Cannes Diary 8

The 2008 Cannes Film Festival is now over, but we’re still posting the 2007 Diary. This is Day 8 of the 2007 Festival

Jeudi 24 Mai 07

Up early in the morning, back in the Cannes Cinephile line. By now I’m well versed with which Coke machines will give me my elixir for only 3 Euros (at the time of this writing still a Cannes BARGAIN at US$4.50!) and I am even now nursing my first of one million I will consume throughout the day instead of eating food. I have followed this largely unhealthy diet for a couple days now, and not because I’m unwilling to spend any money. It’s because I’m unwilling to spend so much money for such terrible food. My dinky motel offers me a few packages of biscuits each day, ostensibly to be eaten in the morning with the ubiquitous teabags sitting next to the dangerous water-heating device (it looks like a bare electrical wire you plug in and stick into the cup). I nibble these biscuits in tiny bites throughout the morning when I feel like I’m going to fall asleep. The coordinated strategy is to consume caffeine and these biscuits in order to fool my body into thinking it’s getting something other than the 50 millionth ham and cheese baguette sandwich.

The tattooed lass in line behind behind me is, indeed, fetching, but she is also wall-eyed. Though 90% of the fetching lasses here seem ocularly without peer, I do notice a high incidence of wall-eyes. There must be some kind of genetic cultural trait, like Swedes having blonde hair, or that Roman or Jewish nose.

All her tattoos are going to look ridiculous in a few years, though. All those roses and curlicules are going to be high hilarity in the nursing home. I’ll be laughing my ass off from my hospital bed to see her in the company of some old wrinkled-up guy with “Metallica” sagging off his droopy man-boobs. This woman is going to have a sliding girdle of scrunched up briars and ribbons that even she can’t read.

After about an hour they post the free tickets and they are all duds. More Ken Burns. Apparently his new “Jazz” series is playing, and I could have seen them all at Cannes! Never mind that they will be broadcast on PBS. Never mind that this time next year I can check them all out of the public library if I would like. Bah, Ken Burns! What good are these free tickets?

All the Cannes Classics (yawn) are also available to me. I can see the old Turkish film “YOL” at the 803rd screening since the festival started. They sure are playing that one until it falls off the sprockets. All week long I’ve been fumbling with a heap of schedules, juggling times and venues in my head until I’m completely dizzy. This late in the festival I’m a master of the dozen or so square blocks of this town, and my new plans coalesce in a matter of milliseconds. I decide to crash Harmony Korine’s “Mr. Lonely” at a market screening, as soon as I retrieve my hideously expensive laundry and purchase a new notebook.

A quick dash back to the cleaners (and the hotel, to change) sets me up for a new non-stinky wardrobe for the day. I only paid half a year’s salary for those shirts, but they sure are nice – much nicer than if I laundered them in the sink like my socks and underwear. Long ago I purchased a bus pass for the duration of my stay, so these frequent back-and-forth trips are not costing me extra money – just extra time. But since the Korine screening is in a few hours and in one of the outlying theatres (sadly, the hideous “Star!”) I know I’ll be fine. In no time at all I’m back at the Hotel de Ville, Cannes.

Monoprix provides me with a new notebook, as I’ve filled the other one completely. Strangely, I find no evidence that a tuxedo can be had here – are they all out? Or were the nice girls at L’Espace Cinephile pulling my leg? If you’ll recall, the staff at L’E.C. informed me that I would need evening wear for the premieres at the Palais, and that I could get a tuxedo at Monoprix, which is like the “Target” of France. I figured they would have them somewhere, but that they would be all polyester, or – worse yet – made of tissue paper or the like. Though I was resolved that I would not need one by now, I still searched for them with no results.

From there, I went to cool my heels at the Hotel Gray d’Albion – it seems very easy to hang out there. As I was trying to get in the front entrance I somehow managed to stumble into a Korean star’s video. They were taping his exit from the hotel and his limo ride down to the Croisette. A live feed that was going to the jumbotron screens outside the Lumiere Theatre. The confused white guy tripping over everyone, ignoring the star, and going the opposite direction from everyone else? That would be me.

This Korean star is apparently one of the actors in “Secret Sunshine,” which I have yet, at this point, to see. Not much more than five minutes after I make a shambles of the entourage, I’m in the lobby, watching the live footage from that same camera broadcast to the hotel lobby. Part of being an imposter, as I most assuredly am, is that you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time quite frequently. I seem to have additional talents in this area.

