Friday, May 19, 2006

Cannes Day Four

Heading to the first film of the day at 8 in the morning. The church bells are ringing, as if a Quasimodo of Cannes is pulling on the ropes and yelling, "Cinema! Cinema!" Or as my friend put it more simply, we're being called to prayer. The Lumiere is jammed because today is the premiere of Almodovar's Volver. Will this be the year he finally wins the Palm d'Or?

VOLVER *** or *** 1/2
Maybe this will be his year. Almodovar's movie gets solid applause and will be the front runner throughout the festival. Entertaining, satisfying. With Almodovar, crazy events seem quite natural -- ghosts, a dead body in the freezer, Penelope Cruz mopping floors -- it all seems perfectly reasonable. It plays like an old Hollywood movie though without any melodrama, with Cruz in the Joan Crawford role of a movie who has to take care of things when her daughter stabs her dead-beat dad after he tries to rape her. (She's adopted.) Men barely register in this film -- it's all about the women. And Cruz's lovely breasts deserve equal billing with her fine performance: only Almodovar could have come up with the frankly appreciative overhead shot that shows Cruz washing dishes -- the only image in the frame is the sink, the dishes, her hands and those wonderful breasts. Almodovar is a momma's boy in the best sense of the phrase.

Apparently, when Stephen Spielberg was filming "Jaws," the mechanical shark wasn't working and he had to come up with all the mysterious, tension-building shots where the shark attacked but we didn't see it -- the shots that made the film a classic. And if that anecdote is news to you, you might enjoy this supremely superficial documentary in whcih loads of Hollywood players are asked banal questions about the industry. (I had a bet with friends about how long it would take someone to quote William Goldman's truism that in Hollywood nobody knows anything. I lost, because they saved discussion of that uber-quote for its own section at the 60 minute mark.) I swear the filmmakers held a gun to the heads of the people being interviewed and said, "Cliches only! Be superficial or you die!" Bearable (just) because of the film clips, most of which aren't that much more original. There is literally one interesting moment: Morgan Freeman is asked about flops, about when you know it isn't working, and the interviewer brings up "Bonfire of the Vanities." Freeman's head slumps down -- not dramatically or for humorous effect, just because the memory of the movie depresses him. He starts answering in monotones. "Yes." "No." When did they realize it wasn't working? Did they think it was going great during the shoot? Did they realize while it was filming? He finally says, Oh no, we knew almost even before we had begun. The he compares it to a plane crash and how plane crashes are usually due to a series of errors, not one fatal mistake. It's like that, he says.

Now I scurry into this Korean film, which seems to have a gay subtext from what I can tell in advance. A student film which got post-production money to spruce it up for theatrical release, this is the stor of the compulsory military service that all South Korean males go through. Nominally about fitting in, about not being soft on new recruits (who are hazed pretty mildly by the standards of the Russian army, for example). But really the film is about being gay. This is basically unspoken, though our hero has no interest in girls, plays Belle & Sebastian music and is very pretty indeed. Also, his best friend calls him a girl for nagging him. It all has a tragic, '50s aura --the film can't even mention "gay" or have our hero admit it but you know someone is going to die.

Along the main drag, young people are always being paid to carry signs and billboards or sport t-shirts for this or that event. Segways are all over the place as a team of kids roll along the sidewalk with posters promoting screenings. But yo don't expect to see women in full burkas pushing a film. But there they are, carrying signs that say "H'ALAL HARRY: Allah is great and so is this film" and "H'ALAL HARRY: This year's mosque see movie."

7 VIRGINS ** 1/2 or ***
I weary of art films (already?) and decide to take in a market screening of "7 Virgins" which has a nicely suggestive poster that promises it might be Advocate-worthy. (It pictures a young guy front and center with a cute girl in the background on the left and a cute guy in the background on the right. Our hero looks thoughtful, as if trying to make a decision.) Market screenings are an odd bird: obviously my badge is press, but they're not really catering to the press (and some screenings don't allow press at all). But if it's not full (and they rarely are) you can get in. But even though you have a press badge and they know yo're not a market person, they invariably request a business card. If they don't get a business card, they are deeply reluctant to let you in. So I learned to carry around a stack of cards for each screening and have them at the ready. The movie itself is surprisingly good, well-done, though familiar territory. Young man in juvenile detention gets weekend leave to attend brother's wedding -- spends weekend with pals and they casually rip off purses at the mall, hotwire cars, make shady deals, get in fights, etc. The two male leads are very personable, thogh the movie interestingly has his friend practically rape a girl they pick up at a bar -- lowering himself in our hero's eyes but without undercutting their essential likability. (It doesn't make his buddy the bad guy, though obviously it could have.) Clearly, if they'd been brought up in better circumstances, they'd be safely middle class and successful. Doomed ending can be seen a mile away but the movie takes a few good detours before going where we know it needs to go.


