I’ve finally gotten around to reflecting on what films I really enjoyed at Cannes. These are in alphabetical order because I hate choosing favourites among my favourites.
Alleluia (dir. Fabrice Du Welz)
I loved this beautiful, disturbing, strange take on the Honeymoon Killers story, though it strays pretty far from the original. When Michel (Laurent Lucas, who also starred in the director’s debut feature, Calvaire) and single mom Gloria (Lola Dueñas) go out on a date, the last thing she expects to find out is that he’s a scam artist who seduces women and steals from them. And yet, the connection Gloria feels is too strong to ignore, and soon the couple are scheming to rob unsuspecting women together – that is, if they can before Gloria’s jealousy gets the better of her. The two leads are terrific, and the other women that surround them are wonderfully real (older, vibrantly sexual, full of a genuine yearning for love). Du Welz has a masterful eye for visual composition and for creating female characters whose emotional needs are cranked to 11 (or eleventy thousand).
Cold in July (dir. Jim Mickle)
Based on the book by Joe R. Lansdale, this tight little movie is hands down one of the best suspense thrillers of the year. Michael C. Hall (Dexter!) is Richard Dane, a small town Texas picture framer who shoots an intruder in his living room one night. When the intruder’s father – a dangerous ex con played by a perfectly ruthless Sam Shepard – arrives at the Dane’s doorstep looking for vengeance, the two men end up on the dark path together, because of course, nothing is ever as it seems in a good Texas noir. Don Johnson stands out as Jim Bob, the flashy pig-farmer-cum-private-eye who helps the two men get to the bottom of an ugly mystery. Good lord, has Don Johnson still got it! I mean, schwing!
It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)
Maika Monroe (who also stars in Adam Wingard’s The Guest this year) is great in It Follows, as Jay, a teenage girl who gets more than she bargained for while on a date with a seemingly normal, mild-mannered dude. Seems he’s the carrier of an unusual sexually transmitted phantom that stalks and kills it prey. Now Jay’s got to enlist the help of her cadre of teenage pals to help her outrun the danger – or figure out a way to beat it, without getting killed in the process. It Follows delivers a driving synthy soundtrack and a very tense atmosphere throughout. I especially loved Mitchell’s portrayal of realistic teenagers and realistic teenage sexuality that never veers into exploitative territory in spite of the subject matter.
Lost River (dir. Ryan Gosling)
Gosling got a lot of bad reviews for Lost River, but I think that’s mainly because people had their knives out for him. The film takes place in the ruined outskirts of Detroit, where single mom Billy (Christina Hendricks) struggles to keep her dilapidated home and raise two boys. Her teenage son, Bones, (Iain De Caestecker), has problems of his own, mostly dealing with local thug Bully (Matt Smith, whose transformation from the endearingly tweedy Doctor Who to total monster is impressive). The film wears its influences on its sleeve (Refn, Wenders, Lynch, and others) but is a strong debut feature that looks absolutely gorgeous, mostly thanks to Benoît Debie, the DoP behind films like Vinyan, Enter the Void and Spring Breakers. I’ll say this much: it’s better than anything James Franco has ever directed, and Gosling is at least trying to do something artful and different, which we should be encouraging in any emerging filmmaker, instead of snarkily mocking him for it.
When Animals Dream (dir. Jonas Alexander Arnby)
This film was totally mis-marketed as a horror film. It’s not one. It’s a completely stunning and deeply moving drama about how the difficulties of being a young woman and growing up in a repressive small community. When strange things begin to happen to 16 year old Marie’s body, she starts to learn that her family has bigger secrets than she ever realized, and that perhaps her heavily sedated mother is not a helpless invalid but something else entirely – something that she too is now becoming. A great metaphor for how women’s power is often suppressed for “their own good” because men don’t know how to cope with it. A very different transformation / coming of age story than Ginger Snaps, but dealing with some similar issues.
White God (dir. Kornél Mundruczó)
A very, very odd film about a girl and her dog. The first half plays out like an urban Hungarian Incredible Journey. Precocious 12-year old Lili is separated from her beloved dog, Hagen, a lively mutt who goes on a wild adventure trying to find his way back to her. After Hagen falls into the hands of some bad guys, the film takes an unexpected turn. The final act is straight out of the grimmest revenge film, as Hagen goes on a bloody rampage (flanked by about 200 other dogs from the city pound) to punish everyone who’s ever wronged him. I couldn’t tell: was this an art house film with magic realism elements, or was it a genre film that leaves an insane number of loose ends and open questions? Either way, it has to be seen to be believed.
Monday May 19
Started the day with a meeting with a couple of guys who are trying to woo Colin to work for their new festival. In addition to TIFF, don’t worry, he’s not leaving the Midnight Throne. Anyway, we’ve talked to them a few times, and the last meeting we had made us worry that their expectations and plans were a little too ambitious for what one can reasonably expect to accomplish for a new upstart on the festival scene. We (foolishly!) believed we’d talked them down from their Mount Everest-sized dreams, but alas. Being in Cannes with the pixie dust of Hollywood Glamour™ in their eyes probably didn’t help, either. What seemed like a cool opportunity was looking more and more like someone’s kooky pipe dream. C’est la vie. Dreams are born and die fast on la Croisette!