I wait in the Gray lobby a while, but the temptation to fall asleep on the decidedly uncomfortable lobby furniture is too great. I feel self-conscious killing time like this, and I’m uncomfortable hunched over scribbling in my notebook. I have walked so much this trip that I have literally worn through the inserts of my shoes. They had a kind of gel pad under the heel, and these have burst now, covering my heels in sticky goo. I try to stuff them with paper towels from the Hotel Grey bathroom, but they are still uncomfortable. My feet are covered with blisters. I must have walked untold kilometers just waiting until I can stand in line for films I don’t get to see.

By the way, in case I have not mentioned it yet, France is definitely the dogshit capital of the world. Paris is the ultimate grand palace of dogshit, but all of France apparently does its best to uphold the dogshit tradition. The French do love their dogs. Canines are allowed everywhere, although patrons are asked to muzzle the big ones on the bus. Lots of people own dogs, especially the toy/lapdog variety. And these millions of dogs must relieve themselves somewhere. Hence the streets are littered with stinky piles that really make things pleasant in the hot summer sun. This is a country that is otherwise so civilized we Americans look like grunting chimpanzees in comparison, so why this lack of restraint when it comes to the dogshit? Do the dogs really appreciate it at all? Are they thinking “Oh, sweet heavenly God, I am so happy I can just drop a load anywhere. If I lived in America someone would be cleaning up after me, and that just will not do – as it were.”

There are frequent signs here asking people to clean up after the dogs and there are even special blue trashcans just for dogshit. “Je ramasse!” suggests a popular sign. Innocuous in French, it means “I collect!” a proud statement that you clean up doggy’s do. But it makes me laugh, because the icon of the little man standing behind the dog with this legend is too funny if you’re possessed of both a filthy mind and a lack of sleep. “Je” is the personal pronoun, and I keep reading it as “I Ram Ass!”

The Gray has better air conditioning than the Noga Hilton, But I duck in the latter for a while anyway. I’m self-conscious about loafing in lobbies for too long, so I make it a point to wait a bit and go before anyone notices. Something tells me that after an hour or two they might get suspicious, and I have to wait longer than an hour, so how to work this out? There is literally nothing else to do in Cannes. I have read all my own books and those of my traveling companions. I have drawn in my sketchbook. I am writing these obsessive notebooks.

I’ve never sat in the lobby of the Noga, though, so I enjoy it for what it is worth. I’ve seen plenty of screenings at this hotel – it’s the venue for the Quinzaine. I notice a sign announcing today’s offerings. The French call a screening a “séance,” and I like that notion. Not only for the Baudrillard connotations (“Cinema resurrects ghosts,” our dear friend once wrote) but for the idea that some occult magic is summoned. Call me a romantic, but I love movies.

This notion, in which I indulge freely in my own delirious and fanatic adoration of the cinema, is quickly dispelled when I pick up a flyer for perhaps the worst film ever made. It is an animated film by some Italian company, called, simply, “Noah”s Ark.”

noah.jpg
Holy Fucking Christ.

It seems this film is all about the kooky animals and their little drama aboard the titular craft. It seems to have a ripoff of Disney’s “The Lion King” as a subplot. Considering that “Lion King” is, itself, a ripoff of a Japanese cartoon (Simba the White Lion), this pushes us back into Baudrillard territory again – a copy of a copy of a copy. In any event, I take the flyer home, as there is an animation producer friend of mine who simply must be tortured by this drek.

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Wait… is that a penis on her chest?

I hit the streets again, feet impossibly sore, but so bored I can’t sit any longer. Cannes would be a royal nightmare if you had to drive through it. It is absolutely impossible to maneuver a vehicle here much less to park one. The streets are so narrow you can maybe fit one dinky toy Eurocar across it, and since the streets are always swarming with pedestrians even that becomes a quixotic endeavor. You would definitely have to bully your way through to get anywhere. The pathetic limos that shuttle the stars in from about three blocks away do so only with police support. Even the hideous “Burn” car crawls slower than the toy dogs marching down the sidewalk looking for a proper place to poop.

When I finally reach the hideous Star Theatres, I realize the extent to which the constellations have it in for me today. I do get shut out of “Mr. Lonely” again, and here’s how it happened. The guy in charge was just being a dick, plain and simple. Here’s to you, you little Tin Hitler, I hope you find yourself reading these words.

Though he had seats in the house, and though he let in every street whore before me, and though I waited politely, he just had to look at that Cannes Cinephile badge. And this little martinet decided that NO Cinephile was going to get in HIS screening. Bunch of dumb market kids? Sure. Every single late press person? Sure. I think some high school kids snuck in and he just kind of looked the other way. Me, he kept waiting.

But then this little twerp was so gutless about his decision to bar me personally from his precious screening he didn’t even have the decency to look me in the eye and tell me to go home. He did the shittiest thing possible, which was to wait, walk away without saying anything, and hope that I would leave. Forty minutes into the movie, I did, even though people walked out after ten, and I could have had a seat. It was never full.

