The 47th Cannes International Film Festival (2001) EDWIN JAHIEL'S DIARY
The annual May pilgrimage to Cannes begins at O'Hare Airport. Good Samaritan Mr. Georges Pulino invites us to the Air France Lounge for a pre-flight rest. The place is blessedly quiet, has first-class amenities. There is a large, superb Italian espresso-maker (a Cimbali, I believe) whose arrays of buttons do everything possible in seconds. Will the Cannes movies be able to compete with the quality of this coffee? The Cannes "Festival International du Film" is, after the Olympic Games, the second media event in the world. Its coverage is wide across the planet, huge in Europe, gigantic in France. The reports from the Festival--I mean the reviews and opinions --not the sensationalism or the hype--vary enormously.
The Fest is such organized bedlam that nothing that's hurriedly written or spoken about its movies can benefit from second thoughts. and certainly not from films recollected in tranquillity. For professional viewers it is a marathon that must be survived. Opinions are affected by the usual personal factors (taste, experience, knowledge of cinema, personality) but additionally by the reporters' changing moods and stamina. This leads to a rainbow of judgments which even the opinion-givers ought not to trust too much. Less reliable yet is the US TV coverage. It makes the viewers at home think that the festival is overwhelmingly about American films, celebrities and non-celebrities.
Cannes is pronounced "Kahn" and not "can" or "cans." Its inhabitants are called "Cannois" (kahn-oo-AH.) This lovely city on the French Riviera used to be a haven for retirees, vacationers and tourists. I quote the 1936 (that's right!) "Fodor Travel Guide": "Cannes, which has been nicknamed the most silent town in the world, has always been a particularly popular resort for English society people. It has a casino, a magnificent promenade called the Croisette and none of the noise or other drawbacks of a big town. That is why many people prefer it to Nice." Fodor adds that Cannes shelters and hosts a host of political refugees from Russian nobility to other nations' deposed kings.
That was then, this is now. The Cannes Festival was not yet born back in 1936. That year the town had 47,000 people, while neighboring Nice had 250,000. By the 1970s, the exiled aristocrats had disappeared, but the "Cannois" numbered 70,000.-- as opposed to Nice's 340..000 (or 517..000 in Greater Nice") Nicois" ( nee-SWAH.)
With the creation of the International Film Festival, the fame of Cannes skyrocketed. Gradually the town grew into a major venue for congresses. Recent decades also witnessed the creation of high-tech industries.
During the Festival the population doubles or even triples. The noise level reaches rock band decibels. Yet, if you stick around after the Festival the place feels much like its older self: a town in Provence that except for the hordes of summer vacationers is generally uncongested, leisurely and tranquil.
DAYS 1 & 2.
The Festival is the sum of several parts called "sections," each one made up of many films. For first-time visitors the organization can be rather confusing. After all, France is the motherland of the saying "Pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué?" ("Why make things simple when you can make them complicated?)"
First comes the main "Official Selection" (OS) which includes all the films invited by the Festival. Within OS is the heavyweight group of films (23 this year) competing for the major prizes, as well as Non-Competing films (10 this year) within the Official election. The Competition movies are by far what the "serious" press coverage concentrates on.
Next comes the big section called "Un Certain Regard" (A Certain Look) or "UCR" for short, with 24 films this year. Diverse juries, separate and different from the main Official jury, give prizes to the UCR movies.
Some people think of UCR as a supplement to the major section; others as a collection of runners-up. The fact is that in UCR you can find films that are as good as any in the OC.
For the films in the main Official Competition, think of our own Academy Awards. The OC items at Cannes are the equivalent of the Oscar-nominated movies. In the Oscars, the nominees are selected and voted on mostly by committees of the Motion Picture Academy. For Cannes, hundreds of movies are screened, then eliminated or chosen by the Festival's selectors whose identities are known to few.
The final decisions lie with the Festival's Artistic Director. In 2001, the new head honcho is Thierry Fremaux.. It is likely too that he has the decisive say on which film goes to which section.
The statistics are awesome. There are additional sections of Official Selections. There are also entirely separate "sidebars. That's a term borrowed from journalism. It denotes small additions to major stories. At Cannes, a sidebar is a film section that is not connected to the main Festival except in tenuous ways. Such is "The Critics' Week" of 7 features plus shorts, chosen by the French "Syndicate" (Association, not Mafia) of Film Critics. It has its own separate venue for screenings, away from the Palace of Festivals.
The other major sidebar is "The Directors' Fortnight," with 21 features, plus shorts.. Totally independent from the Official Festival, it was born in 1969 as an upstart program, a kind of modernists' defiance to what many thought were the overly traditional, mainstream, even sclerotic selections of the Festival.
At one point, the Fortnight became the venue of choice for many who thought that it sometimes eclipsed the Official Festival. Eventually, this rival so influenced the main Festival that the latter modernized, even went avant-garde. But by now differences among sections and sidebars are small, at least when it comes to new directors, budget movies, oddball or experimental films and so on. Today discoveries can be made in all sections. Sill, the big names and especially the big and expensive films are still the fief of the Official Festival.
(Have I confused you? Worry not. I am almost confusing me.)
In all we are talking about some 90 new movies --not counting the dozens of short films. How many can any critic armed with passion, intense curiosity as well as athletic endurance see in a single day ?
Many years ago, in my longest day ever, I saw successively 5 1/2 features. But again, that was then, this is now. And "the times, they are a-changing" or, as Christopher Marlowe put it more memorably in "The Jew of Malta": "But that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead."
FAMILIARITY BREEDS SPACE-SAVING. I will not discuss in detail those works (mostly American) which have been playing or will soon play on US screens.
The Festival began with "MOULIN ROUGE" (OC) by Australia's Baz Luhrmann. The opening of this opener was the most sensational of any I can remember. At the press screening, the movie's gimmickry, humor, staging of sights and sounds, use of music from past musicals, made the audience exclaim in several languages the equivalent of our "WOW!."Post-projection opinions ranged far and wide. Mine is that the first part rates ****; the second ***; the third **, the fourth *.
Those who speak French will be amused by the heading a naysayer gave his review: CON CON. "Con" is a much-used French epithet that means "stupid." In French it sounds much like Can Can, as in "French Can-Can," the sexy, period dance that is very present in "Moulin Rouge." So CON CON here means something like "Dumb and Dumber."
BY SO-AND-SO is commonly used to denote that a film's "authorship" belongs to its director. In older Hollywood days, a director would have attained top status whenever the credits started with his/her name. As in "A Film by Howard Hawks" or "A Fritz Lang film" or "Afred Hitchcock's VERTIGO " and so on. (The title of Frank Capra's autobiography says it all :"The Name above the Title.") Even greater directorial glory is attained whenever one says "I saw a Bergman" (or a Fellini, a Chaplin, a Kubrick...) the way one declares "I saw a Matisse" or "she bought a Rembrandt." Yet to this day people in America still say "I saw a John Wayne movie" rather than "a John Ford film."
I am for the "auteur theory" yet also sympathize with those scriptwriters who in today's Hollywood want to share creative credit. The "by" plus the director's name is called "a possessory credit." But even if eventually Hollywood agrees to a big change, it is a very tricky thing. Should all films have two names above the title? It's not as simple as "Miriam and Ladislas Ahura-Mazda announce the birth of their daughter Terra."
"DISTANCE" (Japan) (OC) by Hirokazu Kore-eda was inspired by a cult which in the mid-90s created such a stir in Japan. Here the background is that some years ago, certain members of a (fictional) cult had poisoned Tokyo's water and caused dozens of deaths. The poisoners were later executed by their own cult. In "Distance," three years later four relatives of the dead culprits gather in the countryside to pay respects to their memory.... The rest is a muddled, very slow and uninvolving non-story--an inexplicable choice for competition. Most likely the selectors were influenced by the director's earlier, rightly acclaimed "Maborosi" (1995)
"KAIRO" (English Title "Pulse"), also from Japan, is far more interesting. A product of the fertile, quirky imagination of writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, it is horror sci-fi. In computerese a "killer application" means a great one. Here it is used literally as a sort of real virus in a computer diskette which actually causes nasty mysterious events and deaths of many sorts... .
"'R XMAS" by Abel Ferrara (USA) is set in 1993 New York. The title stands for "Our Christmas" and perhaps for "R-rated." A loving, well-to-do couple of Latino yuppies with a 5-year old daughter seem happy and well-adjusted, perform nice social and family things by day, but have a second life by night--as drug dealers. Then the husband gets kidnapped. A ransom must be found in record time. This Jekyll and Hyde-ish tale is quite watchable, well acted and shot, has a strong feel for Spanish Harlem. But it made no waves.
