PopMatters @ Cannes 2007: La Belle Communauté Internationale

Hannah Eaves
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt after the gala screening of Steven Soderbergh's film Ocean's Thirteen at the 60th Cannes International Film Festival, Thursday, May 24, 2007. (Hahn-Nebinger-Orban / Abaca Press / MCT)

The forgotten Bulgarians, the misunderstood French, the resentful Italians, the arrogant Americans... the international experience at Festival de Cannes captures such frustrations we of varying nations experience with one another. But the films we come for help us overcome our differences... right?

Festival de Cannes 2007 ran 16-27 May. This is the third of several installments Hannah is writing on the event for PopMatters. For this year's complete line-up, see Cannes Film Festival 2007 Official Selection.

See also:

PopMatters @ Cannes 2007: Preview

PopMatters @ Cannes 2007: In the Thick of It

PopMatters @ Cannes 2007: This Growing Body of Artful Human Expression

Festival de Cannes 2007 is over (and the votes are in). Almost everyone I’ve spoken with has commented on how strong the year was, with the exception of the editor-in-chief of an influential national magazine who said something along the lines of, “Well, just because Manohla liked everything...” The film editor of the same magazine, a different gentleman, is rumored to have regretted the positive take some of his reviewers had on their pet filmmakers’ projects. How out of touch are reviewers when they give glowing reviews to every single film? Especially the ones that saw mass walkouts.

The shadow of Manohla Dargis (co-chief critic of the New York Times) hovered nearby as others told me about seeing her after screenings, glowing over the line-up. Tom Luddy (of the Telluride Film Festival) put it very well recently when he said that there were an unusually large number of very good films, but no real masterpieces.

Director Jim Jarmusch arrives at the Palais des Festivals
for the gala screening of "Chacun Son Cinema"
(To Each His Own Cinema) in Cannes.
(Hahn-Nebinger-Orban / Abaca Press / MCT)

Rumors circulated about the proclivity of reviewers to sleep through 90 percent of certain films (particularly Bela Tarr’s The Man from London and Carlos Reygadas’ Stelle Licht, both of which prompted many walk outs), but still manage a review the following day. But I must say, programming both these long, slow films to play at 8:30am or at several post-10pm screenings is asking for trouble. As an attendee, I’m glad to see controversial films screen amongst the more conventional selections, such as Red Balloon and Persepolis, because the odds of the controversial films making it to the US beyond screenings at festivals and museums, or indeed, even managing to make money anywhere at all, are very slim. Filmmakers like Tarr and Reygadas are artists creating challenging cinema, often ignoring the conventions of pacing and plot, and I think it’s only fitting for such films to get a moment in the light before, sadly, disappearing into obscurity.

American films were greeted heartily by critics, especially Paranoid Park, No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, Sicko and, getting points for light entertainment value after this harrowing line-up of very serious subject matter, Ocean’s Thirteen (skillfully programmed for the last day). No one was surprised at the Palme d’Or winner, Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 Days -- it was the only film that inspired nearly universal praise, especially from critics. And yet simultaneously everyone was surprised, because Cannes juries are notoriously unpredictable, so if everyone thinks a film is good, that film often doesn’t actually win. (See Glenn Kenny's blog on the subject, "Cannes: Nobody knows anything, except when they do").

But why am I talking about other peoples’ experiences rather than my own?

The truth is, I missed a lot of the competition films while trying to see a mix of things from the sidebars and market. Too many bad (Sakebi), violent (see my previous article for a fuller list of titles that fall in this category) and mediocre (Sakebi, Savage Grace, Boarding Gate) films during an early four-or-five-film-a-day stretch left me bereft of energy to face some of the films with unpleasant topics screened in the second half of the festival. Depression, violence, bleak home abortions (4 Months…), naked geriatrics (Import/Export), and 20-minute takes (The Man from London) seemed too much to even attempt. I confess; I became a film pansy.

