We Get Letters...
CANNES, FRANCE -- Due to a peculiarity of scheduling -- I had no late screenings yesterday and no early screenings today, it's time to answer some of the emails that I get.
"Why haven't you reported on all the cool parties?"
Well, I haven't been to any cool parties. In fact, I haven't been to any parties. I did have an invite to the Jessica Simpson movie launch on a yacht on Friday night, but I declined, because I had to go see the new Coen Brothers movie, despite my misgivings about the Festival's annual scheduling of a high demand movie premiere in the evening screening slot (theatre's a lot smaller). So, I missed a chance to go to a Cannes event on a yacht with a totally artificial being. (That's the only explanation of Jessica Simpson, isn't it? Cyborg? Gotta be.)
I was, I admit, disappointed, because I don't get to go to enough of these events to get the full Cannes media experience. Then, of course, as I feared, I did not get into the Coen Brothers screening, because there weren't enough seats and I only got there, oh, 40 minutes before the scheduled starting time. (I did see it the next morning, but had to go back to the press office and beg a ticket.)
I do have some parties coming up, including a Toronto Film Festival do on Monday, which since it starts in the late afternoon, will almost certainly not be cool, and a Lebanese party on Tuesday, which I am told will have excellent snacks.
"When people talk about "the buzz", what are they really talking about?"
Most Cannes buzz comes from two sources.
A large company puts on a big event, the media slugs show up and report on it, and there you have it, instant buzz. Like the Jerry Seinfeld event the other day, which had the added advantage of being bee-related, thus lending itself to automatic "buzz" puns. When you read headlines that say "Cannes is a'buzz over Seinfeld stunt" -- I think that one was on Yahoo.news -- it isn't really. I don't know anyone who went to it, or heard about it from other people. We all saw it on the internet, the next day. The weird stunts don't actually have an impact here. Here, nobody cares, we've got our own problems.
Critical buzz, the other kind of buzz, is pretty much self-generating. People at Cannes are mostly cliques of people. As in any other environment, you hang out with your friends and are, occasionally, forced to deal with other people. (This is the "Life is Like High School, but with more credit card debt" school of thought.)
You and your friends see a movie in the Competition. You all think it's pretty good. There you go. All your friends are also film reviewers. Instant critical buzz! Someone in another clique is browsing Cannes stuff online or in the dailies and says "Hey! All these people like the new film from Albania! Maybe it will win some prizes." At this moment, one just hopes there's a film from Albania in the Competition, because generating critical buzz is a lot like that game, Telephone.
"Is the weather really that nice?"
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I've been to Cannes when it rained every day.
Last year I think it rained once, second Thursday.
This year so far, the daytime temperature is between 20 and 24 degrees C, the sun is shining, and the Mistral has yet to make an appearance. If we didn't have to go to all these damned movies, things would be perfect.
"I don't get it. I read rave reviews for some movie in Cannes or at another big film festival. I go see it when it comes to the Carlton, and it's never that good. What's up with that?"
See the "Life Is Like High School" theory, above.
But seriously. Most of the time, film critics are not surrounded by film critics -- not even at most other film festivals.
However, film festivals are an unnatural, hot house environment, and none moreso than Cannes. If you're here on a press pass, you almost never encounter people who aren't, and if you do, they're people in the industry. An actual audience that isn't somehow vested in the whole procedure is a useful gauge for your own reactions. Okay, you're thinking "I didn't care for Spiderman 3... but all these people sitting around me are saying shit like 'that was AWESOME'. I need to consider that."
Here, well, ain't nobody here but us critics.
And these aren't polite critics, either -- we will boo and whistle at the end of press screenings, in part because we generally know that the director's in the room. (Remember, all the glamour and the nice weather and the overpriced restaurants, Cannes is pretty much one movie after another -- I'll see three most days -- it's about all I can absorb, what with having to sit down and think about them, and then get in line for another, and checking my email and writing my column. So three a day. Sometimes four, if I've walked out of one, like that French movie, Water Lilies. Teen lesbian angst and synchronized swimming. It sure seemed like a good idea.
And, here's the dirty secret of film festivals.
Lots of movies get programmed for lots of different reasons, and most of those reasons have very little to do with the quality of the films themselves. When Richard Pena took over the NYFF from Richard Roud, for example, the festival became a lot less Eurocentric -- it took on the new director's biases. (You see this particularly at small scale, select festivals like New York and Cannes, less so at monsters like Toronto or Berlin or Chicago, where there's a variety of programming personalities, all choosing films for their own reasons.)
But the same thing applies to the big film festivals. Some years ago, I confronted a festival programmer over some quasi-experimental films I'd seen and thought were, well, pretentious dung, and the programmer says to me "Well, if we don't show them, who will?" Remember that one next time you read a festival catalogue write up.
Anyway, we're sitting out here like the crew on the PBY in Apocalypse Now, with people shooting arrows at us from the riverbank (publicists), on a mission from the brass (our editors) and we're never sure what's coming up around the next bend of the river (the films). Oh, and on less and less sleep as the week progresses. And we all live by one rule. Never get off the boat, man. There's tigers out there.
So, like the crew on the PBY, we are inclined to overreact to things that come our way. Sometimes we kill all the people in the sampan because the little girl was trying to save her puppy. Sometimes we think we're all gonna die. And sometimes we get unreasonably happy because something just didn't suck outright. In a perfect world, we'd all have time to see everything twice and come up with a reasoned response.
But here in the future, where most of you will spend the rest of your lives, we make snap decisions. I blame society.
Anyway, screw all this introspection shit. I'm going to the movies...