PAVILIONS are structures of all sizes found outside, on the east side of the Palace. All are distinguishable by their white plastic conical roofs that make the pavilions look like made-in-Hollywood Arab tents. The ensemble is vaguely like a desert Oasis --but by the sea! To go to any pavilion one must have some form of accreditation. or pass.
Most countries have their own pavilion, as do various organizations., outfits companies (e.g..Kodak), etc. The national pavilions are like the sections and stands in any congress, They are offices with representatives of each country's film industry, production, distribution, and often tourism as well. Quite a bit of business is transacted in them. Some major pavilions also host special events. Now India, the world's record-holder in annual number of films produced, for the first time has its own pavilion --small, without alcoholic beverages.
The American Pavilion, a gathering place for Yanks, Rebs, and others, is especially active. Its schedule includes screenings (and parties), round-tables, a visit by Jesse Jackson, (he is the object of a documentary) and much else. Roger Ebert is often the main speaker or the MC. American students vie for temporary employment there. The place has free American newspapers, film "literature" and a snack bar. Alas, the coffee is not espresso coffee, a fact that menaces America's desire to be Numero Uno in the world.
Several pavilions, or places inside the Palace, do have free coffee as well as soft or strong drinks. Their espresso ranges from OK (the Italian Pavilion) to mediocre (other places) to awful (the Critics' lounge). I had no time to explore a place where I was told it is excellent.
The decidedly minimalist "LA LIBERTAD" (Argentina) has symbolic aims but for most viewers it is mostly about a woodcutter chopping trees for 73 minutes. The Catalan "PAUL AND HIS BROTHER" by Marc Recha (OC) is sort of minimalist too but fairly complex. It starts with Paul learning that his brother Alex who had left the family long ago, had just commited suicide in Barcelona. Paul must identify the body, give the terrible news to his mother, arrange for the brother's cremation. Mother and son take the ashes up the Spanish Pyrenees to a near-derelict village where Alex had lived. The mountain area is the movie's major setting, used almost as a character. The visitors meet people they used to know, also make new acquaintances. Just just about all knew Alex and speak about him. All are interconnected or disconnected in several ways. As more is learned about Alex's life, the survivors learn more about themselves... There are no cliches, no pat answers or solutions in their rapport. Rather confusingly structured, the movie attempts to go beyond what is said and what is done or left undone. This one of those films that much of the press ignores or puts down. A second viewing would probably change several minds.
The USA and Iran still have no diplomatic relations but Iranian films are shown theatrically in the Star Spangled country. Several too are on video. However, what happens to most foreign, non- anglophone films (except for some French or Italian ones) is that they get limited if not microscopic distribution in specialized venues: festivals, art houses, occasionally in colleges. Internationally, Iran's cinema is "hot" abroad as well as among American connoisseurs. But connoisseurs do not a fortune make for theaters.
There are several Iranian filmmakers of high caliber. Mohsen Makhmalbaf is among them. So is his daughter Samira, who at age 18 became instantly famous for her debut as a filmmaker with "The Apple," won prizes in several festivals--notably the Camera d'Or at Cannes 1998. At Cannes 2000 she had another hit with "The Blackboard."
Makhmalbaf's "KANDAHAR" (OC) was the first work in competition to make a strong impression. Its inception was when a young Afghan woman, a refugee who grew up in Canada and became a journalist, told Makhmalbaf that she wanted to get to Afghanistan because her sister (who had lost her legs to a mine) was planning to commit suicide given the horrid treatment of women by the Taliban. Ironically, "Taleb" means "a student of religion" The Taliban regime, autocratic, theocratic, fundamentalist and barbaric, places inhuman restrictions on all, cuts off the population from the outside world. It's terrible for men, indescribably horrible for women. Females have to be completely covered, are not allowed to go to school, are often beaten or stoned (often to death) in public for not wearing the correct attire or for some other, often fabricated transgression, cannot even get medical help. (There's a scene of a doctor examining a totally wrapped up.woman through a hole in her garment, which allows the physician to glimpse, one by one, some small areas of her body!)
The film is about the dangerous journey to and in Afghanistan by the journalist, a journey which the filmmaker uses as an exploration and denunciation of the nightmarish state of that country. Nature is not partisan. The land offers some beautiful sights. Makhmalbaf does not penalize nature, but uses it in contrast to the desperate human condition of a nation (if that's the word) where there's nothing but famine, suffering, death sentences, a savage regime --and a multitude of people maimed by mines. This frightening, direct, touching, believably dramatic work is already spoken of as a possible prize winner.
ONE GIANT STEP FOR SUBTITLES. A new technique projects clear and full subtitles on a strip below the main screen, both in English and in French. This has simplified matters enormously, eliminated earphones with distracting or ill-timed simultaneous translations, done away with special screenings.
DAYS 3 & 4
THE JURY. Some weeks ago Jodie Foster begged off as President of the Jury because of conflict with a film in progress. Actor-Director Liv Ullmann (Sweden) took her place. The other members are Charlotte Gainsbourg (actor, France), Mathieu Kassovitz (director-actor, France), Edward Yang (director, Taiwan,), Sandrine Kiberlain (actor, France), Mimmo Calopresti (director, Italy), Julia Ormond (actor, UK), Moufida Tatli (director, Tunisia), Terry Gilliam (director, USA), Philippe Labro (writer, France.)
Internationally, the best-known and for many the top Iranian filmmaker is Abbas Kiarostami. His 85-minute documentary, "A.B.C. AFRICA" (NC) started out with a United Nations suggestion that he go to war-and-AIDS-plagued Uganda where parentless kids are legion, and film the great but pitifully limited job done by associations of local women who rescue as many orphans as possible.
Kiarostami went on an exploratory trip, documenting himself and his skeleton crew with small digital cameras. The filming expanded, covered illness, death, courage, kindness and the joy of life. Kiarostami realized that he was actually making his documentary, not just prospecting. The results are improvised, scriptless footage, spontaneous and touching. It is still a mere drop in the huge, mind-boggling, basket of the AIDS scourge in much of Africa. The tragedy however is geographically distant from many countries; much of the "outside" public also feels itself safe..I wonder if many people are rather desensitized, as they were by the gory daily reports from the Vietnam War. "A.B.C. Africa" is not apocalyptic, but the facts are.
By very far, the most anticipated event in the entire festival is Francis Ford Coppola's "APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX." "Apocalypse Now" had won a Golden Palm at Cannes 1979. Another went to Volker Schlondorff's "The Tin Drum." 22 years later Coppola has added 53 minutes he had cut from his original footage. In 1979 his reasoning was that since in those days very long movies were rather rare, and "Apocalypse" as then edited already ran two and a half hours, a film of 3 hours 23 minutes would have been rejected both by festivals and the public.
This and much else was discussed earlier this week when Coppola met some of his public at the Variety pavilion.The room was not very large. It was packed, sweltering, and filled up quickly. Not even standing room was left. Many of those who did not get there early had to sit or stand outside and watch the proceedings on a large TV monitor.
The meeting was moderated by Variety's former European editor, now senior advisor, the film polymath Peter Cowie. He had just published his third book about Coppola. The latter did most of the talking. It was received with quiet reverence by the public. Coppola gave explanations, mostly about the way the 1979 version had been edited, about the richness of the footage that had been shelved, the genesis of the new version, and various technical aspects. There were also interesting anecdotes about his actors, especially Marlon Brando.
I had only fleetingly seen Coppola in the past. I had been told that he had a wicked sense of humor. Yet the man on the podium was serious, almost solemn, showing real excitement mostly when mentioning his beloved Napa Valley winery. He cracked no jokes so far as I recollect. A bit of a pity since he was sitting next to Cowie, a master punster and raconteur of funny stories.
Coppola also announced his next film, "Megalopolis." Curiously --or perhaps not so since many today are unfamiliar with "old" movies--no one in the audience asked about any connections between "Megalopolis" and Fritz Lang's classic "Metropolis" (1927.) Nor did anyone ask what "REDUX" means. It means "brought back." Later, in my small private poll only one in twenty people came up with the right answer.
"Apocalypse Now Redux" is wonderfully new, far richer than the already familiar, classic version which has been a cult movie for decades. Extremely interesting and scope-expanding is that among other additions and changes "Redux" reinstates almost 30 minutes about the French in Vietnam. French actors play colonials who even after the defeat of the French at Dien Ben Phu and the loss of French Indochina, are still pretending to live the old life.
