Day 3 (Sunday May 20)
The gale-force winds and torrential downpours have continued now pretty much since I arrived, and everyone’s saying it’ll be at least Tuesday before we see a sunny day again, so I’ve resigned myself to being cold and wet all the time. I didn’t really pack a jacket because this is the south of France. As it turns out, it’s a good ten degrees cooler and infinitely more miserable here than it is in Toronto right now.
I start my day by waking up at the crack of dawn (ok, 8:00am) in order to try to get a ticket for tonight’s red carpet gala, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt. I first encountered the Danish director’s work when TIFF played The Celebration (Festen) in 1998, which is in my opinion easily one of the best films of the 1990s. This is his best film since.
The ticketing system works based on points, and also seniority. Everyone starts out with a certain number of points, based on how long they’ve been attending the festival. A first timer might start out with 100 or so, while someone who’s been coming for a few years has several hundred. From the moment you arrive in Cannes and sign in at the registration desk, you accrue more points (two per hour, up to whatever your personal cap is).
These points can be traded in for hard tickets to the competition films. A gala red carpet screening between 7:00pm to 10:30pm (prime time) costs 100 points. An 8:30am screening might only cost 20. Once you use up your points, you have to wait for them to build up again before you can order more tickets. The window of time for ticket ordering opens up for different people at different times. For example, my husband, a 12 year veteran of the fest, can pick up gala tickets for tomorrow night right now. I have to wait until tomorrow at 8:00am to make my attempt, and hope that it’s not sold out yet.
And one final hitch. Tickets are connected to your pass and are scanned at the door, so the festival knows whether your ticket was used or not. If you get a ticket and don’t end up using it, you’re penalized. Your points plummet and you’re out of luck for any more tickets for a couple of days.
Complicated, right? Anyway, this time, I succeeded. I reserved my ticket for The Hunt and headed to the market to catch some horror films with a friend. Since the main purpose of the market is to help films get bought and sold, these screenings don’t count as “world premieres” and press aren’t supposed to write about them (indeed, the press are sometimes banned from market screenings altogether, and buyers are often given priority over other audience types).
I waltz into an American horror flick called The Collection and only later find out that it was an ‘invite only’ screening to which I should not have gained entry. The producer even comes out before it begins to ask everyone to refrain from talking about the film publicly after the screening. Fair enough. I won’t tell you a thing about it.
There’s something about the vibe of Cannes that makes me feel like I’m a few steps behind, constantly. There’s just so much to see and do, so many national pavilions hosting happy hours, so many market screenings, so many meetings and dinners and parties to attend that it can be a bit overwhelming. There are thousands of people on the streets constantly, and everyone is always rushing.
Even though I have a pretty light day, I still feel a bit harried when I race back to the apartment to change into a formal dress before The Hunt. A black tie dress code is strictly enforced at all red carpet screenings in the evening. No need to pull out the tux at noon, but if you show up at 7:00pm without a bow tie, you will be turned away, ticket or no ticket.
Waiting in the rain under a tiny umbrella for an hour in a wispy formal dress is a pretty miserable experience. I was completely soaked when I finally got to my seat in the second-to- last row of the balcony, but the enormous screen and excellent sound system in the Lumière pretty much guarantee that there are no bad seats (which is incredible, because there are 2300 of them). The Hunt, for the record, is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. Mads Mikkelsen (who’s so badass in films like Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising and Pusher) puts in a career-defining performance as an ordinary guy whose life is turned upside down because of a child’s impulsive lie. So, I guess it was worth that hour spent in the rain?
I end the night at Cannes’ only dive bar, a place called the Station Tavern (it’s near the train station, hence the name, and it’s a regular pub, with actual beers on tap, which is pretty rare in this land of wine and … more wine). Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to go someplace that reminds you of home.
Day 4 (Monday May 21)
Today’s highlight is an event called “Master and Son”, a panel discussion between David and Brandon Cronenberg, both of whom have films playing in the festival, and moderated by TIFF’s own Cameron Bailey. I recently wrote an article for Toronto Film Scene about the early films of David Cronenberg and a publicist emailed me as a result, asking if I’d like to attend the discussion in Cannes (she’s a friend-of- a-friend and she already knew I was going to Cannes, but still).
I’ve now officially missed four chances to see Antiviral (unlike the competition screenings, films in sidebars like Un Certain Regard don’t have hard tickets, so you have to line up for hours to secure a seat) because it’s been a madhouse. Cosmopolis doesn’t screen until the festival’s final weekend, and I could not be more excited.
While David Cronenberg is funny, charming and totally at ease in front of a crowd, his son Brandon fidgets & is visibly uncomfortable with the amount of attention he’s getting. Once could almost see the two as a before and after image of the same introverted man, who’s simply gotten used to the spotlight after 40 years of living in it. The best moments coming from Cronenberg Sr, who tells one reporter (who wanted to know about the obsessions and inner demons that drive him to make the kinds of films he makes), “It’s a joy. No matter how scary a movie might be it’s a real joy in creating something, a playfulness. It’s not demons. I have no demons. Zero.”
He also talks a lot about Toronto, and about the importance to him of not moving to LA because he wanted to live somewhere where movies aren’t the ‘only thing’. He contrasts his choice with that of his friend and fellow Canadian Ivan Reitman (and his son, director Jason Reitman). And while there’s no judgment in his words or tone, it’s clear that he’s happy to not have “LA kids”, as he refers to the children of his colleagues in Hollywood.
After the Cronenberg experience, I attend another few horror screenings in the market. Only one is worth mentioning – a highly enjoyable supernatural killer clown comedy from Ireland called Stitches. I laughed throughout.
In the evening, we attend a fancy dinner at one of the town’s better (or at least more famous and chichi) pizza places, La Pizza (seriously, what is it with this town and pizza?), then attempt to stop in at a couple of cocktail parties before going to see Takashi Miike’s For Love’s Sake (Ai To Makoto). It’s a sort of action / romance / musical (the songs are really catchy, the fights well choreographed). Unfortunately, the film is over two hours long and starts at 12:30, so by the midway point, I find myself dozing off. All this “getting up at 8:00am, running around until midnight” stuff is getting to me. And enjoyable though the Miike film totally is, I’m not sure the Cannes programmers understand the concept of a ‘midnight film’ very well. Their selections aren’t exactly designed to perk people up and keep them awake at the end of a long day.