Five directors you meet at Cannes -- A Taxonomy
The cinematic god – Legends, generally septuagenarians. How can you tell a cine-god when you see one? At Cannes, Jean-Luc Godard is the Jack Nicholson of directors. He got a five-minute standing ovation from an audience composed almost entirely of critics and filmmakers when he showed up for the premiere screening of Notre Musique a few years back. That’s a five-minute ovation before the screening.
Surviving members of the French New Wave all fall into this category, though very few of them show up – Rivette prefers Venice, Chabrol goes to Berlin, Rohmer never leaves Paris. Not to be confused with aging demigods and fallen idols of the 60s like Marco Bellochio, who still shows in competition. It’s a long way from Fists In The Pocket and China Is Near to The Prince of Hamburg.
Natural habitat: the Majestic terrace, press conferences, festival masterclasses, tributes to their work. Youngest member of the group and most likely to show up at Cannes: Martin Scorsese, who appeared this year to announce a film preservation project.
You won’t see them: taking meetings in national pavilions, eating steak frites at the cheap place where you eat steak frites, sitting through Competition films. Proper thing to say when you meet a cine-God. Praise one of their flops as “profoundly underrated”. Works every time. On every director.
The box office god – Oscar winners whose films make hundreds of millions of dollars. Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi (?), Ron Howard. Recognizable by the fact that their beautifully worn leather jackets are actually designed to look that way. . Not to be confused with one-hit wonders, hustlers who got lucky, or Brett Rattner.
Natural habitat – The red carpet. Any red carpet. The Hotel du Cap, where the rates are four figures nightly and they don’t take credit cards. No, they don’t.
You won’t see them. No, really, you won’t. They fly in, premiere the film, go to the party where they hang out in the VIP area, do the press conference and select interviews, and then they fly back to LA on the private jet, for which they’ve no doubt purchased off-setting carbon credits. You don’t see them.
Everybody Else says "Who?" -- If we posit the film festival circuit, which runs all year long, as an alternate world to the commercial cinema -- at times a bizarro world to the commercial cinema, it has its own breed of bizarro superstars. That is to say, people who are superstars on the festival circuit whose films don't mean much anywhere else, including their home countries. They may be Palme d'or winners. They may be directors with some flamboyant success de scandale in their Cannes past. Or, even better, some failure de scandale.
Film festivals, however are the one place where people will line up with intense anticipation of their new films. For example, I went up to clear out my mailbox yesterday afternoon. Now, the Palais at Cannes has screening rooms all over the place, ranging from 15 to 400 seats. There was a line from the Salle Bazin that stretched out by the stairs and all the way through the mailbox area -- about 60m, and that was just the pink card line.
It turns out that they're lining up for Mr. Natural, the new film by Harmony Korine. Remember Harmony Korine? 20 year old screenwriter of Kids? Director of Gummo and julien donkey-boy, one of the many sins the Dogme 95 crew will have to answer for in the next life? Ex-boyfriend of Chloe Sevigny? No?
Well, he's back at Cannes with his first feature film in eight years, in Competition. Diego Luna plays a Michael Jackson impersonator, and my colleagues were lined up. Bizarro world.
Add to the list the latter day Gus Van Sant -- quick, name five people you know who saw Elephant in a theatre without a professional obligation to see it. Heck, name five who saw his Kurt Cobain movie, Last Days. Bela Tarr, Carlos Reygada, there's a bunch of these guys. Almost any director who's films are appearing in the Semaine de Critique -- though that is where Michael Moore's comedy, Canadian Bacon, got its world premiere, and Alfonso Innarittu made his Cannes debut with Amores Perros. It's also a section that's home to three hour black and white movies about suicide.
Where you see them -- wherever there's a chance to promote their latest film. They are hard workers. When you build a career making films no one wants to see, you have to be.
The mid-list novelist – This is where most of your Palme d’or winners fit in. No really. Kusturica, Von Trier, Chen Kaige, the Coen Brothers, these are all directors whose films don’t make hundreds of millions of dollars but are supported by critics, awards, subsidy (not the Americans, obviously), and the alternate exhibition system created by film festivals. A director at this level could, if his producer had deep enough pockets, actually live for a year or so promoting his film from Festival to Festival, sitting on the occasional jury, and eating festival party hors d’oeuvres, many of which have the nutritional value of paste. Members of this group are often the most likely to graduate to cinematic god status, if they live long enough and keep working.
Natural habitat – The red carpet, and Cannes programming head Thierry Fremaux, who, in contrast to his predececessor, Gilles Jacob, is a tactile kind of guy, will hug these directors a lot longer than he hugs Ron Howard. If they go in for that sort of thing. You can often encounter them eating at the strong second tier of Cannes restaurants.
You won’t see them – More than 50 yards off the Croisette as long as they’re in Cannes proper. I did once see Wong Kar Wai at the Matisse chapel in Vence, however.
The Falling Star -- Or, "I could've been a contender" -- the difference between these guys and the guys in the above categories is that they keep showing up, but people aren't that interested anymore. Clearest symptom is a sudden inexplicable drop in category -- Olivier Assayas used to show up in Competition and the Director's Fortnight. This year, he's a midnight screening. Secondary symptom, a review in Screen or Variety will refer to your "lagging auteur status". Yeah, we're talking about you, Abel Ferrara, with your go go dancer movie. Hmmmmm.... Possible correlative factor: Your film stars Asia Argento in her underwear.
The Rising Star -- Any director making his debut in the Competition after appearances in in other categories -- Carlos Reygada this year. (Yes, I know I've already mentioned him, but there are category overlaps) Lee Chang-Dong, Korean director of Secret Sunshine. One area that becomes a little confusing is determining whether your director is a true rising star or someone benefiting from a sudden inflation of his national cinema, like the year every Iranian film in the festival got a prize from someone. (2000 -- I was on the FIPRESCI Jury that year. We gave a prize to an Iranian film.)