In what must be the one and only unanimity of reactions in the festival's history, all viewers thought that if "Redux" were now in competition it would get all the major prizes hands down. Note that though lengthy it is still 19 minutes shorter than "Gone With The Wind"; and that "Reds" (1981) the multiple Oscar winner by Warren Beatty (Best Director) ran to 200 minutes.
Writer-director Danis Tanovic, born in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has made documentaries of his country at war. "NO MAN'S LAND" (OC) is his first feature. During the height of fighting in 1993, two soldiers. one Bosnian, the other Serb, find themselves trapped in a large trench that lies between the two opposing forces. The situation stresses the stupidityof war, has several twists that you may see coming, and others you may not. This sad, tense state of things ranges from tragedy to near-comedy, with much of that special black humor--earthy, vivid, irreverent, broad, often physical--that characterizes Central Europe and the Balkans, mostly the cinemas of former Czechoslovakia and of Yugoslavia in its heyday. "No Man's Land" is a sub-genre film. Think of the many movies that throughout the entire history of cinema (including Hollywood's) have denounced wars, their futility and foolishness. Think of motley people in enclosed spaces (whether a stagecoach, an ocean liner, a plane, a hotel or a trench.) Here we go again, says Tanovic, who adds to the above the doubly painful aspect of a civil war since the opponents share the same language and culture. It all works very well, even if some old-timers get a small --but not negative-- sense of deja vu. Tanovic is notafraid to use new comedic elements by satirizing also the ineffectual UN peace-keeping forces as well as some foreign, news-hungry,opportunistic television reporters. He does not resort to feel-good cliches or solutions. A crowd-and-critics pleasing film.
That's not the case for the French "LA REPETITION" (OC) by Catherine Corsini. It follows two female best-friends from childhood to 18-something, then comes a split, then the story jumps ahead to their meeting again at age 30-something. One woman is now a well-known stage actress, the other a married dental technician. A few good moments but many indifferent, diffuse and uninvolving ones. The clever French title means both "repetition" and "rehearsal." But that this movie was chosen for competition bothers me. My gray cells wonder about matters of simple taste and/or blatantly preferential treatment.
"Schreck" means "terror" in German. Actor Max Schreck lives forever for his title role in "Nosferatu, the Vampire," the 1922 German horror classic. I love classic cartoons, loathe their TV cheapo progeny, mistrust computer animation. Knowing nothing about the American "SHRECK" (OC) I expected it be "schrecklich," ("awful, terrible") but it was in fact a delight, original, funny, technically superior. As in the case of the startling start in "Moulin Rouge," the audience of happy critics kept saying "Wow!"-- except that this time they kept it up throughout the entire feature.
What is "schrecklich" is "TROUBLE EVERY DAY," an English-titled French production, messy, dull, murky movie which deals with sex and cannibalism in "ugh" ways. As is the case for "La Repetition," the choice of this picture by Fest selectors is baffling. To think that director Claire Denis has made several good, sensitive movies!
At the Critics' Week, "THE PORNOGRAPHER" (France), Bertrand Bonello's second feature. A maker of porn movies had long ago quit making such films. But now he is aging, is in financial straits , so he has to resume his old trade. He is alienated from his son, now 17. There are some raunchy bits, like the filming of a porno movie starring Ovidie, the veteran of some 25 porn-flicks. But "The Pornographer" film is serious, interesting and fairly complex. It is also touching as father and son try to come together again. The clever casting has the older man played by Jean-Pierre Leaud whom we all remember as the sad boy in Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" and as the often mixed-up young, then mature man, in movies by Truffaut, Godard, and many others.
CANNES TRAFFIC. Throughout Cannes it is as dense as clouds of locusts in Africa. The most congested area is the famous main drag and promenade, the Croisette, a beautiful, wide, four-lane avenue with palm trees and flowers on its median as well as its sidewalks. (My spell checker persists in spelling it Creosote.)
To the South it is flanked by lovely, chic Mediterranean beaches, each with its restaurant and other amenities. The nice thing about this seaside is that it is built up as an embankment from which you have a direct, unencumbered view of the sea. Access to the beaches and their facilities is by going down several steps.
The promenade is on this South side. In normal times, the Croisette is wide enough so as to be unencumbered by visitors. In Festival times it is encumbered with a vengeance, packed with people from all over. It is a riot of strollers--both humans and baby carriages; of dogs on leashes; of often exotically garbed street vendors of souvenirs, watches, sunglasses, gadgets, trinkets, pictures, umbrellas... There are ambulant photographers, food stands for snacks; stands selling paintings and drawings; stands for fast-drawn portraits or caricatures (often very good); and on and on. Not to mention clowns, human statues, mechanical men, and other Carnival-like performers.
Except for early mornings, the masses transform the Croisette into an obstacle race which slows way down even athletic power-walkers. The immense number of kibitzers, especially many middle-aged men armed with telephoto lenses, under the often-tolerant gaze of their wives try to shoot topless ladies on the beach. It seldom works since the respectable distance from camera to subject results in mere specks on the photographs.
The opposite (north) side of the Croisette is a succession of expensive hotels, restaurants and mostly elegant shops. Here too the density of pedestrians slows their walking.
Motorized traffic is so dense that most of the time it crawls, especially around the Palace of Festivals, with its crowds and its many cops. Except for the calmer early morning hours, you could walk on crutches and still beat the cars. The good thing about the turtle tempo is that traffic accidents are rare. Vigorous young people note: rickshaws would beat the machines and make good money for you.
In the steady parade of immaculate, expensive vehicles one sees sexy Italian convertibles, custom-made autos, solemn, regal Bentleys and Rolls-Royces and everything else that ordinary mortals will never own. Some prestige-seekers also rent such cars for the occasion. But their very numbers make them commonplace. They elicit no oohs and aahs from the the onlookers. The cars' masters run from yuppie young couples to a Rolls featuring a liveried chauffeur; an old, hardly mobile Arab gentleman trying to enter the vehicle; several women in traditional garb; and many kids in short pants who tomorrow might inherit oil wells. But there are also very small, funny-looking, cute French cars that run on electricity.
DAYS 5 & 6
STREAK. I have before me a magazine snapshot for the early days of this festival. It shows a plumpish red-headed man running stark naked on the Croisette. The Brave New Streaker is Torkel Knutsson, a Swedish director trying to promote his "Naked Again." He was detained briefly by the police, then let go as the cops thought it was just a small offense. Very civilized. Hey Mr. Knutsson! There have been close to 200 film titles that used the word "Naked," several by distinguished directors. The best may be "Naked" by Mike Leigh (UK) and "The Naked Night" by your compatriot Ingmar Bergman. Good luck!
SNEAK. Many Festivalgoers see just a couple of films a day, if that many. These are agents, promoters, buyers, sellers, deal-makers... Or else freeloaders who attempt to haunt the big, non-stop, black-tie receptions given by producers, studios or countries, mostly in late evening. Those types and others often do the dinners and parties circuit. If you are not on a coveted guest list there are time-consuming, pride-debasing ways to get one--with luck.
Some persons may have genuine accreditation badges but "work" for fake or imaginary media. The Fest's Official Guide lists thousands of participants as well as delegates for all the media. Among the latter, he/she who is savvy, knows the business and takes time to peruse the lists will find many blatantly phony media or misrepresentations, including American.
Year after year, a longtime acquaintance whom I call Mr. Rabbit, has invariably sneaked into receptions. When we happen to meet on the Croisette, he proudly reports the number of dos he did. But the number of films he's seen during the entire festival is less than tiny.
THE OTHER MAIN DRAG. North of and parallel to the Croisette, among the "inland" streets is the major shopping Rue d'Antibes. It is only a two-laner but rich in all kinds of stores and elegant shops, salons with delicious pastries, a new FNAC store--a big chain throughout France and other countries, are great for books, recordings, TV sets, stereo and camera equipment and other goodies.
The Rue d'Antibes also features movie multiplexes, antiquarians, electronic place, specialized boutiques, small snackerias, delicatessen places, hotels...The mostly local clientele ranges from old pensioners to well-heeled parties. A street to visit by all means.
TAKING STOCK. As the Fest inches toward its mid-point the sun is still shining but the critics are not smiling. The crowds of onlookers increase noticeably on weekends and holidays. They are excited, even though very few among them succeed in getting an invitation or in buying special tickets to some screenings.
