The festival doesn’t technically end until the closing ceremonies tomorrow night, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s over now. There’s nothing left to do but wait for the announcement of the prizewinners, and that won’t come for another 28 hours or so, which means I get to have a quiet dinner, sleep past 6:30 am tomorrow morning and play tourist for a day. I consider it my reward.
In eleven days, I’ve seen 38 movies, including all 24 of the titles in the Official Competition. I’ve drunk my weight in bottled water and espresso and eaten far more pastry than is probably good for me. But forty minutes ago, three magic words appeared on my PDA screen: “No upcoming appointments.”
Fortunately, I’m going out on a relative high: This morning’s screening was Laurent Cantet’s outstanding drama The Class, about a teacher’s interactions with his students in a Paris-area high school over the course of a year. It’s blunt, nervy and brilliant – a movie about education that makes the laborious process of opening young minds seem both thrilling and terrifying.
People are bound to compare it to all such American standards as To Sir with Love, Dead Poets Society, Dangerous Minds and Mr. Holland’s Opus, and that’s reasonable inasmuch as all of those films also revolved around teachers and students, but The Class is a far sharper work than any of those. Its social commentary is often so subtle that it’s almost subliminal, and for all the insight the film offers into the mixture of idealism, exasperation and pragmatism that gets overmatched, overworked teachers to troop back into their classrooms every morning, its principal hook is emotional.
It’s also a spectacular debut for François Bégaudeau, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, co-wrote the screenplay with Cantet and Robin Campillo, and stars as the fictional teacher François Morin, coping with two dozen students who are by turns insolent, arrogant, entitled and even explosively violent.
Watching Bégaudeau/Morin deal with each new mini-crisis – a student’s refusal to read from “The Diary of Anne Frank,” or another’s inability to engage with his classmates on any level other than snide insults – makes for some of the most suspenseful and immediate filmmaking of the festival. If there’s any justice here, he’s become the front-runner for the Best Actor prize.
Today’s other screening was tomorrow’s closing-night presentation, What Just Happened? Pilloried at Sundance, it no doubt landed here because (a) Robert De Niro agreed to do the red carpet; (b) jury president Sean Penn appears in it, playing himself and (c) the final scenes are set at this very festival, which means the black-tie audience at the Grand Lumiere, in the presence of Robert De Niro, will have the fourth-wall-bending experience of watching a movie about a black-tie audience watching a movie in the Grand Lumiere in the presence of Robert De Niro.
Blows your mind, right? If only the movie was any good; based on Art Linson’s engaging memoir of his exploits as a big-time Hollywood producer, it’s an utterly mediocre showbiz comedy in which De Niro races around Los Angeles juggling post-production on a troubled thriller and pre-production on a Bruce Willis movie that’s endangered by the star’s appearance on-set with a Grizzly Adams beard.
Nothing particularly funny happens – certainly nothing as funny as Linson’s story about seeing The Untouchables with writer David Mamet, who wasn’t aware that Brian De Palma had inserted an opera sequence into the final cut – and the gags about agents with ulcers and producers constantly yammering into telephone headsets were played out decades ago.
Still, it’s not the worst Hollywood movie Barry Levinson has made, and you can’t really blame it for being small-time when the biggest moral dilemma is whether or not Bruce Willis will shave. When it turns up on DVD, you might even crack a smile.
Cannes fun fact: Web-based translation software isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This is the only explanation for Transporter 3’s tag line, bannered across a giant billboard here: “Rules Remain the Same, Except Some Changes”.
Oh, giant billboards, I think I’ll miss you most of all.