Oh, how I hate "events." They invariably take up hours of your time in the middle of the day when you could be seeing movies. But I "have" to attend "Dreamgirls." It takes place from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. but I've figured out nothing wil happen until at least 9 p.m. and I certainly don't want to stand around alone having a drink. So I show up at 9 p.m. at the hotel to find a mob scene: hundreds of people are blocking the streets in all directions and screaming "Beyonce! Beyonce!" I've arrived just as she is walking past the dozens of photographers and TV crews there to glimpse Jamie Foxx, the other cast members and especially Beyonce. People are screaming and the hotel is blocked off by mobs in every direction. I don't know how Beyonce is going to get in but I know I certainly won't. I circle around in a few directions waving my Dreamgirls pass to no avail. Finally I spot a clutch (a pride? a flock?) of journalists also striving to get in, including Roger Ebert. He walks up to the guard blocking one quiet side entrance and tries to talk our way in. "No. No, no, no." Go back the other way. We've just been the other way and they sent us to you. We have to get in. Finally, Ebert says half jokingly, "I am a famous person!" The guard doesn't care and we spend ten minutes wandering around until Beyonce goes inside and the crowd thins out dramatically. Finally inside where they have a room filled with people drinking and looking at costumes, set mockups etc before the press conference starts. Director Bill Condon makes some opening remarks -- with cast and crew and Paramount members applauding wildly every name --including Michael Bennett and the composer. This could take days. Finally we see four clips -- about 20 minutes. The first is the song "Fake Your Way To The Top," with Eddie Murphy as a James Brown-like impresario. It's very, very encouraging. This is a bright, unabashed musical. The transition from their rehearsal to the on-stage performance is great fun and the cast is sensational. Beyonce, American Idol find Jennifer Hudson (who is probably thanking God she didn't win or at least should be), Anika Noni Rose (who was tremendous in Broadway's "Caroline, or Change" and looks like she'll be a scene-stealer here) -- they all look perfect. That's followed by "Family" (Perhaps my least favorite song on the cast album but still well delivered), "When I First Saw You" and "Dreamgirls." All are good to great. Some changes that they mention: there's a lot more book, they've added a (hopefully small) subplot about a Jackson Five-like group, Dina goes into the movies big-time and there are four new songs written or co-written by the original remaining composer. Jamie Foxx comes onstage, does a funny Eddie Murphy impersonation and says "They talk about the Oscar curse. I'm not feeling it right now." Neither am I. Looks like great fun and very commercial. If preteens are wathcing and re-watching "High School Musical," there's no reason everyone can't embrace this.

A British entry by a female director with an interesting backstory. She won the Oscar for the short "Wasp" and makes her feature film debut. It was given a slot at Director's Fortnight (a technically separate event a la Slamdance). Then Cannes offered her Un Certain Regard, which I like to call Uncertain Regard since they want to show your movie but don't want to put it into Competition. They politely delcined to abandon the DF for that and finally the Fest offers a Competition slot and they say "Bye bye DF." "It's an interesting, sometimes compelling but ultimately unsatisfactory film -- mostly for plot reasons it would be unfair to reveal. The screenplay is based on a Dogma stunt of developing a group of characters and having three different films emply them with the same actors in all three films, but entirely different stories. The lead in one film might have one line or a substantial supporting role in another, etc. This tale focuses on a woman who works for the police studying CCTV cameras which dot London. She spots a man she clearly never expected to see and it turns out he's just been released from jail and she -- for some reason -- is obsessed with him. Her sad and lonely life becomes clearer as she starts to stalk him (something that wouldn't seem that strange for a person who spies on people all day long). She's estranged from her in-laws and sleeps at night with a funeral urn. This isn't quite as odd a movie as that makes it sound and the lead is very good. But the entire tension of the film is based on withholding information from us that everyone onscreen knows about. So it invariably seems deflating when we're finally put in the know and the movie resovles itself rather banally. But the director Andrea Arnold and the lead Kate Dickie are clearly talents to watch.

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