Generally well-behaved and unmindful of their status of packed sardines, they seem to set a big prize on catching mere glimpses of celebrities. They concentrate outside the Palace of Festivals where, at evening screenings, the famous red-carpeted steps leads up to "official," black-tie screenings. The male celebrities or special-pass holders are monotonously outfitted in tuxedos. The women wear low-cut, revealing, transparent dresses the taste of which ranges from OK to dubious.
If the bystanders look happy, the professionals do not. Among critics and film-buyers enthusiasm is lacking, laughter is for personal jokes, radiant faces are seen mostly when good old friends meet again. The normally ebullient Southern Europeans or Latin Americans seem uncharacteristically sedate.
All this is not new. It follows a pattern that more often than not gets repeated from year to year. One always hopes to make discoveries, but one rarely does. As in many past editions of Cannes there is grumbling about most movies already screened. Some of them may be OK by ordinary standards, but one expects more A or A+ items by Cannes standards.
In part I attribute this dour attitude to fatigue over and above the line of duty. In part to those who have stopped smoking, cut down on alcohol, are on a diet, and have seen so much cinema in their lifetime that they have become blasé. I kid you not.. If you look at the results of voting in any festival, it is abundantly clear that the younger the voters, the more they like films that their seniors do not.
Your chances at being a happy attendee are infinitely bigger in non-competing, non-commercial festivals where you really meet people, where ordinary persons can have a drink with filmmakers, where there is free time even when the program overflows with films, where you are a human being rather than an anonymous body. The very best of those festivals is the large, super-friendly annual Festival of La Rochelle (France), created and organized by the amazing Jean-Loup Passek. (He also runs the Camera d'Or bureau at Cannes.)
It is worth noticing that the old pattern of complaints goes hand in hand with the upbeat belief that "things always get better in the second half." The flame of Hope burns eternally, as in the Paris Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Oddly, this wishful thinking has indeed often materialized in the past. Is it a coincidence? Is there some hidden plan by the organizers to keep many better items for later and the best for the end? I can't tell. In any case, as of today too few offerings have been remarkable. Let us hope the silver lining is about to start shining.
"THE PIANO TEACHER." (OC) In 2001, in all venues the overall presence of UK. movies is tiny, that of German films, small. But several German or Austrian acquaintances, in good Anschluss form, have been pointing hopefully to "The Piano Teacher" which Michael Haneke has directed and written from a novel. German-born (Munich), Austrian citizen Haneke is a major film-and-stage director in both countries. His entry is French-Austrian, was filmed in Vienna, is in the French language, with French actors in the main roles: Isabelle Huppert, Benoit Magimel, Annie Girardot. Curiously there is no strong feeling of dislocation. The film is about a 40-something talented, Vienna Conservatory piano teacher (Huppert) whose frustrations, sexual obsessions and practices get a 9 1/2 on a scale of 1 to 10. Porno-voyeurism, self-mutilation, sadomasochism...the whole book of recipes. What happens when a new male student appears is indescribable and unspeakable by ordinary standards. But then, Huppert's performance is masterful, powerful and courageous in a movie that pushes the envelope so very far that it falls from the desk. Excellent use of classical music.
"STORYTELLING" by Todd Solondz. (USA) Solondz's "Happiness" got a huge boost when shown at Cannes a few years ago. Now, the screening of his "Storytelling, while attracting a large audience is not making a major stir. Could this be because it deals again with very Solondzian, dysfunctional characters who by and large are unaware of themselves.Yet even among independent American filmmakers there's ample room forgoing persistently against the grain of commercial cinema."Storytelling," originally planned as a three-parter, has become an 83-minute two-parter. The first (and short) story, a savage view of people and of "creative" writing, revolves around a class that's terrifically satirized. The teacher, a black, prize-winning novelist, spares no one, in any way. The central character, a female studentwho has sex with a cerebrally palsied male classmate, moves on to a sadomasochist, humiliating relationship with the professor. Talk of black humor! The long Part Two makes forays into a suburban bourgeois family in ways too tenuous to describe. Solondz is like an avenging angel who keeps settling his accounts with real or imagined wrongs. Nothing is sacred, no one is exempted from his misanthropy, yet hisarrows are right on target. The film may repel "ordinary" audiences, but it is a sharp, veristic work that I appreciated.
"THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE" (OC) is another U.S. film noir -- classic noir, not neo-noir. Made by Joel Coen whose co-writer was his brother Ethan. Set in the late 1940s, shot in excellent but not artsy black-and-white, it is something like an homage to James Cain, that master of pulp fiction. Billy Bob Thornton, perfectly cast, plays an apatheticsmall-town barber, a man of very few words and a silent dissatisfaction with his life-in-a-rut. His chain-smoking ought to get The Cigarette d'Or Award of the tobacco industry. He is married to Frances McDormand who's cheating with her boss James Gandolfini. Realistic performances and languid lives within a rich subtext and a twisty plot, telling but non-exploding scenes of ordinary people, aloofness in script and direction make this another superior Coen Bros. accomplishment.
"SOBIBOR, 14 OCTOBER 1943, 4 PM." (French, 95 minutes) Paris-born (1925) Claude Lanzmann, the much honored and decorated member of theResistance to the Nazi Occupation of France, released in 1985 his monumental (9 1/2 hours) "Shoah," a documentary about the Holocaust.
It used none of the vast, available footage of extermination. Instead, it is a constant, mercilessly persistent interrogation by Lanzmann who speaks on and off camera and prods incessantly. In the current film the same technique is used..Lanzman concentrates on Jan Piwonski, a Polish survivor of the Sobibor death camp which "deserves its own separate story." It was there that the only successful extermination camp uprising took place. Stunning, in the sense that it hits you on the head and makes you speechless before the immensity of the German atrocities and the inmates' incredible planning and bravery. The title's "4 pm" is when Mr. Piwonski, then 16, gave the first blow, killing a German officer with an axe.
This special screening was in the Bunuel Auditorium which is the most state-of-the art, comfortable and pleasant theater I and many others have ever been in.
Hall Hartley was a major contributor to the US independent cinema in 1989-1997, then is said to have declined. I cannot vouch for this as I know little about his recent films. The buzz about "NO SUCH THING" is negative, so I skipped it in favor of the latest Ettore Scola, "UNFAIR COMPETITION" (Italy) not in the festival proper but at the Film Market.
Scola is such a fine director that I am puzzled by the strange absence of much of his 1990s output, both in Cannes and on American screens. "Unfair Competition" is set in the Fascist Italy of the late 1930s. In a Jewish-Italian family, the father owns a rather chic, well established clothing and tailoring store. Next door is another clothier, not a Jews, with whom there is no rivalry since the his store does not deal with high-class items. But unforeseen competition does arise when the modest establishment unexpectedly decides to go upscale. In 1938 racial laws go into effect with dire results for the Jewish family, The rivals become friends. The colorful, moving and affectionate story is performed with Italian gusto, mixes well-known French and Italian actors. Gerard Depardieu is cast in a secondary role. He is a bit awkwardly dubbed (although Italy leads the world in this process.) No doubt he was chosen for international appeal. His familiar face is prominent on the posters.
"THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY" (USA) was written and directed by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming. They also play a married couple --he a not-so-secretly-bisexual writer, she an actress. They had separated for a year, gotten back together, and are now celebrating their sixth anniversary as well as their misguided decision to have a child, by giving a reception.at their high-tech home.
Leigh is on my list of best performers. This movie confirms it. It matters little that the film's basic set-up is s not especially original. Once again we have motley people in a limited space. But, as in Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill," the participants are not too motley, since the hosts and most of the guests are Hollywoodians. The cast includes Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Mina Badie, the most amusing Kevin Kline and Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey, John C. Reilly, and other familiar performers.
In the course of the evening, an above-average number of extant, new or possible relationships, of home as well as professional problems, are touched upon and/or catalyzed as relatively sane or quirky or fairly sane people interract. Much of this is due to the lessening of inhibitions courtesy of the drug Ecstasy. The movie has nothing that's radically fresh, but what you see and hear is very well done --notably its satires. Unlike some other films seen which were shot in murky digital video, here this process is very well handled. I give this movie a B+. It will open in the USA soon.