Helen Mirren arrives at the Palais des Festivals for the
gala screening of "Chacun Son Cinema" (To
Each His Own Cinema) in Cannes.
(Hahn-Nebinger-Orban / Abaca Press / MCT)

Ultimately, missing these films led to disappointment and a vague and perpetual feeling that the real party was going on somewhere very nearby, but not quite where I was standing. So, one film was ditched for a press conference, in order to learn about Martin Scorsese’s new World Cinema Foundation (and for the chance to see Scorsese, Wong Kar Wai, Walter Salles, Stephen Frears, Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and other luminaries share a table together), another film was missed for his Master Class (an onstage interview with Michel Ciment), one more to have dinner with friends, another to slip away and visit Nice; thus it went.

Excuses can be made for my wimpy critical behavior, but it was my first time at Cannes. Experiences and observations of the festival are considered an investment for future years' attendance. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. So, here are some of my experiences and observations. Film reviews will follow.

Everyone, It Seems, Hates the French

Make no mistake, everyone, it seems, hates the French. It’s the one trite truism that can actually unite nations -- in turn uniting the French themselves. While in Cannes, enjoying this event hosted by the French people in their own country, it tended to be men, non-French men, of course, who offered the most outspoken criticism of the French people (criticism usually spoken in English, with varying accents). I’m not sure which comes first, the French hating everyone who is not French, or the other way around. One thing I do know is that some American directors supposedly aren't helping the situation.

French documentarist and legendary photojournalist
Raymond Depardon poses for the media
during a photocall during the 60th
International Film Festival in Cannes.
(Calo-MF / Abaca Press / MCT)

Case in point: Julian Schnabel, an American who made a very French film (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, with French dialogue, based on Jean-Dominiqu Bauby’s best selling French memoir of the same title, embarrassed the award crowd audience when picking up his Best Director prize by singing, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" (a slightly inappropriate song from the French stereotype-fest / Hollywood musical Gigi) and then saying “They say the problem with France is the French -- and that’s a lie.” He didn’t mention what the supposed problem with France is. Finally, he bitched through insinuation about not getting the Palme d’Or. Even Michael Moore in Sicko during his affectionate examination of France and its health care system, didn’t edit out his annoyance, during one interview, at an anti-American French doctor.

Early on in the festival, while at dinner, an Italian friend complained about being kept waiting for two hours by a company that had a film he was thinking of picking up, only to be told condescendingly that his offer was ridiculous. "They had to make me wait two hours to tell me that?! Of course, they were French. THE FRENCH --", Here his wife put a steadying hand on his arm and looked around at the French diners surrounding us in their favorite hidden French restaurant. It was a half empty outdoor terrace with fairly lights, quiet and unfrequented because it sat beyond the road that is considered the dividing line to the happening part of town. It was owned by a charming French woman who spoke impeccable English, and we had been taken in as the Italians’ companions. The St. Peter’s fish was so good we had ordered it two nights in a row. But even that wouldn’t stop him. “I’m sorry, but it’s true. THE FRENCH. The French, they think all Italians...” and so it went.)

Another friend, an American who works for a name-brand electronics company whose products you probably own, was in town on business and had a particularly tough time with a French waitress. It was a busy night at Farfalle, across the road from the Palais, and our waitress, like so many at Cannes, was young and pretty, probably working for the chance to get spotted. After he had come undone with language difficulties on previous occasions by trying to use the word “dressing” -- as in “salad dressing” -- our friend quickly discovered that “sauce” was the only English term he could use for it. There is a line between ordering in broken French, thus actually making an effort, and ordering in English, without making an effort. Making the effort in French seems like a good idea to start with, even if you cause amusement to those serving you. But you have to know at least a word of French for that, and our friend did not. It was the beginning of an awkward evening.

First, he asked about the meat sauces then ordered one of them with the fish, which caused some terse arguing. Meat sauces are not used on fish. Then after a hasty retreat he wanted to know about the “salad sauces”.

I have never before seen a waitress roll her eyes. With the distance of time I see that this might have been a moment to giggle, but at the time, there was an international tension in the air. While looking at us with undisguised disgust she managed to demurely spit out (a rare talent), “Oh, yes, the sauces.” She treated us all to a slow look down the length of her nose, “YES. I see you like the SAUCES.” And with that she pirouetted and stomped away.

