2006 Cannes Film Festival | Day 4

Pete Timmermann rides the Shortbus at Cannes Film Festival. Read his daily journal.


20 May 2006, 4:30 p.m.

Usually when I’m at Cannes or Sundance, I’ll see four to six movies a day during the main days of the festival (meaning not opening night or closing weekend), and maybe, if I’m lucky, one-third of them will be good. So far this year at Cannes I’ve only seen 11 movies in six-ish days (two opening days with shorter schedules, and then today, which isn’t over yet), but nearly all of them have been good. I wonder if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I feel kind of guilty for not having seen more movies, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying. I’ve stood in a goddamn lot of lines for films and then wound up not getting in.

Last night I saw the competition film Red Road, which is a pseudo–Dogme 95 film from a female Scottish director. I say that it is “pseudo” because it is not, in fact, a Dogme 95 film, but Zentropa Studios produced it and the characters in the film were created by two Dogme 95 directors (forgive my lack of names here; my press kit for the film is not in front of me). It’s a slow-moving film (good thing they didn’t show it in the 8:30 a.m. slot) about a woman who works at a city surveillance company, and early on in the film she spots a man from her past whom she thought was in jail for something that he did to her. It isn’t revealed what the man supposedly did, but it is apparent that it was absolutely horrible. After researching how the man got out, she starts stalking him around town. The film never really goes where you think it’s going to, and the woman in the lead role (who I am unfamiliar with and whose name I can’t currently remember) is very good (I won’t be at all surprised if she wins the Best Actress award at the awards ceremony here at Cannes), and the film as a whole is a satisfying enterprise.

After my total blank slate going into Red Road last night, I saw Charlie Says this morning, also knowing nothing about it. To be honest, now that it is over, I still don’t know a whole lot about it. I’m not sure that it made sense, and it was kind of boring. Meh. It had maybe two or three memorable scenes in its 2 hour and 10 minute running time, and it wasn’t offensively bad, just sort of weird and not at all memorable.

Charlie Says got out from the Lumiere at 10:40 a.m., and then in the Bazin at 11 a.m. was the first of two back-to-back press screenings of the new John Cameron Mitchell film (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame), Shortbus. Shortbus has been one of the more talked about films in the press prior to its screening for them (since Mitchell is American, a name director in the arthouse crowd, and, most of all, because it was known that there is explicit sex in the film), so I knew it would be a hassle to get in, especially since it was in Bazin.

When you leave Lumiere and go into the main area of the Palais rather than directly outside, you wind up right where the line for whatever is showing in the Bazin ends, so I didn’t really have to worry about running anywhere. Bazin usually starts seating people 15 to 20 minutes before the film’s screening time, so I assumed that right around the time I got in line the line would be at its worst (coupled with the fact that I always watch all of the credits, whereas other people with the same idea as me would skip the credits and pop directly in line). Much to my surprise, when I got in line there actually weren’t that many people there; and it looked like I actually had a real chance of getting in. I waited around about 20 minutes and no one moved, and then it was announced that the room was full. What had happened was that they had started letting people in earlier than usual, and the room had filled up entirely before I even got in line. Since the next screening was also in Bazin and there was a pile of people standing right in front of me who wanted to see it and couldn’t, I knew it would also be hard to get into the next screening, when you factor in the people that had just planned to go to the 1 p.m. screening in the first place. Plus, Shortbus is screening out of competition, and films not in competition don’t rescreen on closing weekend. Also, it was having its world premiere in Lumiere at 12:30 a.m. tonight, and press can’t just wander into the gala premieres at the Lumiere without a ticket, which I didn’t have. And, while there are three market screenings scheduled, press generally can’t get into market screenings of films that had dedicated press screenings (a fact I later corroborated with Shortbus’ PR lady), especially to a film that is one of the most anticipated films of the festival, as Shortbus was and is.

Thankfully, I got into the 1 p.m. press screening (I was one of the very last people let in). I didn’t really have anything else to do, so when I didn’t get into the 11 a.m. screening, I just stayed there in line, and it worked, thank Christ, after more than two hours of waiting. So anyway, yeah, Shortbus is a strange beast; it alternated rapidly and constantly between being absolutely brilliant and revolutionary to being dumb and ill advised. The basic thing that Mitchell seems to say about the film that has been repeated over and over in the press is that it is a comedy with hardcore sex in it, whereas most films with hardcore sex are either porn films or art films that are dramas and are never made in America. The whole “comedy with hardcore sex” thing is apt, but it is also worth noting that Mitchell hand-selected and workshopped his group of actors for over two years, and that the script was made in a very organic, Mike Leigh kind of way. The plot focuses on a bunch of characters, including a sex therapist who has herself never had an orgasm, her husband, a gay couple is are looking into opening up their relationship, a dominatrix, and a cast of others who operate on the fringes of the film. There’s also an effeminate male named Justin Bond, a mistress of a sex salon called Shortbus who apparently is in real life the character that he plays in the film (he is even the mistress of a sex salon called Shortbus, which is where Mitchell cribbed the name of the movie, if you hadn’t already guessed), who gets all of the best lines in the movie. A few examples: (while looking on at a massive orgy in his house) “It’s just like the ’60s, but without all the hope”; or “I used to want to change the world, but now I just want to leave the room with a little dignity”; or, in what will likely be the most quoted line from any film in the festival (with regard to films that he is showing in a “film festival” at his place), “The more boring [the films] are, the more intelligent people think they are.”

Speaking of double entendres, after I got out of Shortbus, I went over and attended its press conference, which was strange, because both press screenings were almost impossible to get into, but the press conference was only about one-third full, and the press conference room is very small (I wonder if this is a bad sign…). Suffice it to say that it was the sassiest press conference that I’ve ever attended. Back to the double entendre thing; Mitchell said, “Everything’s a double entendre when it comes to this film… I’m sure you’ll be thinking long and hard about how you’re going to present your piece to your publisher.”

When the press conference let out, I tried to get into a market screening of Everything’s Gone Green, a film written by Douglas Coupland, but the film’s representative wouldn’t let me in. It’s so hard to tell if press will be let into market screenings; the market screening guide notes some films do not allow press in, but oftentimes I’ll go to one that is not marked that way only to find out that it is also a no-press screening. And I’ve actually been admitted into ones that say they won’t admit press. It’s crazy.

Later today I’m seeing Iklimler, the third competition film in a row that I know nothing at all about (that’ll end tomorrow morning when I see Richard “Donnie Darko” Kelly’s Southland Tales), and after that, unless I’m falling over tired, I’m going to see The Exterminating Angels in the Director’s Fortnight, which I could have seen today if I had gotten into the first screening of Shortbus. Oh well; at this point, I’m just really happy that I got in at all.

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