"THE PROFESSION OF ARMS" (OC). My greatest disappointment to date. Not the film but its public. The first movie in seven years by Italy's Ermanno Olmi ("The Tree of Wooden Clogs, ""The Legend of the Holy Drinker," (respectively winners of the Golden Palm at Cannes and the Golden Lion at Venice) is a historical pageant-plus set in the early 16th century.The 1400s had already brought Europe the blessing of the printing press which played a huge role in ushering in the Renaissance. But soon after, the more sophisticated use of gun powder was bad news. Where war with bows, arrows, and especially sword blades could be a test of skills and the art of weaponry, the use of explosives --especially undiscriminating cannonballs--replaced hand to hand combat with anonymous, depersonalized slaughter.
Within the famous family of the Medici, Giovanni (1498-1526) was a professional soldier, the valorous captain of the forces of his uncle Pope Clement VII. The movie is a magnificent fresco which uses many pertinent quotations from contemporary writers. Giovanni fought the armies of German Emperor Charles V, was seriously wounded by a cannonball, died a few days later.
The film covers those days plus flashbacked earlier ones. The sights--from metal-clad riders to trudging foot soldiers, from marches to battles, from snow-covered exteriors to plush palaces-- are a feast for the eyes (a cliche often misused but valid here.) So is, for themind, the story of historical events. Breathtaking, and much of it filmed in Bulgaria. I have never seen in movies so many authentic-looking sights and sites. Olmi's pacifist message is strong, his anti-gun message even stronger. The film does not have the simplistic explanations, whether in text on the screen or dialogue from the screen, that just about all so-called historical movies use. At Cannes, a huge majority of the audiences was unfamiliar with the complex history of that period. Viewers were baffled and/or listless and/or bored. I quite understood this, but hoped that the magnificence of the sights and photography would keep people in their seats. But they walked out in droves. Sad.
There are tons of side-events, gatherings with speakers (human, that is,) round-tables, the annual. jam-packed "Lesson of Cinema" where a name film person does his/her thing. China's Wong-Kar-Wai ("In the Mood for Love") is this year's "teacher."
CABLE TV. In France and I suppose in all European countries it is international, may cover hundreds of channels, if one pays for them. Even small subscriptions include the famous ARTE channel, arguably the closest German-French collaboration of any sort in those countries' history. It was my good luck to watch a rarity, the premiere of a splendidly restored print of Alberto Cavalcanti's "Le Capitaine Fracasse" (1929). It is a very good silent movie, with a first-rate modern score recently added. The most popular 19th century source novel by Theophile Gautier is about an impoverished Baron who joins traveling players--has been filmed several times. The Cavalcanti and the latest (1991) remake (by the most talented Ettore Scola) are the best.
DAYS 7 & 8
Is critic ROGER EBERT The Man Who Never Sleeps, identical triplets, or what? Passionate and never at a loss in any topic concerning cinema, he does everything that a dedicated critic has to do, but in addition he is involved in a bewildering number of activities. At Cannes he is the patron saint of the American Pavilion-by-the-sea and a key presence at the Variety Pavilion-by-the-road. Among other events, several American-oriented ones take place in both. Ebert is also a major presence in other reunions, including those Anglophone dinners or receptions where he often becomes "ipso facto" a center of discussions.
Yesterday, at the Variety Pavilion, he moderated the "American Directors at Cannes" press conference which brings together filmmakers who have works showing in all the sections of the Festival. In such democratic gatherings Ebert has a knack for making sure that struggling beginners get equal time with the big panjandrums.
TAKING STOCK. Matters have improved in the last days. Still, there's been little that would make a cinephile audience stand up and cheer.
TRIVIA AND NON-TRIVIA I have just given my private Palme d'Or for non-human beauty. There is hardly the time to watch programs of short films, but among the items I did catch, the 28-minute Russian "JUST THE TWO OF US " by Alexander Veledinsky was very good Two grungy middle-aged brothers live in in some isolated boondocks near little-used railroad tracks. Their one-room house is dilapidated and almost surrealistically messy with jumble of junky objets. The men are railroad-line guards. Their sole duty is to have a quick look at the rails when a train stops by, which must be just once a day, if that. Idleness and solitude reign. The brothers pass their time wrestling (with an edge to it,) arguing, fighting, reconciliating, dreaming... I won't reveal the actual micro-plot. But I did love the older brother's German shepherd dog, so beautiful and elegant that I wish I could find the owners of this splendid animal and make them an offer they could not refuse.
The excellent weather is holding. You can spend a whole day wearing just a short-sleeve shirt. Shoes and pants are required however, Some female upper garments could well be called "The Top that Wasn't There." Cell-phones (in French "portables") are as numerous as smokers were a dozen years ago.
In the last many years the Press has been sadly neglected. In olden days, it was feted, given banquets, taken on outings. Now, Bernard Brochand, the new Mayor of Cannes and a member of Parliament, has resurrected a nice old tradition by hosting the Press at an outdoor lunch. It was in a beautiful, hilly part of Cannes.
There is always the gripe that imperialistic America dominates the movie scene. But what about Canal Plus, the first and largest (I think) French cable channel. Its Studio Canal is very active in coproductions as well as distribution. This has to be The Year of Unending Coproductions, from all corners of the world, including the USA. It is also like the prelude to the soon-to-come single currency, the Euro.
"ROBERTO SUCCO" (OC) (France) by Cedric Kahn (pronounced much like "Cannes") concerns a real-life man, an Italian killer who escaped to France in the 1980s and there left a trail of thefts, rapes, other violence plus inexplicable murders. He had an affair with a 16-year-old schoolgirl who eventually went to see the cops. The movie develops into a solid, well staged and shot thriller, even if it cannot get inside Succo's head. It may well find a public in North America.
At the Market again, the cheerful French "LE FABULEUX DESTIN D' AMELIE POULAIN" ("The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain.") In English it was given the unimaginative title "Amelie From Montmartre." Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Delicatessen, ""The City of Lost Children,""Alien Resurrection"), co-written by Guillaume Laurant and Jeunet.
It stars the delightful Audrey Tautou and the well-known actor and director Mathieu Kassovitz who among others made "Metisse,"" La Haine,"Assassin(s)." Simple but not simple minded, warm -hearted Amelie who waitresses in a Paris bistro, sets out to bring happiness to several persons and fill lacunae in their lives. I wonder if the movie's authors chose the name Amelie as a devious reference to Georges Feydeau's classic comedy-farce of 1905 "Occupe-toi d'Amelie." It means "Take care of Amelie" while in this film it is Amelie who takes care of many people.
"Amelie" is warm and sweet but not sugary; colorful but un-corny; weird but backed by realism and realities; comical but with restrained farcical effects. It has a voice-off narration, is fast-paced without rushing, and takes the characters and us on an un-touristy tour of dozens of Parisian locations plus some beyond the city as it progresses with inventiveness. It is an original work while at the same time it has elements (conscious or not) of older works by writers and/or theater or cinema directors such as (off the top of my head) Sacha Guitry, Marcel Pagnol, Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Jacques Prevert, even Francois Truffaut. who could combine so lovingly romanticism and absurdisms. I wonder too if the British Golden Age of Comedy (post-war 40s, 1950s, some of the 60s) is not also lurking a bit behind this movie. Assuming that what I am saying is on the right track, it is so good to see that artistic bonds with the past are maintained. More than a French bonbon this movie is a real spread of delicacies. In France it was wildly popular, delighted the critics and broke attendance records. It will be in the USA before too long.
"THE PLEDGE" (OC). Sean Penn's third-directed picture was not a success in the USA, in spite of good reviews. Jack Nicholson delivers one of his copyrighted performance, always good but getting a bit monotonous. A well-shot and scored production, but nothing really new or special. Several holes in the story, the characterizations, the continuity. The ending, no wind-up, is made needlessly inconclusive.
At The Directors' Fortnight. Gjergj Xhuvani's "SLOGANS" (Albania). I had only seen some black-and-white Albanian movies at a long ago festival in Valencia (Spain). They were awfully primitive. Now, from that tiny new democracy comes an anti communist comedy set in the bad old 1970s. A new teacher of biology, assigned to a super-shabby elementary school in a shabby small mountain village realizes that 90% of the curriculum consists in making on the mountainsides anti-imperialist, pro-communist slogans. The letters are formed by heavy rocks visible from afar. Sydents and teachers have to carry, align and inscribe those boulders. The incompetent school principal is scared of the fanatical Party Secretary of the area, an opportunistic, magalomaniacal idiot. All this leads to stupid accusations of adults, as well as of kids who use politically "wrong" words in their assignments -- even though the words are perfectly in line with the regime. A neighboring villager is also rebuked, because his slogan-in-rocks was aboutVietnam ... but the isolated, near illiterate man had no idea that this particular war had been over for 10 years. There's also romance between the new prof and the sensible, good-looking teacher of French. Delightful.