It hadn’t helped that our sauce-loving friend had moments earlier been loudly badmouthing the French. After that episode his typically big-mouthed American badmouthing, now played as a half self-deprecating parody, just got louder, and not even our submissive, embarrassed smiles to the waitress (or our fellow diners clearly within earshot) could mend the damage done. All his subsequent encounters with her were followed by one of us at the table saying, “Man, she really hates you.”

George Clooney arrives at the "Martini Ocean's Thirteen
Premiere Party" at the Baoli Club in Cannes.
(Hahn-Nebinger-Orban / Abaca Press / MCT)

I happen to quite like the French. Excellent food, beautiful language, a great appreciation for the arts and Jerry Lewis. I'm even rather charmed by some of their notoriously stubborn attitudes. Yet, I, too, grow rather annoyed at French peoples' tendency to ignore proper conduct in a queue, to simply push their way into a line. Just an example: a friend who was waiting patiently in line was pushed, repeatedly, by someone until that someone went too far and got a massive shove back. It had taken days of enduring French shoving to get him to that point of that's-crossed-the-border retaliation. The aforementioned Italian, also in that line, looked calmly at my friend, “Well, they won’t try that again.” They now shared a common understanding -- The French.

The Bulgarian Pavillion

In an effort to see films from the sidebars, Day 3 found me lined up for admittance to The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories, screening in Critics’ Week, a sidebar at Cannes. This was my first time at the Miramar and I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place. The gentleman behind me was marked as an American on his badge.

Everyone, whether a press or market pass holder, walks around all day with their pass around their neck, just like at other international film festivals, and the passes in Cannes have your photo, your affiliation, and your nationality listed. These are checked when you enter the Palais or screenings, and if you’re talking to someone at a party and they’re not looking directly at you, chances are they’re checking out your badge. Although if they’re looking over your shoulder instead, they’re probably trying to see if someone more important has come into the room.

I asked this particular badge wearer if I was in the right line. I was, but, “They’re having problems with the English inter-titles so you might want to ask the press agent for a screener. I saw a rough cut in Bulgaria and it’s fantastic.” Wandering in to the theatre I made a b-line to the press agent. Indeed, there would be no English inter-titles, but the next day screener DVDs would be available from the Bulgarian Pavillion.

Deciding not to tempt fate, I gave the Bulgarian Pavillion a day to get things together before going back. The International Pavillion, accessible to market and press badge holders, is a set of separate but neighboring large white trailers, disguised with the artful use of while fabric as tents, that stretches along the harbor. Flanked by flags, most countries have a tent, large or small, used to promote their film products and locations. Usually they are manned by enthusiastic and knowledgeable women, eager to help. Comments on the US pavilion will not be forthcoming as they now charge a fairly steep price for American pass holders to even walk in the door. It was the site of my most regretted miss of the festival: an onstage conversation between Colin Firth and Rupert Everett.

Unlike the sizable US spot, the Bulgarian tent was small, and free to all pass-holding comers. I nudged across the sliding door and walked in to find it empty of attendants. There was a television on the right, and some tables with pamphlets to the left. The walls were covered in posters for The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories. Through another open sliding glass door only feet away on the other side of the “tent”, two middle-aged women sat on plastic chairs placed upon a patch of very green Astroturf. They were smoking cigarettes and seemed surprised and annoyed to see me.

I smiled and asked for a screener copy of The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories with English subtitles. One reluctantly got up and went over to a very deep black bookcase that ran at right angles to the wall, creating a little nook. She searched and pulled some papers out, but couldn’t find any screeners. Meanwhile, her companion had finished her cigarette and came in to ask what was going on, despite the fact she had heard everything only moments before. When told, she walked over to a brown paper bag that sat nearby and took out a DVD case for The Mosquito Problem, opening it up to show me. It was empty. She then pointed to a spindle of DVD-Rs and waved her hand, as if to pantomime, “They haven’t done it yet.” The only other word I got from them was “tomorrow.”

I came back the next day and the Bulgarian Pavillion alone was locked up and dark.