I truly pity a man who would respect these little colored badges so much that he would take his daily joy enforcing rules that don’t need to apply and distinctions that do not matter. The fact is that he had seats, it would not have hurt him to let me in, everyone else in the festival had done so, and he just decided that today he was going to be Mr. Rules. I hope he enjoyed his little power trip. I guess it’s karma for some occasion in my life where I was strict with someone else – some event where I would not bend out of stubbornness or adherence to unimportant regulation.

Now I have nothing to do, and I’ve waited all day to do it. And my plan to not eat anything is really backfiring. I’m starving. And since I’m sleep and food deprived, I’m starting to act a little crazy. It’s bad enough I sit here scribbling in my notebooks all day without even seeing any films – I really feel like I’m unravelling. I’m hungry but I can’t even get myself to eat, and I walk another two hours passing restaurant after restaurant, unable to enter any of them. It all seems pointless. It’s going to be a $5 coke and something completely inedible and generic. What am I doing to myself?

Finally, I succumb. I find this good-smelling shwarma place I’ve passed a few times, and I duck in, hoping the middle eastern angle is enough to distinguish this establishment from the other cuisine in Cannes. Sadly, it is no great shakes, but I am surprised and somewhat delighted to find that the French put fries in their shwarma sandwiches.

I take my food to go, head to a park bench, and eat like a ravenous animal, which at this point, I am. Mid-bite I realize what I must look like – rumpled, sunburned middle-aged American shoving food in my overstuffed cheeks like a demented hamster. I have no mirror to confirm this, but the looks on the faces of passers-by tell me I have a wild look in my eye. This is how Nature says “Do Not Touch!”

My notebook devolves and becomes a solipsistic disquisition on my own melancholy. It doesn’t help that I am at my Low Point, Cannes-wise. There is only tomorrow left, and here I am wasting it. All I’ve done today is pick up my laundry. My only option is to watch two Version Originale French movies at La Licorne tonight. My French is already sad, but it’s much much easier for me to read it than to listen to it. French subtitles on a German movie where they don’t really say much is no problem for me. V.O. French films will pose a bigger problem, as I’ll have to listen more attentively.

My friend Craig, a school friend who now lives in Paris, has come down for a visit today, so I decide I’m taking this day off. I should have joined him and Cecilia at noon – it would have saved me a bad meal. They took a short bus to Antibes, which apparently has much better food. I stayed here and stumbled about because I thought I could get into the Korine film. Now it is already 3PM and my further prospects are dim. I will surrender to the fates for now and hope that tomorrow is a brighter day. Time to goof off with Craig!

At this point you will consider your frazzled narrator relaxing and enjoying some human company for the remainder of the day and into the evening, which ends early and includes real, genuine sleep.

The notebook continues, however, with other observations, which I will relate at this moment.

Yet another positive aspect to this trip has been that it has called my attention to the hideous flaws in European film production and distribution. I’ll admit, I tended to lionize the European industry somewhat, simply because of the higher percentage of excellent European films. That and the respect they accord directors as visionaries made Europe seem almost perfect. Now that I’m here I get a different, moderated view.

For all that French films beat American ones in style and sophistication, they are in just as much of a rut as we are. France is positively flooded with American trash (Shrek 3, Spider-Man 3, etc. are all here right now), so the French film industry ruthlessly mines what it feels it has to itself – apparently moody pictures of guys in turtlenecks with a past, falling in love with women from oppressive Islamic cultures. There is still the very real problem of marketing art films, just like there are challenges with dominating the world with a crappy sequel to “Shrek.” And for every “L’Homme Perdu,” there are 100 worse French films that didn’t have enough – I dunno – smoking and drinking shots to qualify as a strong example of national cinema. It really is just swapping one set of conventions out for another.

But one positive aspect of the European film market (and Asian, too, so maybe I mean more correctly “non-American” market) is that they are interested in doing small to medium business. It is not necessary to have everything be a blockbuster all the time. Everyone wants a “Spider-Man 3″ in terms of the money it yields, but the Europeans also know how to deal with lots of pictures that don’t bring in that kind of money, and they make far more with budgets way under the average Hollywood mess. And these are rich guys with yachts, mind you, so it’s not like they are small-time players.

Ultimately, this means more movies shot for less money. And this often means digital. I estimate that maybe as high as 1/3 of the films I’ve seen here were digitally originated. Most of these looked quite good. Being here shows me a cinema that is adapting, both to new technology and to the changing markets. American cinema seems moribund on a business level, not just emotional and narratively bankrupt.

End Day 8

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