You can tell it’s been raining here…The bus from Nice to Cannes travels alongside a torrential murky brown river almost breaking its banks with tree tops poking through the surface. But it’s clear skies now despite the forecasts saying otherwise. Simon greets me when I get to Cannes with keys to our apartment and a shiny ticket in hand for the competition gala screening of Borgman later on, what a way to arrive!
Before I get my glad rags on I’m off to the Europa Cinemas meeting. There’s a neat summary here. I arrive early unaware of the loose starting time but enjoy the travelogue slideshow of beautiful cinemas from around the world and dream of a cinema inspired travels – first stop the Bio Roxy, Oberero, Sweden. Much discussion was had about the European Commission’s trade negotiations with the US that includes audiovisual and film services and threatens cultural exception and diversity in the EU. Find out more and sign the petition here. I enjoy a post meeting chat with UK exhibition colleagues from Watershed, Showroom and Chapter, then pop off to get red carpet ready(ish).
Walking the red carpet is a strange but fun experience and I feel a little out of place amongst the uber glamorous masses, most of whom seem to be about 17 years old. I’ve got an amazing seat but when I spot two pining companions sitting apart pining for each other, I offer up my seat only to find in my new vista is impeded by a big rail in my eye line – oh well never mind, I’m just super excited to be here.
In his review in Screen Daily, Allan Hunter shrewdly comps Borgman (dir: Alex van Warmerdam, The Netherlands) to Bunuelian satire, Haneke unease and Roy Andersson absurdity but I would also throw in the blacker than black demented wit of Giorgos Lanthimos. The eponymous Borgman is a man living on the outskirts of society with a small collection of pan faced followers ready and willing to kidnap, murder and offer performance art recitals in the name of their cause, although the real motivation of their devilish endeavours is never fully revealed. The strangly charismatic Borgman gradually infiltrates himself into a well-to-do suburban family, slowly driving the matriarch of the family completely bonkers and tearing their privileged life apart piece by piece.
Post screening I join my fellow ICOers for a delightful party for the documentary, Stop Over. As we sip our bubbles by the beach, mechanical diggers valiantly trudge up and down the sand trying to stop the violent waves cascading into the party.
Becky arrived this morning and together we pop by the MEDIA desk and UK Pavillion, in the name of the ICO’s upcoming Developing Your Film Festival course. We both catch the Palestinian film, Omar (dir: Hany Abu-Assad), a powerful and heartbreaking film following a young man’s resistance in Israeli occupied Palestine; his convictions, friendships and relationship with the love of his life unravelling amid violence, betrayal and paranoia.
Thanks to a very kind invitation from Clare Wilford we enjoy happy hour at Screen Austraila, whose offices overlook the Palais so we can see the throngs arriving for the screening of Blood Ties in all their finery.
Under clear starry skies on the beach, Becky and I slump into deckchairs and wrap up tight in blankets for a pristine new 4k digital print of The General (dir: Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton, 1926). The film still feels fresh as a daisy and the bittersweet moment where Keaton rides the side rods of the train made my heart sing.
Despite our blankets the stiff coastal breeze made for chilly viewing, but this film would still have felt like a treat in a blizzard. The only thing that would have topped off a truly special cinematic experience is if our very sad abandoned cups of weak but warming tea had made it through security.
It’s up at 6.50am for the early bird screening of Palme d’Or contender and all round exciting prospect, Behind The Candelabra (dir: Steven Soderbergh) – thank you Clare for the ticket! I bow to my colleague’s superior abilities to discuss the merits and intricacies of the film but I thought it was a great piece, with super filthy fun to be had with the costumes and sets full of gold and glitter and furs. There are excellent performances all round with a scene stealing turn from Rob Lowe as Liberace’s personal plastic surgeon, and sterling support from an undetectable Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s Polish mother and an almost undetectable Dan Ackroyd as his manager. Beneath the flamboyancy and 70’s excess glitz is a touching and utterly convincing love story pitched perfectly by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. It was refreshing to see a gay partnership portrayed as any other long term relationship would be with giddy and tender moments as things blossom and detachment and anguish when things start to sour. I was disappointed that the Cannes compere at the press conference felt the most insightful question to ask Matt Damon was ‘what was it like to kiss Michael Douglas?’ as the couple’s sexuality was a secondary element in the film.
Next up is a repeat screening of Takashi Miike’s Shield of Straw / Wara No Tate (Japan) also in the running for the Palme d’Or. For the first time in my Cannes experience there are empty seats in the house, perhaps owing to the poor reviews the film had received overnight. A noble cop and his team of possibly corrupt officers must protect a child molesting serial killer at all costs from the 100 billion yen bounty on his head to ensure the Japanese legal system is upheld. Scathing criticism seems somewhat unjust as the film is a really solid genre film; a road movie crime thriller with big action set pieces peppered with quieter subtleties. It’s reminiscent of Con Air (heroic slow mo through burning flames) and early 24 (chopper shots, double agents, triple crossing, corruption, tracking devices, pantomime villain, lots of shouting and a lead with over earnest sense of duty.) I enjoyed it for what it was, but it does seem an odd choice for Competition selection.
A quick picnic lunch amongst a rather odd bunch of sun worshippers on the beach is followed by the rather exceptional Wakolda (dir: Lucia Puenzo). An unsettling and slow building tale of a mysterious German physician, who has a fascination for human anatomy and growth defects. Horrifying secrets are gradually revealed as he worms his way in to the inner circle of a family in 1960s Argentina.
Plans of catching a 10pm screening of the new Claire Denis film are dashed when the queue is already hundreds deep with 90 minutes still to go. Instead, a stroll along the Croisette in the hope that Head Juror, Steven Speilberg, may introduce the free public screening of Jaws dans la plage. Instead of the director we are treated to an intro from the film’s star, a somewhat bumbling but loveable Richard Dreyfuss, who recalls the oft heard tales of the dysfunctional mechanical shark.
The day ends with a gathering of the ICO in the Station Tavern, an English pub in the back end of Cannes and a grotty but charming one at that. Drinks in hand we discuss our respective day’s viewings and wax lyrical about the state of British cinema with a perfect view of the Cannes Riviera (that’s the name of the hotel over the road!)