For the sake of my friend Nicolae Popescu, a Canadian of Romanian descent and a brilliant scholar and cinephile, I try to catch all available Romanian movies. At The Directors' Fortnight "MARFA SI BANII" ("Stuff and Dough.") A young would-be entrepreneur is paid handsomely to drive and deliver a bag of black-market drugs (presumably medicines) from the port of Constanta to some mafiosi in Bucharest, some 125 miles away. I cannot pass judgment on the work proper. Perhaps the story is tolerable, but it is entirely vitiated by the camera's record-breaking non-stop, gratuitous, irritating movements which also follow every part of the characters' bodies, every gesture, every angle.
Talked to some Cannes rookies who were accredited but had major problems and an impossibly hard odyssey in discovering lodgings--which, if miraculously found, are most pricey at Festival time, with increases of at least 80%. They must be reserved well ahead of time. Regular festivaleers book theirs one year in advance. If lucky, the imprudent latecomers may find something far from the Palace of Festivals, or outside Cannes. In many cases have to stay in Nice and commute.
The better or classier restaurants may or may not increase their prices, but the ordinary establishments I know, do. Some years ago I pointed out the price hike to an eatery's manager. When he denied it I pulled out snapshots of that same menu. I had taken thembefore he Festival. A picture is worth a hundred francs. And it can settle some arguments right away.
MAKING LIFE EASIER. I ran into no rudeness (as sometimes in the past) from Festival personnel--. in fact I met with a new politeness. My longtime favorite and by now friend is Monsieur Serge Di Tommaso, the elegant, amiable, helpful chief of the group that watch over the Salle Bazin, one of the most important venues of the Palace. He also has taste, sees many movies and can be a source of useful tips on what not to miss and what to skip.
David Lynch's "MULHOLLAND DRIVE" (OC) was planned as a "Twin Peaks"-like series for ABC cable. The complex, obscure pilot Lynch submitted baffled the TV people. Lynch would also refuse to give explanations. ABC canceled the project. Then France's deep pocketed Studio Canal Plus came to the rescue with funds that allowed Lynch to re-edit and make the pilot into a feature for the big screen. Even so, the movie is a convoluted, confusing mass and mess of unclear characters, arbitrary events, non-sequiturs, semi-hidden references to past movies and so on. It is getting very mixed reactions.
Every person who has a film in the show submits some sort of description for the catalogues. In its entirety Lynch's blurb reads: "A love story in the city of dreams." At his press conference he was asked by the moderator "what does your film mean?" He smiled, looked at the audience and came up with just "It's very nice to be here." Prettyhubristic.
From Russia, "TAURUS" (OC) is Alexander Sokurov's second film of a series of three or four on historical figures. The first one, "Moloch"(Cannes 1999) was about Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun during one day and night in the Fuehrer's mountain eyrie at Berchtesgaden, while the German army was losing the battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of World War II. Hitler was ludicrous, maniacal, infantile. The odd, imaginary- theatrical sets, the grainy "creative" colors were discordant on purpose. "Taurus" ("bull" in Latin) is an unnamed Lenin, played by the same actor who had played Hitler. The title's reference is to the Minotaur of Greek mythology.
In 1923 Lenin, dying from a stroke, is in a claustrophobic country home, surrounded by his wife, his sister (or hers, I forge,) his private doctor and other persons. Soldiers guard him --for protection or for destruction?.The man is senile yet occasionally oddly sharp. His last days take on meaning if you know Russian history in some detail, which is not exactly thecase with most viewers, including many Russians. No chance for this odd, uneven work to be seen outside festivals.
A special screening by Argentinian-in-France critic and experimental filmmaker Edgardo Cozarinsky. "THE CINEMA OF THE CAHIERS -50 YEARS OF LOVE STORIES" is a 90-minute, well-informed and affectionate documentary on the Cahiers du Cinema, arguably the most important and influential film magazine ever.
The movies of Jean-Luc Godard often remind me of that older book, "Fragebogen" ("Questionnaire") by Ernst Von Salomon,. No filmmaker or scholar has ever asked and raised more questions from the screen than Godard, no matter what the movie. The questions are what the characters would say, what Godard asks of them, of the public, and above all, of himself. This maverick genius and intellectual has spawned regimentsof "Godard's children," generations of cineastes who became representatives of the New this and the New that. But very few of the inheritors are thinkers. Godard transmitted to them some styles, audacities, mannerisms but not the ferment of his elusive, complicated brain. In the genealogical tree the branches connect to the trunk yet are still unlike it.
Now 70, he has come up with "IN PRAISE OF LOVE" (OC). As in many of his works, this almost plotless item is beyond capsule descriptions. I can only state that it is about JLG's ruminations on life, mortality, immortality, memory, love, creativity, conformism (he takes major potshots at Hollywood, Spielberg, Julia Roberts, "Titanic," et al,) books and reading, cinema, the WWII Resistance in France (used deviously), about (in the subtext) Godard's preoccupation with his contribution to film. All this is crammed into 98 minutes;
Is this a groundbreaking movie? I think not. JLG may not be repeating verbatim what he had said and shown before, but the basic tenor is the same. And the eulogy of love is still an excuse to celebrate the 7th Art.
When Godard is not asking questions, others ask questions of him. His press conferences are furlongs ahead of everyone else's. It is a crime to miss them. He fascinates with paradoxes (of which he holds a record in numbers and originality); he is enormously funny; and he. never smiles.
Back in Cannes 1987 he showed his weird, crazy and un-Shakespearean film "King Lear." Ironically--and of course, paradoxically-- it had been produced by schlockmeisters Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus. (I used to call their films "The Golan Lows.") Menahem said to Jean-Luc "You should not be making movies, but press conferences." JLG's works may alienate or puzzle many people, but even the naysayers find his declarations and curmudgeonly humor irresistible.
I do not like Godard-the-person. Years ago, as my guest, he was uncouth and unpleasant, offended his American audience of admirers, told them they were dumb, that he had come only for the money. He made my life miserable (it's a long story.) But his haughty and oddly somber ways of addressing the public on his home turf are marvelously amusing. His ideas tumble out at the speed of the French TGV --the super-fast train. A voracious reader, he delivers cascades of unexpected yet thought-provoking connections between anything and everything.
On the face of it, Nobuhiro Suwa's "H STORY" (Japan) is about a Japanese director's (Suwa himself) attempt to remake of Alain Resnais's 1959 classic "Hiroshima Mon Amour" but from the point of view of today's memories and sensibilities. It is not so much the movieitself we see as the defeat of the project. At 111 minutes (20 more than the Resnais film), this is a bold work, totally non-commercial, slow, even tedious, yet oddly interesting. I see no public for it, but in my yearly screenings of "Hiroshima Mon Amour," following it up with "H-Story" could enhance the understanding of both works. .
CALLING EMILY POST! At a pleasant pizzeria we see two Asian ladies paying their bill and standing up to leave. The Italian owner performs hand-kissing which surprises the ladies since it is not exactly an Oriental practice. Then he wishes them "sayonara".which is in Japanese--but the ladies are Chinese.....
SEX. Among the zillion photographs shot, displayed, printed in single pages, glossy catalogues or special Cannes editions of trade magazines, sold, are pictures of partly or fully naked women, many of them posing at the "plage," (the beach) for crowds of photographers. In France, where toplessnes-by-the-sea is routine, few natives are impressed.
In many films from Europe, Asia and the Americas there is a near-epidemic amount of sex of almost every possible kind. In the case of Chinese films this is surprising. By the end of Cannes 2001 "THE CENTER OF THE WORLD" will have been projected.It is an American, sex-centered movie by Hong Kong-born US citizen Wayne Wang whose previous work includes "Dim Sum," "The Joy Luck Club, " and "Smoke."
PROFITABLE SEX. For years Cannes has had the intrusion of the totally separate, un-equal and officially unrecognized and excommunicated pornmeisters who gather here with their films (hot stuff shown in mysterious places,) their stars, their own competition and their top prize called "Le Hot d'Or."
BLITHE SEX. Is movie sex exempted from consequences? Not a single film mentions or even hints at condoms, pregnancies, maladies or AIDS.
VERISIMILITUDE. A large number of films are illogical, incoherent, confused and confusing. Thumbing one's nose at logic is all right, as long as it is a willed defiance with a purpose. Not the case in most films seen here.
