Once again, unto the breach, my friends, unto that battlefield called Cannes. The place where dreams crash and fantasies effervesce, the place that used to belong to Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa, where the memories of greatness are palpable and (almost) alive, and where you feel in-the-know just by walking along the Boulevard de la Croisette. Here you’ll be able to achieve first hand knowledge of what filmmakers around the world are cooking up and what will be coming to screens near you in the next twelve months.
Cannes is, more than a place, a mystique. Yes, it’s commerce, and yes the whole point of it is that films get sold and bought, deals materialize and trends invoked. There’s that. But it is also where one can feel somehow art matters and cinema is the most sublime form of art. No matter what the numbers are, Cannes demands that you to believe in something beyond money. Let other people care about the box office. It also invokes an artistic response to the times. Times being what they are, we desperately need artistic responses (any responses, really), as art is a way to process and deal with the world. So it’s not just about the egos and the Guccis. Filmmakers are trying very hard to convey their views, to tell us, in ways we can embrace, something about the state of the world, about language, about ethos, views and emotion.
Before you go
If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to experience some of this first hand at some point in your life. As last year, your’s truly is doin’ Cannes in a silly attempt to stave off thoughts of apocalypse, and thought I’d share with you some of my insights about the Festival and what to expect. But first, some do’s and dont’s. This being me, it will be mostly dont’s.
So to start on what to wear. There is always the old dilemma between comfortable and elegant. The older you get, the more inclined you will be for the former, whereas if you’re still young and decided to enjoy this world before Trump or meterorites strike, then go for the latter. Then again, remember: mostly it’s not about how you look (unless you really need a deal), it’s who you look at. At least that’s what I concluded as years pass. And inconspicuousness can have its rewards, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Don’t bring your swimsuit. The beach is too close and too enticing, and not having the right kit helps to avoid temptation when slow movies drag on. If and when circumstances arise you can always go for a swim stark naked. In my experience, faint memories of times long past, really, circumstances tend to present themselves at night, and this is France, so locals are bound to pretend a minimum of curiosity and a maximum of sophistication.
The stars and you
Do bring some large sunglasses. Mostly because it will be sunny out there, although you’re not supposed to enjoy the sun. But large sunglasses are ideal if you want to be confused with someone famous. Unless you’re really famous, this can be fun. People suddenly stare at you and they ask, “Excuse me… Are you famous?” It’s happened to me twice (both times in America) and I have a favourite answer, which I stole from Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters: “Well, if you have to ask…”. That makes them feel guilty, and it allows you a modicum of honesty.
Having said this you are not likely to meet very many famous people, at least not too close. They normally gather with other famous people in parties planned just for them. Because Cannes is, after all, a state of mind, you keep on watching out for famous people and sometimes you really think you recognize someone. Normally you’re wrong: it’s just the sunglasses. Then again, if you’re lounging by the pool and happen to see famous people who are really famous people then it is probably I who need your advice on how to get to Cannes.
My experiences with meeting living legends and people I really love are not among my fondest memories. I stammer and look foolish going on about just how much I deeply deeply deeply like what they do. Bit drooly, really. This is because reality is something very different to fantasy, and you are using a fantasy to bridge a gap between two very different realities (the legend’s and yours). So my advice would be, if it happens you see your idol passing by (and it may happen, after all they need to go places like everybody else), act cool and detached. You’ll still be able to tell everybody you spotted a celebrity, but you won’t bear the painful burden of having made a fool of yourself. The embarrassment may last forever. Two of my absolute idols are there this year, Todd Haynes and Pedro Almodóvar. I’ve met one of them (a piece of advice: don’t ask the latter about Kika) but I intent do be cool and standoffish if I happen to bump into Haynes casually in some karaoke bar. And steal a picture somehow, people nowadays require confirmation.