Still feeling optimistic, the following day I arrived at about 1pm and could see the same woman in there. There was a garbage cart parked outside. I tried to open the sliding door and it was locked. They had posted a very positive Variety review of The Mosquito Problem in the window, as if to taunt me. The woman came right up to the door and shook her head. I tried to communicate through the glass, “Screener?” She waved her hand to the negative and refused to open the door. “Tomorrow?” Tomorrow.

This time I gave it two days before returning. I was shocked when I came back – the Bulgarian Pavillion was full of people. When I say full, I mean there must have been at least 10 people in there. The same women were out back smoking cigarettes and one of them came over to me. I asked for a screener. She gave me the exact same look as she had the first time around and absently started poking around the tent looking for one. Meanwhile, there seemed to be some serious drinking happening on the Astroturf. The woman came back and looked at me with an exasperated air. “Here. The director is here.” She took me outside and pointed to a man sitting on one of the lounge chairs. “She…” was all the woman managed to say and walked away.

“Hello.” I said. “I couldn’t see your film because there were no English inter-titles and I would love to see it. I was told there would be a screener here.”

“Oh yes, of course.”

He walked me back into the tent, where two people had just sat down in front of a large TV.

“I just need to make sure this works for them.” He said, grabbing a DVD-R. He pressed the eject button on the DVD player. Nothing happened. The DVD player appeared to be broken. He quickly gave up. Smiling, he passed me a bona fide DVD.

Thank goodness for directors.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie walk the red carpet at the screening of "A Mighty Heart" at the 60th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes. (Hahn-Nebinger-Orban / Abaca Press / MCT)

Celebrity Power

It was the last day. Literally, The. Last. Day. When I discovered that members of the press are entitled to free beer at the Palais’ upstairs bar. This has no relevance at all except to lead into the fact that it was also on my last day that I discovered that the press room terrace, open until 11pm, offers a birdseye view of the red carpet arrivals for those who are willing to leave their cameras in the hotel room. Luckily, I discovered this in time to witness the red carpet arrivals for Ocean’s Thirteen. While drinking my free beer earlier I had seen a video feed of the Ocean’s press conference at a choice moment when the cast and crew of the film were all laughing out loud over the question of whether they had seen, or would be seeing, any films while at the Cannes Film Festival. Clearly, they were too busy for such things.

George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon might not be seeing any films while at Cannes, but people would be seeing them. Cannes is the place to witness celebrity idol worship in its most raw, naked display. Fans and photojournalists alike feed the frenzy. In the past I’ve seen Quentin Tarantino and Clooney at small public events, and no one has made a fuss. But at Cannes... I happened to be picking up my mail when the Death Proof posse arrived for their press conference and 100 photographers were lined up at the door screaming “Rosar! Rosar!” A strange compromise between “Rosario (Dawson)” and “Rose (McGowan).” This was not unusual -- screaming photographers trying to make it were everywhere.

At the Martin Scorsese Master Class, the entire theatre turned into a flashing fishbowl when Tarantino arrived to sit in the audience. Roman Polanski walked out of a press conference because the questions were so stupid. For example, in the World Cinema Foundation press conference a TV reporter asked, after having been specifically directed to only pose questions about Scorsese’s new cinema preservation fund, whether Wong Kar Wai and Scorsese would comment on each others’ work. When told off by the moderator, she managed to ask the same question, again.

But, admittedly, watching the Ocean’s Thirteen arrivals from the press terrace was something else.

What a show. Way better than U2 had been. (U2 performed on the steps of the Palais early on a Sunday afternoon).

Imagine; the red stripe of the carpet cutting through the crowd. The prime piece of scarlet real estate surrounded by photographers on bleachers, a contrasting black in their tuxedos (yes, the press, too, have to look sharp at Cannes), and then the orange flesh of tens of thousands of onlookers, many with their backs turned to the red carpet, only yards behind them, to watch the proceedings on a huge screen.

