have nothing to do until a VOSTF screening at 5PM (Another film at “La Licorne,” where I will have to translate from the French subtitles), so I sneak into another market screening.

EYE IN THE SKY – Dir. Yau Nai Hoi

My initial attraction to this film was that it was being released by Fortissimo, who have had an excellent run of high quality pictures. I did not know anything about “Eye in the Sky,” so I stepped inside. I wish now that I had not.

This is kind of heroic story of Big Brother. It concerns an elite team of police officers who man the spy cameras ostensibly placed on every street corner in Hong Kong. We get tense moments behind screens as people watch grainy footage from convenience stress and try to identify characters such as the comic “fat man,” (whose charming and hilarious character trait is that he eats a lot). The cops also disguise themselves and move about as if they were ordinary folks – truck drivers and schoolgirls, for example – so they can keep an eye out for bad guys and catch them in the act.

This lumpy nobody is watching you

The whole film has a kind of creepy validation of spying and surveillance. Maybe some people find this sot of thing comforting, but the very idea of cops watching every aberrant move any of us makes is a better recipe for a psychological horror film. Simon Yam, who also stars in “Triangle,” oddly enough, plays the folksy patriarch who runs this special ops unit. This gives him the power and position to tell really awful jokes on the intercom as he is dying.

Crawling around theses screenings as I have been, I get a chance to check out the market scene. Market films are screened in facilities on the waterfront as well as in several theatres around in the town of Cannes proper. These venues are largely of much poorer quality than the Palais facilities. They range from the acceptable screens at the Arcade and the Hotel Gray D’Albion to the worn out dustboxes of the dilapidated Star Theatres. Each of those has a few screens as well. So at any moment there may be as many as 20 or 30 market screenings happening, and they screen until the evening. Most of these are dreadful cinematic abortions you don’t want to go near, ever.

I am not allowed to go into the actual film market itself, as I am only the lowly Cinephile. My only contact with them will come through these screenings, and it is never a pleasant experience. I must grovel and cajole them into allowing me entrance – why take up a seat with my ever-expanding ass when they could have a serious buyer watching the film? Never mind that most of these market screenings are ill-attended. It irritates the market people that someone who is not even a POTENTIAL buyer is wasting space in the theatre. My eyeballs arre clearly soaking up valuable light rays meant for others.

Market people are all way too young and they suck on their phones. I’ve often thought that the cellphone has a kind of classic Freudian attraction for many people, and when I see orally fixated 20-year olds rub the knobby ends of their antenna against their lips, I know there is more to the Old Viennese Quack than we ever gave him credit for. The Market attendees from the US are the only ones who are under 30. In fact, they all seem to be under 30, which is peculiar. The Europeans (esp. the British) make constant fun of this, saying that the Americans have sent out “babies” to do the job of selecting films for our theatres.

French people in general are a lot smarter about films. Crowds will line up in hopes of glimpsing an art film director as he ascends the red carpeted steps of the Palais. Teens line up for Wong Kar-Wei and films from Tehran. No one has ever said the words “Spider-Man Three” (Homme d’Araignée Trois? I told you my French was barely passable) while I’ve been here, not even in French . In comparison, the cinema of my country (“Shrek the Third” is playing here – ugly, poorly colored, inexpressive mannequin faces – stock emotions from a traffic signal manual) seems less than anemic. Sure, there are worse pictures here – I’ve already seen some downright boring local product. But for every “L’Homme Perdu” there is also a “4 Mois.”And they know who Godard is here, so that’s a huge step up for the whole country.

Here is a good example of the kind of schedule contortions one must endure at Cannes. Quelle crise! After “Eye in the Sky” I was way too early for a screening of Assayas’ “Boarding Gate,” (which I have been warned is more like “Boring Gate.”) I’m sure to get in for a 5PM screening. But at 6PM is a market screening of “Blueberry Nights!” I’s sure to be crowded by market kids, but there is a small chance. No guarantees, though. Trying for “Blueberry” means I will probably miss the Cinephile screening of the Coens’s new film, because I’ll only get there an hour before the film – not long enough to guarantee a good spot, considering the zoo that happens in front of La Licorne. The Assayas film will be without English whatsoever, and no French subtitles either (it is IN French, after all), whereas the WKW will be in English. And the Coens and “Boarding Gate” could show up at market screenings, where it could be possible to get in.

Bolstered by my two previous market successes, I throw “Boarding Gate” for WKW. And promptly lose out on the WKW, after a few more hours waiting in line. Now, with more than two hours before the Coen’s film, I catch Zoe Cassavetes’s first film instead. My hopes are not high – after all, name one instance where talent has passed from parent to child intact. How could I predict this horror?

BROKEN ENGLISH – Zoe Cassavettes

Ms. Cassavettes’s first film is every bit as bad as the French dramas I’ve endured. This is all the more interesting because Melvil Poupaud shows up in her film, now cast as the eager, but slightly goofy love interest. The otherwise appealing Parker Posey is crammed into a minor refrain of the same navel-gazing urges that went into “Lost in Translation.” This time it’s France, but it’s the same movie overall.

Here, once again, is an almost monomaniacal drive towards the most commonplace material imaginable. Ms. Posey wakes up about four times in this film, orders drinks in at least five consecutive scenes, and smokes about a pack and a half before the paltry 96 minutes is over. At the heart of this panoply of mannerisms is a singular dedication to the worst kind of screenwriting, in which dramatic scenes seem to be deliberately made undramatic, unmoving, static, and dull.

