Cannes Day 1. Nicole Kidman is not everywhere

I had read that Nicole Kidman “was everywhere” this year in Cannes, with no less than three films in different sections plus a whole series season as a producer. But I have to report that, by the end of my first day, I’m yet to see her. I got to see Tilda Swinton, though.

And movies, which is what Cannes should be about. Leave star fucking for the tourists, I’m here to do some hard work. Long waits in line, under the Mediterranean sun, hoping to get in, lots of choice but minumum information, regulations and security checkups, hyerarchies an dress codes, quality and bluffs, impossible dresses and cute faces. Cannes is on.

Movies, like opera, historically have depended on stars to keep their mystique, and Cannes somehow know how to balance out charisma and quality. It is just one more thing that contributes to the buzz. And boy how this place buzzes! Just listen to the world’s most boring critics earnestly spitting out verdicts, or young wide-eyed filmmakers talking to a besuited executive; stand in awe at the marché, as you see posters of many films you will never get to see (granted, some you wouldn’t, even if you could); overhear frantic conversations, excitedly putting pressure, making deals, and watch those slender boys in twos for whom “cinema” never goes beyond kit. And wait in line.

This being my first day I only managed to catch two films. Out, a Hungarian Everyman story directed by Gyorgy Kristof (Un certain regard) is a strangely paced, loosely plotted saga of a Slovak 50 year old man who loses his job. He leaves his wife and daughter to start a pilgrimage in search of a new life, but, unable to keep a job he just meets people instead. Kristof takes his character seriously, but prefers to keep things light. Some of the encounters have pathos (like the one with a former basketball player who picks up grass for her rabbits), others are just comic (the contrived kindness of a Russian man who just wants to show off his absurd lifestyle and his surgically enhanced doll-like wife). In each episode, the main character listens and observes, but can’t quite engage. Maybe this is what the film suggests: once you become unmoored, you see that other people’s reality does not make sense. Out is a low key epic with a distinctive perspective on Eastern Europe.

L’atelier is familiar ground for Laurent Cantet. It’s almost ten years since the wonderful Entre les murs, and this story about the relationship between the teacher in a creative writing workshop for working class kids and one of her pupils starts like a re-thread of that film, with documentary-like sequences in which the kids build up a murder story and bring in their own memories and perspectives, which create tensions in real life. Some kids contribute family experiences, some go for politicized plots, and their personal views emerge. La Ciotat, where the film is set, used to be the site of a huge shipyard specialized in large ships, which was threatened with dismantlement but survived thanks to the luxury yatch business. As the film progresses, the focus is on one of the students, a teenager with extreme right leanings and a fascination with violence the teacher will become interested in.

Not an easy film to pin down after a single viewing, I engaged with it through my experience of teaching, its wonders and its frustrations. But it is also about the presence of history, the pain of reality, the process of creation and the fascination and fantasies we all feel about the other half.

Antoine is a conventional young man: he plays videogames, he works out obsessively and takes pictures of himself as he dives into the ocean. And the teacher is a writer who will end up learning more from the students than from the other things she does. Her relationship with Antoine has truth that nothing else in her life seems to have.


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