What a line-up!
For someone who’s spent years hearing horror stories about endless lineups, pointless security measures and late starts to screenings that throw off your schedule for the rest of the day, I’ve found Cannes to be surprisingly well-coordinated and easy to navigate – even when suffering my atrocious French, the staff are unfailingly polite and courteous. I’ve fallen into the habit of saying “bonjour” (or, if it’s after six, “bon soir”) to anyone with whom I briefly make eye contact.
I’ve brought this up to veterans of the festival, and they all say the same thing: “Yeah, it’s really different this year.” I guess I’m just lucky; even the fellow who refused me entry to yesterday’s overstuffed Indiana Jones press screening – well, me and about five hundred other people – was pleasant and apologetic rather than dismissive.
Today, though, I must have time-traveled back to one of the bad years. With the exception of the day’s first screening at the Lumiere, things were running behind schedule everywhere. Taking a few hours off to write didn’t result in a break of any kind, either; by the time I got to the Competition screening of Marco Tullio Giordana’s Sangue Pazzo, the domino effect resulted in a complete failure of the calendar. Arriving at the Salle Debussy at 6:30 pm for an announced 7:15 pm screening, I wound up standing outside with the rest of the assembled press until about 7:30 pm, when they finally decided to let us in.
Once the cast and crew had been trotted out onstage for a hasty introduction (star sighting: Monica Bellucci!), the movie finally started at around 7:45 pm; 150 minutes later, the obligatory ecstatic applause for the filmmakers pushed the start time of the next feature back even further. So down the stairs I went to line up once again ... and wait. And wait some more. James Gray’s Two Lovers, originally advertised as a 10 pm start, got underway around 10:40 pm and let out at 12:20 am, into one of the coast’s charming little rain showers.
It’s been a long day.
At least the movies were good. I don’t have anything too terrible to say about any of the four features I saw today. (The running tally is now 26, for those of you playing along at home.)
I started with Lorna’s Silence, the latest drama from Belgian social realists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; this one follows an Albanian émigré (Arta Dobroshi) in a green-card marriage to a clinging junkie (Dardennes regular Jérémie Renier) who has a crisis of conscience when their marriage reaches its built-in expiry date. The Dardennes being the Dardennes, things get awfully complicated.
Next up was Pierre Schoeller’s Versailles, another bleak French-language film about people on the outskirts of society – in this case, a young homeless woman (Judith Chemla), her very young son (Max Baissette de Malglaive) and the enigmatic hermit (Guillaume Depardieu) whom they meet in the middle of the woods surrounding the titular palace, an encounter that sends all three lives in unexpected new directions.
It’s a sharper than usual variation on the grouch-and-child formula dreaded by festivalgoers the world over, with a more realistic perspective than usual. I’d considered Depardieu a one-note scowler for years, but between this and The Duchess of Langeais, he’s starting to grow on me. And the kid isn’t one of those cloying-urchin types who make my pancreas hurt, so that helped.
Sangue Pazzo (Wild Blood) comes from the director of the six-hour Italian stunner The Best of Youth, so expectations were naturally high. Actually, they were stratospheric at my screening, which appeared to have found room for every Italian journalist, guest and dignitary attending the festival. And if it isn’t quite on the same level, it’s still a really solid wartime drama, the true story of Italian screen actors Osvaldo Valenti and Luisa Ferida, who became lovers in 1940 and made a number of Fascist-approved pictures as WWII raged on, an employment choice that ultimately led to their execution as collaborators by partisans in 1945.
Valenti and Ferida are played by Luca Zingaretti and Monica Bellucci in full Actors Acting mode, but that works for the larger-than-life nature of the characters – especially Valenti, who in addition to being something of a ham was also a massive cokehead, according to the film. And Giordana frames their dilemma of loyalty as an acting challenge: perhaps they were only playing collaborators. But what if they were better actors than they realized?
Finally, there was James Gray’s Two Lovers, a real surprise from the director of Little Odessa, The Yards and last year’s excellent We Own the Night. The intensity and New York authenticity is the same – it’s shot in some of the same Brighton Beach neighbourhoods as Little Odessa – but the material is very different.
There’s not a cop or a thug in sight, and no epic chase sequences; instead, Gray has made a claustrophobic study of a troubled young man (Joaquin Phoenix) who finds himself obsessed with an equally unstable neighbour (Gwyneth Paltrow) just as he meets a nice girl (Vinessa Shaw) who could turn his life around if he’d only stop ignoring her.
I hate making these predictions, but in a year in which Sean Penn is the president of the Competition jury, Phoenix sure seems like a lock for the Best Actor award. He’s absolutely nailed the puffy, nervous physicality of a man trying desperately not to look as though he spends every waking hour on powerful medication, and his performance is as soulful as it is awkward.
It wasn’t until about half an hour after the screening ended that I’d just watched a canny reversal of The Heartbreak Kid, and one that’s as dark, as socially relevant and as uncompromising in its psychology as Elaine May’s original film. Here’s hoping she sends him a thank-you card, written in Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s blood.
Cannes fun fact: Even the crappy little dessert trays that are laid out at press functions here are exquisite, because they’re French, and French desserts are awesome.