For example, there is a scene in which PP’s loser friend, Glen, calls PP’s answering machine to leave a message. Characters watching answering machines as they talk is already such riveting material, but Cassavettes goes further. While loser Glen drones on about the party invite we just saw and heard about already in two scenes previous to this one, PP walks to the kitchen and returns with a bottle. She pours a glass of wine, lights up, and sits and waits for the message to run out. More manners, quotidian details, restaurants, and flat backgrounds

I have no Calvinist qualms against smoking and drinking in films, As opposed to the MPAA, which recently proposed new warnings about the content of films that include smoking. Rated S? But I get bored when the filmmaker stages something this lazily. Pouring a drink and lighting a cigarette is what students always turn to. It seems “adult”and important. I’ll bet Jack Lemmon’s character in “Days of Wine and Roses” drank less onscreen than PP does in this tepid sequel to her own performance in “Party Girl.”

If this image makes you want to see this film, you are beyond hope.

One thing worth noting about this film is that it is another in the stable at HDNet Films. You may already know about HDNet, an offshoot of Cuban and Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment that produces films shot in HD for simultaneous release in theatres, on DVD, and as pay-per-view. Steven Soderbergh’s “Bubble (2005)” was an earlier HDNet production. It is still unclear how this strategy is working for HDNet or for films in general, but it is always worth tracking the performance of such films as more are made and released.

And for this I missed Assayas and the Coens? Well, I gambled – and lost – on WKW. In line for the Kim Ki-Duk film I have time to browse the schedule for tomorrow. Tomorrow is a festival of films about Middle Easterners and how they mistreat their women. This is such a common theme: “How do we get along with these here Arabs?” It is so prevalent at this festival that I almost feel refreshed having watched 3 hours of dumb car chase movies from Hong Kong. I mean, it’s not going to send me to watch the Lion’s Gate stuff any time soon, but you get the point.


1. “Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” A young Moroccan woman risks being stoned to death to stay with her lover. Her sister, who moves away to the big city, becomes a pregnant whore at the hands of capitalists.

2.”Comment allez-vous?” Five young Iranian women want to show off their new hairstyles, but the village elders say they must wear the hijab. How will they make them understand – and what of their husbands?

3. “Bonne Chance; Toujours, Bonne Chance.” In northern Syria a French teen – the spoiled daughter of a diplomat – loses her purse and with it her passport. Can she find her way home, and what of the locals who befriend and help her?

4. “Interdits pour Peditons!”  Three Libyan women, all modern, take a holiday to nearby Jordan. On the way they meet a traditional woman who is in need of their help. As they learn about the rich culture of their homeland, they awaken the feminist spirit in their downtrodden friend. (Ends in crying and hugs).

5. “Les flics! On se calte!” Life is hard for Mohammed and his family in modern-day Paris. His wife, in particular, no longer wants to wear the hijab and avert her eyes. What will Mohammed do? (Wacky comedy)

I write these undisputed cinematic gems as I wait for a bus to take me to “La Licorne.” The carousel in the Bocci park across the street from the Palais plays such desperate fratboy favorites as “You’ve Got to Fight for Your Right to Party.” I don’t think the French tots who gleefully ride those ponies understand a word.

BREATHE – Dir. Kim Ki-Duk

The story of a woman (Yeon) who decides to “educate” a prisoner (Jin) about his desire to kill himself, Kim Ki-Duk’s latest film is not bad, but not especially great either. The photography is consistent, and has a solid, appealing look, but there is nothing remarkable. The performances are well done, especially the silent performance by Chinese actor In-Hyung Kang as the sad but vengeful would-be gay prison lover. The film even contains a cameo by the director, playing “the director” of the prison.

Things get a little hot between the prisoner and his visitor

Mr. Kim has a nice control of color and setting, pairing up the couple’s antiseptic modern home with the austere, snowy and rocky landscape of Korea in the winter. This is a contrast to the colorful, fake environments Yeon creates in the prison meeting room. She puts up photo wallpaper of flowers and trees to simulate spring and sings him tuneless Karaoke songs about the seasons. These are the most interesting scenes of the film – this reticent, shy woman suddenly prancing around like a schoolgirl, trying to seduce the prisoner, and being allowed to do so by the director.

Her drive, bordering on insanity, and the cold reception she gives her philandering husband are nice contrasts, as well. But the real interest is in the prisoner’s relationships: his to Jin and the other mute inhabitants of his cell. Yeon’s husband may be an important story point, but the film loses steam every time we cut back to their house.

I have not seen many of Mr. Kim’s films, but my companions tell me this is quite possibly his best. These companions are a particularly tough crowd, though – none of us go in for that old humbug “Oldboy,” for example. We need something a little less juvenile. Thankfully, Kim’s film delivers that much and more. The colors are vibrant and the story engaging. This is a recommendation, but definitely one that is in danger of damning with faint praise. “Bound by Chastity Rules” was much more of a revelation (if I must compare Korean films) and even compared to films I will see later (notably Lee’s “Secret Sunshine,”) this one is good, but not especially worthwhile. That’s the great – and ultimately weird – thing about writing this all later. Now that I’m completing this article I already know what will happen and what I will see, even though when I wrote it I didn’t. And I’m preserving some of this diary form which is odder, since I know how it ends.

One again, I stumble out of “La Licorne” into the cool evening and hike the several kilometers back to the hotel. My companions are already fast asleep. We have booked accommodations at a modest hotel in a nearby suburb. The room is microscopic, especially for three people. There are two single beds, taken by my companions, and a kind of trundle-bed that fits under one of the singles. This gives us absolutely no room to walk into the bathroom. If I can manage to set up the trundle-bed without waking anyone I still have to consider that one of them may wake for a nocturnal urination moment and may walk straight into the trundle or – worse yet, step on me.

(end day four)

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