I am not a man, I am a number.
Specifically, I am Box 1397, and people stuff me full of paper. After every screening at the Palais des Festivals, it’s customary to drop by the press boxes and see what new flyers, advertisements or magazines have been delivered by hopeful publicists. The boxes aren’t enormous – see photo – but I came back from today’s festivalgoing with the equivalent of the Toronto white pages in my bag. Not the kind of weight you want to lug around to five screenings, the press junket for Blindness and a seaside interview with Montréal director Denis Villeneuve, who’s here with an inventive little short called Next Floor. Oh, and to a spur-of-the-moment interview by a student documentary crew, for which I’ll post a link as soon as it goes online.
Fortunately, there are recycling bins everywhere in the press areas, and people are using them very efficiently: I saw one reporter simply pivot on his hip and dump the contents of his box out into a nearby bin in one swift, elegant movement.
I haven’t worked up the courage to do that yet; I’m afraid I might unwittingly toss out an invitation to a party. Of course, that would mean someone had invited me to a party, and that I had time to go.
Where was I? Oh, right, seeing movies. I’ve had the full range today, starting with Pablo Trapero’s grimy Leonera (“Lion’s Den”), about a pregnant woman who’s allowed to raise her child in prison while awaiting trial for the murder of the man who may have fathered him; great performance from Martina Gusman in the lead, but the script was patchier than I would have liked.
Next, there was Kung Fu Panda, which is much, much, much better than you might think – it’s funny, it’s clever, it’s visually sumptuous and I’d even go so far as to call it the first non-Pixar effort to approach that studio’s standard for fully realized characters and environments. This is a terrific kung-fu picture that just happens to use talking animals instead of human beings.
Third up was Three Monkeys, which has no monkeys in it at all; instead, it’s Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest grim drama, revolving around a family trying desperately to ignore at least two horrible truths gnawing away at their lives. It ain’t a crowd-pleaser – the pacing is grindingly slow, and Ceylan’s digitally tweaked palette takes its inspiration from a tobacco stain – but it does what it does very well.
Fourth and best of the day was Hunger, about which I expect you’ll be hearing a great deal before too long. An impressionistic drama about Bobby Sands’ 1981 hunger strike, it’s a devastating and defiantly non-partisan film that’s going to piss off some people by its refusal to stake out a moral position.
Not me, though; its deliberate refusal to take a side is one of the most thrilling things about it, along with a bravura central sequence in which Sands (the terrific Michael Fassbender) debates the value of suicidal resistance with a priest (Liam Cunningham) bent on talking him out of it. And yes, the director’s name is Steve McQueen. No relation.
Finally, I closed the night with a screening of Tokyo!, a trio of short works by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon Ho set in the titular Japanese city. As you’d expect from these directors, the films are idiosyncratic and eccentric in equal measure – only Michel Gondry would tell a story in which a young woman realizes her destiny by becoming a chair – but they’re enjoyable enough as a lark.
Cannes fun fact: The seats in the Salle Debussy are equipped with little flip-up writing surfaces, such as those seen in university lecture halls. Nobody uses them, but they’re there.