DAYS 9 & 10
THE F-WORD here is not "films" but "fatigue." You need steel eyeballs, a rubber spine, a padded tush, and above all blessed sleep---regular, horizontal, in a bed. There's also vertical sleep while watching movies. (Advice to snorers: when the film begins inducing the zzzzzzzzs, get out fast and take a chance on just about anything else you can catch from its start.)
With 23 films in the Official Competition, all of which one feels duty-bound to watch, themorning press screenings force you to be there close to 8 am to get a good seat. It's inhuman.
"VA SAVOIR" ("Who Knows?") (OC) is unusually warm and attaching for writer-director Jacques Rivette, now 73, one of the ground-floor luminaries of the old New Wave. His unorthodox approach stretched out his serpentine works well before lengthy movies became a fact of life. In his case, "long" means longer than long. His early "Paris Belongs To Us" (1960) ran 141 minutes,. "Out One" clocked at 12 hours 40 minutes. (It had only a single screening in 1971, in theHouse of Culture.of Le Havre.) Edited down to 4 h. 15 min. it played in theaters in 1974 as "Out One: Spectre." "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (1974)lasts 193 min. His 1994 two-parter on Joan of Arc ran 160 and 175 min. "Va Savoir," a mere 154 minutes, was very well received, generated talk about its being a serious contender for a major prize. It deals with personal and professional turns and twists within a theatrical company.
The fact that "La Belle Noiseuse" (240 minutes) was awarded the Jury's Grand Prize at Cannes 1991 and saw no exodus of spectators, answers the question posed by my friend, the writer Elijah Danielson: "How could such films Rivette the public?"
It is strange to be a movie critic, especially if you are the sole envoy of a medium. One feels compelled to see as much as possible. This quasi-religious fervor that begets exhaustion which can beget wrong judgments, either way. The big media, especially major French newspapers and the major countries' screen publications, of necessity send platoons of reporters who divvy up the work among themselves.
Murali Nair had won the Camera d'Or (Golden Camera) prize for best first film at Cannes 1999. In "A DOG'S DAY" (India) a tiny provincial fiefdom is reluctantly granted democracy by its lord. He also makes a gift of his "royal" dog Apu to peasants. But after the small hound bites a duck and then a child, rumors spread that the falsely benevolentLord has planted a rabid animal among the peasants in order to upset the new democracy. Conflicts follow. This 74 min. "political fairy tale" (Nair dixit) is colorful, nicely shot in Kerala (Nair's birth state), but has gauche non-professional players and is of medium interest within the context of the Festival.
The French "CLEMENT" by Emmanuelle Bercot, on the powerful sexual attraction of a woman in her mid-30s for a young boy, is dull. The woman is played by the film's director. Shot on digital video.irritatingly, jerkily, with washed-out images. I quit around 49 ofits 139 minutes,
Now 92, Manoel de Oliveira, the dean (in every sense) of Portuguese filmmakers, has made a movie of emotions as well as sly humor with "VOU PARA CASA" ("I'm Going Home") (OC) is a French production set in France. It is mainly about a famous, aging actor's crisis after his wife, daughter and son-in-law are killed in a traffic accident.Intelligent, astute, with often unexpected turns and ideas, and an unsurprisingly great performance by that ageless chameleon Michel Piccoli, now 76. Oliveira is a master for the Europeans, yet I am not aware that any of his films have had more than fleeting, specialized exposure inthe USA. (Canada does much better with imports).
Italy, neglected last year but well represented this time, in numbers that is. However, except for the unjustly ill-fated "The Profession of Arms," the other films I had a look at are not particularly interesting. But wait, here comes a champion! "LA STANZA DEL FIGLIO" ("The Son's Room") (OC) is by Nanni Moretti, in my book one of top "auteurs" active today. He has also boosted the career of some excellent new Italian writer-directors and actors. His current movie is a major shift from his previous ones-- all of which were original, wonderfully funny, warmly satirical, observant and clever. All starred or included Moretti in the cast but without any ego-tripping. Here he turns serious.
A psychoanalyst (Moretti) lives a very happy life with his wife, son, and daughter, as well as his profession. In the first part we see his "joie de vivre" which is at the antipodes of Todd Solonz's movie "Happiness." We get Morettian humor as the shrink deals with his patients --echoes of the shamefully neglected "La Parola Amore Esiste"(The Word Love Does Exist) which was co-produced by Moretti, directed by his protege Mimmo Calopresti, and shamefully unappreciated at Cannes 1999. There's more comedy in scenes of the teen-age son's school, and so on. But the second part turns tragic when the boy dies in an accident. The family's despair is hugely touching, with no theatrics or excessive self-pity,. The effective, well-timed episodes caused dozens of moist eyes in the audience.The film has become instantly a candidate for a top prize.
"THE OFFICERS' ROOM" (OC) (France), by Francois Dupeyron, is an anti-war message which tackles that most tragic and real problem:maimed soldiers. In the first days of World War I, an explosion disfigures a young lieutenant as he sees action for the first time.The next five years are spent in rehabilitation and possible re-entry into "normal" life. Strong, moving stuff was positively received but not well enough for a prize
The Israeli "HATOUNA MEHUHERET" ("Late Marriage") a first feature by Georgia-born Dover Kosashvili, is set in Tel-Aviv's Georgian community. Zaza, almost 32 and a Ph.D. candidate in some humanities field, is a pleasant womanizer with no dearth of affairs, and the son of match-making parents who are intent on his finding a wife chosen viaGeorgian traditions for their reluctant son. Zaza currently also has an older, divorced mistress who has a little girl and a gorgeous body shown "au naturel." The several, amusingly realistic complications, include a 17-year old, crypto-liberated candidate. It is fluff that starts out like a ho-hum stage play, but improves and grows to become educational and entertaining.
There's quite an Asian presence at Cannes. Thailand's "THE TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER " was made by Wisit Sasanatieng whose background is in commercials. It's a sort of parody of melodrama, older Westerns, Western musicals, movies on bandits, and the like. A hit among young Thais, it may become one in the USA. Its camp is reinforced by colors like those of old, corny hand-tinted postcards. Looks like fun, but I left it at some point for a more urgent screening. Perhaps enough is enough.
From Hong Kong's gay director Stanley Kwan, his sixteenth or so feature "LAN YU" is unexciting, but interesting as a litmus test of how China, puritanical like all regimented countries --at least on the official surface -- tolerates (for how long?) its differences, such as gay movies from relatively swinging Hong Kong.
"Age cannot wither her, nor beauty stale her infinite variety" wrote Shakespeare in "Antony and Cleopatra." Cannes proves again that now aged masters are still greats. Japan's Imamura, 74, has won two Palmes d'Or, for "The Battle of Narayama" and for " The Eel." His "WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE" (OC) from the novel by Henmi Yo, reconfirms his standing. The financial crisis in Japan causes executive Yosuke to lose his job, his money, and his wife. A friendly old bum reveals to him that in a distant town, inside an old house by a red bridge, there's a hidden treasure , a priceless old gold statue of a Buddha which the old fellow had stolen ages ago. What Yosuke finds instead is a lovely, humorous, sexy young woman who has the peculiarity of producing torrents of water during sex. She's also a kleptomaniac and has some magic powers to boot. Beyond guessing that the man and the strange lady will have sex and also fall in love, you can hardly foresee what developments and twists will make this fantasy lovely to look at, funny, delicious, and rich in metaphors.
Malaysia-born Tsai Ming-Liang is a Taiwanese director whose fourth film, "WHAT TIME IS IT OUT THERE ?" (OC) is not as appealing as "Warm Water.." but as it unfolds slowly, deliberately, with minimal action and dialogue, you realize that you may be watching a most original work, even a small gem.
On a rather chic street of Taipei, Hsiao-Kang sells watches neatly displayed on his small stand. The fellow looks honest. We cannot tell whether the timepieces are hot merchandise, fake Cartiers or Rolexes, or what. His father had died very recently. About to fly to Paris, a pretty girl named Shiang-Chy wants a wristwatch with dials for two time zones. He has no such a watch, except the one on his wrist, which he won't sell. (The watch, not the wrist.) Yet he yields it when the girl returns to the stand and insists. His mother awaits the return of the deceased's spirit, makes altars, thinks that he may bereincarnated as her fish in the aquarium, or as a cat, a dog, an insect. She tapes shut all the windows to keep out evil spirits, goes through comical (for us) steps. The young man has had it. He consoles himself with thoughts of the girl, now in Paris. He gets a tape of Truffaut's "The 400 Blows." We watch him watch it. And in a quietly manic way, hechanges the time on any watch he puts his hands on to Paris time -- so as to be closer to the girl. She, in a cold though not hostile Paris, is lonely, temporarily makes friends with another Chinese girl, sits on a park bench next to Jean-Pierre Leaud, the hero of "The 400 Blows." But how time changes people and things! There is more, with additional overt and covert references to Truffaut.