If you need to eat
Restaurants in Cannes is either expensive or terrible or too busy. You make your own choices I suppose. Then again, who needs eating. One can feed on art. At least I know I can. It is art, when I think of it, that spoils my silhouette, such as it is. People at the festival are so excited about deals and their iPhones that they don’t care too much about the food, unless some big shot producer is taking you for lunch and, even better, paying for it (not always the case: that’s how producers got to be producers). Anyway, if you must, the restaurants in the rue Saint Antoine, in the little hill around the church of Our Lady of Hope (where you see many hopeful filmmakers praying for a deal) tend to be wonderful. My recommendations are Auberge Provençale and Mantel (number 10 and 22 Rue Saint Antoine).
The Film Market (Marché du film, if you want to sound sophisticated) is one of the exciting things about the Festival. So, if you have time between films (and you will: the film schedule does not always make it easy for you to attend to films all the time), have a walk. Every company in the world and every country has a stand with kindly people who will explain what they have been up to. They often try to assess how much of a customer you are, and this is where the large sunglasses help. The larger the sunglasses, the kindlier people will be.
Some are more big time than others, and if you walk the area long enough you begin to suspect everybody in the world is making the same film. Or just two or three. It ends to be about three guys looking baffled or about a car going somewhere. Or three guys in a car. Or sword-fighting. Still, what’s great about doing this systematically and keeping some of the leaflets is that it gives you hints of what kind of projects are getting funded. And then you can put yours in perspective: often you realise it was too ambitious, and you may decide you want to write a script about, well, three guys in a car. Or sword-fighting.
And the films
And then of course there’s the movies. Lots of them. My advice is watch as many as you can, it doesn’t really matter what: screenings start at 8.30 am. Bring a Kindle as you will be wainting in line a lot, and bring some kind of notebook (the old fashioned ones with real paper) so that you remember what you saw (at festivals I’ve been known to forget in the evening films I watched before lunchtime). In most cases the Cannes selection features the best the movies have to offer all over the world. With the exception of Spanish cultural authorities, who tend to hate, loathe and despise film, everybody else will charm, seduce and fight to get it (I was going to add “bribe”, but we don’t do unfounded accusations in this blog).
If you’re in the film industry, it is a fabulous occasion to show films, although Cannes audiences can (and often do) get it wrong. Too much expectation, too many movies, too much peer pressure, too much Nicole Kidman giving a press conference. Many critics all over the world will be looking for the next big thing, and many producers and filmmakers will make it their mission to show they are it. You sit in that excuse for a cafeteria they have at the Palais and it is exciting just to listen to the conversations. Even if you don´t quite identify the language.
This makes for great fun on the sidelines unless you have a stake, of course. Cannes does produce trends, and some of them are great and they become influential in world film. Hong Kong films in the 90s, then the Korean new wave, then the Iranian films of the early 2000s. Cannes is always loyal to the stars and trends it creates, and old acquaintances like Kiarostami, Lynch, Campion, Cantet, or Hong or Haneke or Sofia Coppola will be there this year. It also attempts to keep on producing new names.
Sometimes one may not like a given trend. Two words: “Slow Cinema”, a kind of mental state that has invaded screens for over ten years now as some kind of default for art cinema. It became one of the most persistent and puzzling, and for me it is a sign of a certain lack of faith in storytelling. I am a believer, I do think there are stories to tell and stories that demand to be told. The good news is that, according to Sight and Sound, the Slow Cinema trend seems to be subsiding and soon critics will be recommending some other approach in which things really happen, and opening their minds up to films that actually try a bit harder. I really don´t think stasis is an appropriate response to the impending end of the world. And remember we are always on the verge.
Cannes should help you to make sense of the world as it is. I am really looking forward to some films on the experience of immigration in the section A Certain Regard. We are all aware this is the most hearbreaking issue of our times, and film has a wonderful potential to pin it down, to get us to know about it, to help us share awareness. Remember films are ultimately about people, about lives, and the Cannes line-up can also be a wonderful way to get closer to people in the rest of the world.