The celebrities arrive in their black cars. As they step on to the carpet, they are announced by the MC. Second rate celebrities first, please: Kylie Minogue, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Timbaland. Then finally, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie looking like shining matinee idols, Jolie’s dress a burst of yellow sunshine. A huge cheer from the crowd. George Clooney, more big cheers! Screaming girls! Matt Damon. Cheers, but certainly fewer cheers. And some boos. Strange. Steven Soderbergh, fewer cheers. Who is this guy? Clooney hangs a right before the red carpet entrance and takes off down the street to sign some autographs for people hanging off the barriers. Like a wave, the crowd follows. On the press terrace, journalists rush to the left hand rail to get a glimpse of this good-looking man-of-the-people. After an autograph session the stars all make it up the main part of the carpet, where the press awaits with voracious appetite. Minutes tick by as, one-by-one, then in various groups, the celebrities cheerily pose for the photographers, who only days before they were doubtless cursing.

Sir Elton John (left) and his partner David Furnish arrive at
The Chopard Trophy event at the Rosarie Club in Cannes.
(Hahn-Nebinger-Orban / Abaca Press / MCT)

Shorts Shrift

Towards the end of the festival, between two screenings, I decided to go down to the bottom floor of the Palais, “The Bunker”, where the market takes place, to watch some short films. They have a space there, The Short Film Corner, where those who paid to have their shorts in the market can congregate and, supposedly, network.

I tried to see some short films. I perused a catalogue, noted a list of films I wanted to see, and went to the video booth counter, checked films to see in hand. The booths were all booked up until forever. Turned away, as I was walking off, wondering what I was going to do until my next screening, I saw that the Corner had a bar. There was a bit of a crowd around and I joined in. I asked the woman next to me what was going on; there was desperation in the air. “It’s happy hour. There are free drinks. This happens every day at this time.” She was German but living in Switzerland and had co-directed an animated film with her boyfriend, who very kindly fetched me a second beer. Together, they were making the daily drive in from Le Cap d’Antibes, one of the Rivera towns between Cannes and Nice. I quizzed her about the experience of having a short film in the festival and she was not happy. First of all, the German Pavillion had been unhelpful to her. But mostly, there were just too many of them -- too many short films, too many shorts makers – crowding one another for attention. She believed, and others have since concurred, that shorts numbers have doubled since the previous year, to something like 1,500.

Only moments before going downstairs on this endeavor, a prominent festival programmer had laughed at me for even thinking of looking for shorts – “How on earth are you going to work out what to watch?! Do you know how many films they have?”

This is made more depressing by the fact that there is virtually no paying market for shorts, and few people get to even see the shorts because the viewing booths are always booked up. Who wants to stand in line, waiting for a viewing booth? Or instead, who wants to take home hundreds of DVDs, stuffed in their check-in luggage? In these conditions, what are the chances for the filmmaker? Some shorts makers attend Cannes because it’s a fairly cheap way to get a pass to the other films, but others, like the woman and her nice beer-buying boyfriend at the bar, resented the whole experience. She was spending so much time trying to meet people and get traction that she didn’t even have time to look at the Competition program, let alone see a film. She, too, had tried to get a booth to check out the other shorts. Naturally, they were all booked up.

There are Films There, Too.

Going to Cannes is an experience. People ask me what it was like. I have generally replied with that great, ambiguous word: “Interesting. It was . . . interesting.” Overcoming jet lag and time difference, then plying through crowds to experience one red carpet event, one press conference, one party in a villa, one day trip and one big celebrity arrival is a must-do for every first-time goer. In years to come, films will take precedence over parties and sight-seeing at Cannes. Because that's what people really go to Cannes for: the films. Right?

Films covered in my next and final installment of PopMatters at Cannes 2007:

 Triangle (Johnnie To, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam)

 The Band's Visit (Eran Kolirin)

 Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud)

 Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas)

 The Mosquito Problem and other stories (Andrey Paounov)

 You the Living (Roy Andersson)

Hannah Eaves has published several articles on PopMatters, and is a regular contributor to other outlets both online and in print, including the glossy magazine SOMA, and the daily newspaper The Santa Cruz Sentinel. Her writing has also been reprinted in book form by Faber.





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