TAKING STOCK. A famous 19th century actor lay on his deathbed surrounded by weeping friends and family, raised his head and said:" Don't cry for me. Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Truer words were never spoken, as proven by the splendid retrospective "The Golden Age Of American Comedy." Who saw what is anybody's guess, but certainly the attendees were not soldiers in the army of reporters or critics who had their hands full with the main fest. The comedies' lineup is awesome::
After opening with a restored Monsieur Verdoux (by Chaplin), came Theodora Goes Wild, It Happened One Night, Broadway Bill, My Little Chickadeee, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Adam's Rib, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, 20th Century, Bachelor Mother, She Married Her Boss, Stage Door, Easy Living, Midnight, Trouble In Paradise, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, Cluny Brown ,The Awful Truth, Once Upon A Honeymoon, It's A Gift, Woman Of The Year, The Lady Eve, Unfaithfully Yours, The Thin Man, A Foreign Affair.
THE INEVITABLE QUESTION. When I get home my friends will ask me "How good was Cannes this year?" Not easy to reply to..A minority of critics' reactions run to extremes ("bad" or "very good.") A majority says "not good" or "mediocre." I found the films to be equally divided between Very Good, Good, Fair, and Bad. I can only say with certainty that 2001 was OK but certainly not a great vintage year.
CHEATING. On the last day of the Festival I learned how John and Jane Doe can "legally" crash receptions and fancy dinners. If you can borrow a friend's kosher invitation, take it to a photocopy shop where they duplicate the document faithfully in full colors. The going price seems to be $10 per facsimile. Yes, I know where to go. No, I'm not telling anybody. I do not condone plagiarism and other crimes. (There are many of the latter by the way, mostly pick-pocketing and purse-snatching)
ABOUT FOOD. Ten dollars won't get you a serious meal. Twenty will--often a very good one. Thirty buys gourmet fare. Lucullian meals for expense-accounters or plain wealthy persons hover around $100. Worth it if you can afford them--which certainly excludes the press. All of the better repasts are leisurely. This poses the problem of having to skip some screenings.
You can enjoy fine meals at all levels. Even when pricey, they are less expensive than in Paris, and a mere fraction of what you would pay in North America assuming you can find equivalent restauranst. Note too that the once disdained regional wines have made much progress in the last several years.
Caveat emptor. It is still possible to get tourist-trapped by restaurants, generally on the main drag's (the Croisette's) immediate vicinity. But connoisseurs seldom fall for those places.
DO YOU HAVE WHEELS? There are many excellent, inexpensive restaurants within easy driving distance from Cannes. One example. In the picturesque, high altitude, clean-air village of Levens, 54 kilometers from Cannes and just 24 from Nice, "Les Santons" is a wonderful place where you can eat indoors or outdoors in a charming small garden. Big, delicious, even memorable meals run from $20 to $30. The total personnel consists of two people: the husband who cooks, the wife who serves.
French food can be Paradise on Earth. There is no decline in French cuisine. Modernization and industrialization has not affected it, and mind you, France modernizes by the day. Its trains are the world's best and fastest. The impeccable roads, from country two-laners to toll giants, compared to ours make the USA feel like third-world nation.
Martin Scorsese, who talks about cinema with a passion, knowledge and intelligence that should make most academic film-professors envious, was scheduled to be at Cannes for "MY TRIP TO ITALY," his 4-hour personal documentary on the great Italian films that influenced him. It uses excerpts from about 30 features. Scorsese couldn't make it to Cannes at the last minute, but the work was shown.
The non-competing Festival closer was the French "LES AMES FORTES" (literally "Strong Souls" but titled "Savage Souls" in English. It is by Chilean-born Raoul Ruiz who made several films in his country. In 1973, the socialist government of Salvador Allende was violently overthrown by General Pinochet. After the first four years of dictatorship, Ruiz moved to France, of which he is now a citizen. He has made over 80 films there and elsewhere. Among his recent works are "Shattered Image" (USA, 1998) and the much-praised "Le Temps Retrouvé" (after Marcel Proust) (Cannes 1999). "Les Ames Fortes" comes from a novel of Jean Giono set in 1880s Southern France. Its lack of explications left the public wondering "what was it all about?" It is a question that has been asked more than once in this festival where unclarity seems to be frequent.THE FILM MARKET is just that, with thousands of people involed in it as sellers, buyers, personnel, publicists. sellers. In years past the Market was primarily in the huge first basement or Level -1 (that's a minus sign), which stands and offices populated to near-congestion. Most of the films were pitched via video-cassettes. Then came a number of spaces transformed into small projection rooms with few seats. Later yet came the Pavilions, a few of which had tight film-viewing facilities. Finally real progress came with the building of the Riviera Commercial Center next to the Palace. The Riviera is not only a venue for stands (by country, company or whatever) but its second floor is a circle ringed by several mini-theaters. Just in are figures which tell us that over 1,400 Market screenings, from documentaries or expensive features to porno were held there during the 2001 Festival. This, I must stress, is over and above the "real" or "official" Festival films as well as the dozens shown in Cannes muliplexes on the Rue d'Antibes.
DAY 12, EVENING . The Awards Ceremony. This affair is short and sweet, never runs over 45 minutes..
GOLDEN PALM: "The Son's Room" by Nanni Moretii.
GRAND PRIX (Next in importance prize): "The Piano Teacher" by Michael Haneke.
BEST ACTRESS: Isabelle Huppert In "The Piano Teacher." BEST ACTOR: Benoit Magimel in "The Piano Teacher." BEST DIRECTOR.: Joel Coen for "The Man Who Wasn't There" and David Lynch for "Mulholland Drive "
BEST SCRIPT: Danis Tanovic for "No Man's Land" TECHNICAL JURY PRIZE: to Tu Duu-Chih for the sound quality of Hou Hsia-Hsien's "Millenium Mambo" and Tsai Ming-Liang's "What Time is it Over there?"
CAMERA D'OR PRIZE, awarded by a different Jury to the best first feature : "Atanarjuat The Fast Runner" by Zacharias Kunuk.NOTE: The above is the first ever Inuit feature, made by and with Inuits (Native Canadians formerly known as Eskimos) on location, close to the North Pole. As I missed the screening, I am placing in my Internet site the review of the excellent Variety critic Lisa Nesselson. My site is: http://www.prairienet.org/ejahiel
SHORT FILMS: Palme d'Or :to "Bean Cake" by David Greenspan (Japan); Fiction Jury : "Daddy's Girl" by Irvine Allan (UK); Animation Jury: "Pizza Passionata by Kari Juusonen(Finland)
THE FIPRESCI JURY (The International Critics Association) awards. In the Official Competition: "The Son's Room" and "Kairo." In Other Sections: "Martha..Martha" and "The Pornographer"
THE (French) CRITICS'WEEK PRIZE: "Under the Moonlight" by Reza Mir-Karimi (Iran)
THE ECUMENICAL JURY: "Kandahar"
YOUTH PRIZE: "Clement" and "Slogans"
Several additional awards will not be listed here.
RE-TAKING STOCK. "Ars longa, vita brevis" said the Romans, "Art is long, Life is short." The 2001 Festival was overall rather "brevis" in the art department. There were not enough zappers, revelations, landmarks. The new directorate of the Fest may be responsible for this, but then 2001 may also be "one of those years." In any case, a lot of film buyers left Cannes having bought very little as compared to earlier years.
COMEDIES. Looking back at the 2001 offerings, you realize that there was a major dearth of comedies or high quality light fare. Yes, there was that splendid collection in The Golden Age of American Comedy, but that was in a retrospective. Where have all the funny stuff "auteurs" of today gone? For that matter, do they exist? Or are there only would-be purveyors of laughter all over the map, but whose films were shunned by the Festival because they are just as dumb as those that Hollywood releases by the barrelful?
A FINAL EYE OPENER. According to a just released study in "The Annals of Internal Medicine," Oscar Winners live almost four years longer (to age 79.7) than non-winners (to age 75.8). Could this also apply to Cannes winners too? No idea, but I suspect that press people who come to Cannes year after year and spend frantic days at the Festival mayhave a shorter-than-usual life-span.