I first overheard “Festival de Cannes” whispered excitedly by students in February at ENS Lyon, where I’m about to finish my Erasmus year. Somehow or other I found myself invited, and with help from those in the know I applied online for Accreditations, the magical concept which opens up the parallel universe of Cannes for the thousands of cinéphiles (film lovers) who make the pilgrimage every year. The process was surreally easy, until we remembered we hadn’t finalised any accommodation. So I’ve just got back from a week camping, in true festival style, at Cannes: a less glamorous week than planned, but nonetheless a week full of amazingly varied films and shiny celebrities.
We arrived, waded through the crowds wandering along the Croisette (Cannes’ seafront promenade) to collect our photo-passes, set up our tents and looked around bewildered. Two hours of queuing later, it became clear that a mixture of patience and determination (elbowing) would guarantee success. The streets were teeming with clichés: loud Americans, blasé Brits, stylish French and excited Italians, all hiding behind designer sunglasses pretending to be more famous than everyone else. I joined in, but having been in my outfit since 7.30am I realised why ‘camping’ and ‘well-groomed’ are not usually in the same sentence.
Top of our wishlist was Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, due to the amazing trailer and Brad Pitt’s presence, but as it’s in the Sélection Officielle (for the Palme D’Or) just queuing for hours doesn’t work. Having made signs asking for tickets in a last desperate attempt, unbelievably a passing journalist gave us some spares he happened to have in his pocket! The film is a contemplative piece, in which the camera zooms out across the cosmos before zooming back in on a boy’s relationship with his family. It’s full of the bright and dizzying movement of childhood, only darkened by the imposing authority of Brad Pitt disguised as an ugly, stern 50s-era father. The 2001-A-Space-Odyssey-esque sequences were perhaps excessive, but overall it’s a very thought-provoking film. The highpoint of my week was emerging from the film to watch the red carpet Montée des Marches for the evening show and taking hastily zoomed-in photos of Brad, Angelina, Sean Penn, Jude Law et al. My other favourite is Habemus Papam (Italy), a hilarious yet moving account of a reluctant Pope, in which its director Nanni Moretti plays a do-gooding psychiatrist in a comic tour-de-force. Sadly I arrived too late to see the Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), of which I’ve seen mixed reviews.
Miss Bala (Mexico, director Gerardo Naranjo), about the Mexican drug wars seen through the eyes of a beauty contest candidate, uses the startling contrasts between the glittering artificiality of the beauty pageant and the violence of Tijuana to great effect. The excellent female lead (Stephanie Sigman), who gained a standing ovation at the film’s premiere, unites both threads with a movingly understated performance. This quick-paced film is the opposite of Bonsai (Chile, director Cristián Jiménez). As Jiménez is from a country without warring drug gangs or corrupt police, he prefers to overlay lingering shots of sex, Proust and a bonsai tree to create a navel-gazingly enjoyable tale of first love. The French film 17 Filles, a convincing portrait of female adolescence based on a true story (google it), is lovingly shot by sisters Delphine & Muriel Coulin for their first feature film. The frustrated teenage girls’ will to escape the present proves too strong for those around them, with life-changing consequences.
Eye-blindingly bad films were of course uncommon, but the winner has to be Bollywood: The greatest love story ever told, a documentary for which I walked up the red carpet excitedly, being a fan of all things dance-related (e.g. Pina), only to be completely disappointed. Connoisseurs of Bollywood may be more forgiving, but the rapid succession of loud song and dance scenes almost without explanation was not an enlightening viewing experience. The weirdest film, which in fact was an enjoyable experience (for me, but not for the swathe of French old ladies who walked out) was The Island, a Bulgarian contender in which a couple lose touch with reality on a small island off Bulgaria. The sudden change of location is a shock, yet also brings the key theme of identity to the fore. It’s completely batty but definitely worth a look.
Having sunbathed on the beach, seen Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt and watched ten films in four days, I felt pretty odd. Was it all the junk food, sleep deprivation or just a movie overdose? Whatever the reason, I felt dizzy and kept seeing the world in potential film sequences; those palm trees for the backdrop, overheard conversations as dialogue, now what about a storyline? It was most definitely time to go home, sleep, and introduce into my diet something other than the weird and wonderful films of Cannes.