My advice to anyone thinking about starting a film festival is simple. If you’re doing it for any reason other than a genuine desire to show the films you love to other people (because you actually, y’know, care about films), then you are in it for the wrong reasons and should probably get out now.
Sneak preview of how my night ended (and because I’m determined to keep posting pictures of the man who says he hates pictures – the cutie in the middle):
Next up was a quick trip to the market (via the apartment, because I managed to leave both my badge and my wallet at home, like a champ) for a private screening of an American indie comedy that Colin was roped into seeing in a tiny screening room built for maybe six people in one of the larger booth / offices in the Palais. The film wasn’t terribly funny, and the cool-factor of going to a screening that was organized just for us wore off after about 15 minutes. After all, when you’re alone in the theatre, you can’t slip out after half an hour when you’ve determined the film is not for you.
We went for a walkabout to check out a few companies on the Palais floor who we hadn’t met with before. One young company with a roster of so-so looking horror films was shocked that Colin didn’t think their I Know What You Did Last Summer-esque film didn’t feel like a fit for Midnight Madness to him. He tried to explain why something like You’re Next did work while this film might not, and they seemed puzzled. “Is it the home invasion thing?” one asked. There are so many passionate people in this business, but there are also a lot of folks who don’t seem to care about actual movies. It’s odd, and yet, see above, on the topic of “starting a festival, reasons to”.
My nugget of wisdom for all you aspiring film industry types out there is this. If you’re getting into the world of film festivals, or film sales, or distribution, or filmmaking itself, and if you’re interested in working in a particular genre (horror is an easy example, but it works for others too), then do your research before plunging in. You don’t have to know the ins & outs of every festival, and you don’t have to have seen every film. But at least look up the basics so that you don’t sound totally clueless when you’re talking to people who might be in a position to actually help you. It’s easy to google festivals that you want to submit your film to and find out whether they accept short films, or how many films (approximately) they program each year, or whatever. Do the work. You will seem 100% more professional if you do.
In the afternoon we met with the lovely folks at Epic Pictures, who recently picked up Another, the latest Ultra 8 Pictures acquisition. When I say acquisition, I don’t mean that we’re becoming distributors, or anything like that. I just mean we’re helping this orphan in much the same way as we did Manborg and The Demon’s Rook, with festival strategy, sales/distribution strategy (and matchmaking) and social media (we’ve got super-whiz Johnny Bunning on the case). Not to mention sage advice based mostly on Colin’s 13+ years of experience in the industry.
Screen Daily picked up the story about Epic snapping up Another. You can read it here.
In the afternoon we had another one of those private screenings in a room built for six. It too was sadly not a standout. Luckily, we managed to wipe all mediocre-movie-memories from our minds with the evening screening of Jim Mickle’s Cold in July. I can’t imagine this gem not making it to my best of the year list. Beautiful performances by Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson (that man has really still got it) and masterful directing from Jim. The film’s based on a book by Joe R. Lansdale, who was also in attendance. I’ve never seen Colin more starstruck as when he saw this white haired author step into the room. Cutest!
Sidenote: Got to see my absolute favourite translator, the woman who handles all the Directors’ Fortnight films. I blogged about her last year too, because she’s so fab. She always wears these frumpy yet effortlessly cool outfits and looks incredibly stylish and hot in them, and she never needs to write anything down and translates perfectly no matter how long the guests talk for. At this screening, everyone said a few words, in turn, and when it got to the end of the line, Don Johnson started by asking the audience to give her a round of applause for her mad skills (I am paraphrasing, though I do kind of wish Don Johnson had said the phrase “mad skills”). So, anyway. I’m not the only one who thinks she rules. Don agrees.
Went to Papa Nino’s for dinner (yes, again) with Maria (Estonia’s brightest firecracker) and then to The Station (Cannes’ most divey dive bar) for the annual Fantasia karaoke party, where I did not sing, but watched pals belt tunes, drank beer, and chatted about movies with a whole lot of lovely folk. Forget the glamour of the beach parties, with their bouncers and DJs and women in ten inch heels. This party is where everyone who I love on the festival circuit is most likely to be found, and it’s the most relaxed and friendly vibe within miles of the Croisette.
I was totally planning to go home after last call (Colin was tired and left a bit earlier) but the siren call of the Petit Majestic was too strong, and I got dragged along. The Petit (and the little place up the street from it) don’t seem to care much about observing last call laws, so it was probably 4:30am before I found myself strolling home with Ivy Lam, who is the mastermind behind my favourite annual Cannes & Berlin event, “Awesome Ladies Club”. I’ll be having oysters with a bunch of cool lady producers (and assorted other film mavens) later this week. You’ll hear all about it.