2006 Cannes Film Festival | Day 1

Pete Timmermann at the annual French film festival sees little of the scenery and many movies.

 

17 May 2006, 6:15 PM

A few minutes before leaving to catch my flight yesterday, I checked the weather for my various layovers online, because it was raining in St. Louis, and I had two half-hour layovers on my way to Nice (my flying route here was St. Louis to Cincinnati to JFK to Nice), so any delay at all would ruin the first day or two of my trip. Turns out it was raining everywhere I was going except for Nice, so I pretty much resigned myself to being screwed. Fortunately for me, I made it here as scheduled, and am in a much better mood than I would’ve been right now as a result.

A few minor things have changed for the press from last year: first of all, the film festival used to arrange a nice little shuttle from the airport to the Palais and back (about a half-hour drive), where you shared the car with two other film critics and the driver, which was always rather pleasant. This year, they decided to just give us all a voucher to ride the bus for free. Oh well. Second, the balcony off of the press room is now covered and filled with soft seating and water coolers and whatnot—I’m sure those water coolers will save my life in the coming weeks. The balcony was always one of my favorite places here (and about all of the rest of the press, which is a lot), as it affords a great view of what’s going on in Salle Lumiere, Salle Debussy, and just on the street. Somehow, it has been made nicer.

The third thing is that they held a press screening the day before the first day of the festival of the opening night film, The Da Vinci Code. It was in the Debussy, which is the second-biggest room here (it has 1800 +/- seats, I’m told), and normally I would not have expected to get in because it wasn’t in the biggest room and it was a screening of one of the most anticipated films of the festival, but since it was the day before the first day of the festival I assumed that a lot of people wouldn’t have flown in yet, so I should be pretty safe. As it turned out, I did make it in, but just barely—after I took my seat, maybe twenty or so more people were let in, and that was it.

I haven’t read the book and had little interest in seeing the movie (except for Audrey Tautou, of course), so I’m afraid if you’re a fan I can’t give you much of an opinion or insight, but I was more or less pleased with the film. As is normal for a film festival, I was out of my mind tired when I saw it, and it is over two and a half hours long, and yet I was never too bored or anxious for it to be over, which is saying something. I’ll save the rest of the discourse about the film for someone who knows more about the whole situation than I do.

Having gotten into The Da Vinci Code last night freed up my morning, as the only thing screening was Da Vinci again until 11 AM. The 11 AM press screening was of Paris, Je T’aime, a compilation of short films from international luminaries such as Tom Tykwer, Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers, and a bunch of others that I was rather looking forward to. I got shut out of the press screening by a lot (it was in Salle Bazin, the smallest of the press screening venues), but it’s actually probably for the best, as I almost didn’t bother trying to get into the press screening anyway. Since Paris, Je T’aime is in the Un Certain Regard program (meaning that it is not in the official competition and won’t screen at Salle Lumiere), all I need is my press pass to get a seat in the public screening, which is cooler anyway, because a lot of the talent shows up to promote the film, and I get in first (as opposed to last, as I do at the press screenings due to my yellow badge). About the time I get done writing this entry I’ll go down and get in line for that.

The press conference for The Da Vinci Code was held in Salle Bunuel this afternoon, which is probably my favorite room here in the Palais, as it has a good amount of comfy seats and lots of leg room (the leg room situation in Salle Debussy, on the other hand, it a complete disaster). The press conference’s location in this room is odd, though, because the Palais has a dedicated press conference room (which doesn’t have a name, to my knowledge), and I’ve never seen a press conference here held outside of that room before. All the same, it being in Bunuel was good for me, because Bunuel has a ton more seats than the regular press conference room does. Normally I wouldn’t have even attempted it, but I thought that it was worth a shot getting in line, since Bunuel’s bigger and all. After more than an hour of waiting and actually being told by the security guards at various times that the room was full or that the room wasn’t full but it would be by the time the yellow tags (i.e. me) get let in, I was let in. The conference was rather short, but there was still plenty of time for the usual stupid questions and ass-kissery (one fan of Tom Hanks came bearing a present, and did not get rattled in the face of mass ridicule and being told to shut up (in so many words) by the conference’s moderator—remember that these people are still members of the press, somehow). I’ve always been pretty indifferent to Tom Hanks—I think he’s a good actor, but I never really get excited about seeing a film that he’s in—but man, he’s a hell of a guy to have on a panel, it turns out. He’s very natural and funny (a paraphrased example: Journalist: “Do you think your masterpiece is still ahead of you?” Hanks: “I have the rights to Scooby Doo 3, so maybe if we fast track it I’ll have my masterpiece by next year.”); it’s no wonder that everyone loves him. Ian McKellan also got in a stab that he feels like the Catholic church hates gay people so much, they should be pleased with the film because it presents evidence that there is no way Jesus could have possibly been gay.

After the press conference let out I went and got in line for Summer Palace, a Chinese film that is in competition by Lou Ye, the guy who made Purple Butterfly and Suzhou River. This screening was in Debussy and at an odd time (press screenings of competition films are pretty much always at 8:30 AM in the Lumiere, 7:00 PM at the Debussy, or 10:00 PM at the Bazin), and that combined with the fact it is screening exclusively for the press two more times tonight and it being a film from a filmmaker people don’t really seem to care about (yet) kept the screening the emptiest I’ve ever seen for a competition film. I’d say the Debussy only wound up being about a quarter full, which is crazy, because it’s always at least close to full for every other film ever. It’s a shame, too, because Summer Palace was very good, and will likely wind up being one of my favorite films of the festival. It’s a long, slow movie about two college kids who have a very intense and short-lived relationship one summer, and how that relationship and the mere existence of one another in the world is enough to screw up the rest of their respective lives. Also, it’s probably worth noting that there is a lot of realistic-looking sex in the film, which the trades have been reporting the Chinese government is none too happy about. Hopefully this film makes it to the rest of the world unadulterated.

As I said a minute ago, I’m off in a few minutes to see the public screening of Paris, Je T’aime, and tomorrow morning I’m seeing the new Ken Loach, The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Also tomorrow is an animated film about porn called Princess (it’s in the Director’s Fortnight, whose schedule looks especially great this year), the new film from the guy who made 2002 SLIFF alum Hukkle, Taxidermia, and, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get into one of the two surely in high demand screenings for Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation. I only saw one film yesterday and will only see two and a press conference today, as opposed to my usual four to six movies per day, but I’m sure it’s just a slow-ish start to what will surely be a crazy festival—it has probably the best-looking program of any of the three years that I’ve gone.

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