Cannes Diary 2007 | 5.20.07

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Although this year’s festival has so far perhaps been better to me both in terms of films and experiences than any other festival I’ve ever been to, it is dispiriting when you see five films in a day and four of them are disappointing, boring, or outright bad.

May 19, 2007
11:00 a.m.

breath

May 20, 2007
2:30 PM

Shortly after writing yesterday’s festival diary entry, the remainder of the day’s schedule changed: since it was too early to get in line for The Banishment, I wandered over to the Riviera, which is the market headquarters, pretty much to just look at posters and stuff (there’s not much for press to do there). While there I unexpectedly scored an invite to the 8 p.m. market screening of Wisit Sasantieng’s The Unseeable, which was being projected with English subtitles, which I hadn’t necessarily assumed. This meant that I would see The Banishment at 1:30, Breath at 4:30, The Unseeable at 8, and Psalms (Tehilim) at 10, with very little time in between the screenings, with the exception of two hours between Breath and The Unseeable. Plus, it meant that I had to brace myself for another night of not enough sleep.  I spent most of yesterday traipsing around in a sunstroked daze, so sleeping a decent amount is starting to become a priority.

The Banishment was on a screen new for this year’s festival, dubbed the 60eme (60th Anniversary) screen, which I had not yet been to. It had lots of seats and more legroom than all of the other screening rooms in the Palais, but was plagued with problems, such as street noise (The Banishment is a pretty quiet film; the 60eme screen is in a glorified tent on the 3rd floor balcony of the Palais), and for some reason, the house lights were turned on and then turned off again a few seconds later maybe ten times during the film’s 2 ½ hour running time. Plus, the guy sitting immediately to my right had a vicious case of B.O., which is less than ideal for a seatmate, to say the least. And while The Banishment wasn’t necessarily bad or boring (it has been getting pretty crappy reviews, and was not nearly as bad as what I’d read), I was awfully uncomfortable due to the circumstances and ready to get out of there. But hey, I’m all caught up on the in competition films so far, which makes me happy.

After The Banishment let out I went to the Lumiere to see Breath, the new Kim Ki-duk film. It was the first non-8:30 a.m. screening I’ve seen in Lumiere this year, and they had the place where you’re supposed to enter way off in a different spot from where it has been in years past, so that took some figuring out (and I didn’t have much time between The Banishment and Breath in the first place). Although not as good as 3-Iron, I’d say it is the second-best Ki-duk film I’ve seen (maybe Bad Guy would beat it out; I’m not sure). It’s about a suicidal man on death row (Chang Chen) who starts being visited by a stranger who claims to be an ex-girlfriend and who tries to make life better for him. I had some reservations with the level of suspension of disbelief the film requires and various characters’ motivations, but today’s Screen International ran a very intelligent and articulate review today that made a good argument against many of my concerns. Oddly enough, the same Screen (in a different article by a different author) chastised the Cannes programmers for only giving the film the one press screening in Bazin—did they not catch that press were allowed into the gala premiere? Any member of the press who wanted to see that film and didn’t only had themselves to blame.

Wisit Sasantieng is the Thai filmmaker who I wrote about in Celluloid Atrocities recently, as being the guy who made both the recently-released Tears of the Black Tiger and the 2006 SLIFF alum Citizen Dog, which are both fantastic films. The Unseeable is only his third feature, and with his impeccable track record, I was thoroughly excited—it’s a horror movie,unseeable and I like Asian horror movies quite a bit, and Sasantieng is one of world cinema’s best-kept secrets, and I was seeing an unpublicized market screening, so it had all of the makings to be one of the highlights of the festival. As it turns out, it wasn’t. Instead, The Unseeable is a very mediocre and generic Asian horror movie, with none of the humor or visual flair witnessed in Tears of the Black Tiger or Citizen Dog. It feels like a work-for-hire job (and maybe was), and the whole affair was depressing, coming from a filmmaker with such talent.

My last film of the night was the in competition Israeli film Psalms, which was not necessarily bad but certainly was boring.

Although this year’s festival has so far perhaps been better to me both in terms of films and experiences than any other festival I’ve ever been to, it is dispiriting when you see five films in a day and four of them are disappointing, boring, or outright bad. Today’s been better so far, though, having seen the official 60th anniversary film, To Each His Own Cinema, which is a portmanteau from a bunch of celebrated international filmmakers about the love of cinema. Highlights from it include the Coen brothers’ (which features what appears to be a role reprisal from Josh Brolin of his No Country For Old Men character), Takeshi Kitano’s (whom I don’t usually like a whole lot), Nanni Moretti’s (who I don’t really like at all), Tsai Ming-liang’s, and Roman Polanski’s. My favorite, though, was Lars Von Trier’s, which begins with one man talking too much to the stranger next to him during a movie, all telling him about how many cars he owns and how much money he makes and how great his job is, to the stranger’s visible annoyance. He eventually asks the stranger what his job is, and the stranger says that he kills people, and promptly puts an axe in the rich guy’s, very graphically. It made me really happy. The worst of the bunch was Ken Loach’s, which implied watching soccer is way better than watching a movie, and condoned being a dick when in line to buy tickets for a movie. The audience favorite was Walter Salles’, which involved an impromptu rap about the Cannes Film Festival, but it was merely okay. And this isn’t to mention the innumerable other great directors who had short films in the project, not least of which the already-talked-about-by-me-way-too-much Wong Kar-wai.

The last film I saw before coming here to write this was Blind Mountain, the new film from the guy from mainland China who made Blind Shaft, a good film that showed in SLIFF a few years back. Blind Mountain is even better (and bleaker), about a college-educated girl that is kidnapped and sold as a wife to a guy in a remote town, and then her attempts to get away.

When I wrap this entry up I’m going to go see if I can finagle my way into the market screening of The Ten, a film I was sorry to have missed at Sundance. If it works, great, and if not, I’ll go and get something to eat.  (Funny side note—before Blind Mountain I was talking to a film festival buddy, a woman film critic from Hungary who I always run into at Sundance, about how we always lose tons of weight at festivals. I still hold the record for having lost 14 pounds in 11 days at Sundance 2005, but her 12 pounds in 14 days at Edinburgh a few years ago is the closest I’ve ever heard.) After that is the 7 p.m. screening of Import/Export as Debussy, which I’m not anticipating having any trouble getting into, and if my schedule doesn’t change from now until then, I might get that well deserved and coveted eight hours of sleep tonight before it starts all over again tomorrow morning with Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park at 8:30 a.m.│Pete Timmermann

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