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The biggest kerfuffle in Cannes has been the dress code and the shocking revelation that many women (of a certain age, to some observers) were turned away from the red carpet because they were not wearing high heeled shoes.
As many know, the evening screenings of the films in competition at Cannes are formal affairs. Tickets state dress code as tenue de soiree, that is, evening dress and smoking, as in a tuxedo. And everyone who has a ticket (or invitation, as they are delicately called here) has to walk the red carpet and climb the steps up to the Lumière Theater. The carpet is monitored by security who appear to be the original fashion police: if you are not dressed up to code, they will turn you away, invitation or non.
This correspondent has been witness to such tragedies: in one of my first years at Cannes, I saw a man, impeccably dressed in a chocolate Armani suit which fit him like a glove. Everything matched, from his tie to his shoes. But because the shoes were brown and the tie was not a bow tie, he was expelled from the line in short order. It should be noted that I witnessed this close up: I was standing right behind him in wide black “palazzo” pants, shiny only because they were old, and was wearing flats - yes flats - they had holes in the back (they were hand-me-downs), but big rhinestones on the front. I was quickly shown the way to the red carpet. Go figure.
I have always held that women could play it a bit faster and looser in the evening wear department. Men had to have that bow tie, while women could get away with cocktail length dresses, nice pants and, yes, flats. I have seen some quite inelegant outfits parade down the carpet. But let’s face it, many of the people walking these carpets are working stiffs - journalists, film programmers and the like. Many of them are dressed up because the evening screening is the only one they can attend, so they do the bare minimum.
Back on this year’s carpet, some men were also getting refused because of their shoes. One producer had silver sparkly loafers (very of the moment). But he was almost refused entry until a well-known distributor vouched for him. Another angle to this is that if you are with a film, it is difficult for security to turn you away - Christine Vachon, of Killer Films and producer of Todd Haynes’ film Carol in the competition, posted a photo of the big, black, bulky boots she wore to the film’s red carpet premiere last week.
The festival brass said this was not really a big problem (and Festival director Thierry Fremaux finally said definitely that heels are not required for the red carpet). But even the cast of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario - Emily Bunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro - had to comment. Blunt decried that women should just wear flats (although she showed up on the carpet in heels), while the menfolk threatened to wear heels themselves on the red carpet (never happened). This was the faux pas that would not go away.
In fact, I like getting dressed up for the movies. For a long time, opening night of the New York Film Festival was black tie and it seemed to bestow a certain respect on the films and the filmmakers: you and your film are valuable, are worthy. But we can’t be fanatics about it. May years ago in New York, the film commission from one the Carolinas threw a black tie party for the New York Film Festival at the Russian Tea Room. Very fancy. I helped at the door since the people from down South didn’t know who most (ok, all) of the guests where. A guy showed up in black jeans, black turtleneck, black leather jacket, says hi to me and walks in. The film commission rep was about to run after him and throw in out (no tuxedo). I had to point out to him that the transgressor was filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. I think he’s cool enough!
Times change, and so do styles. If, in fact, you (as in a festival’s administration) decide that the highest elegant standards must be upheld, then do two things: Distribute a VERY detailed fact sheet for festival attendees - with visual aids - telling them what they can and cannot wear on the carpet (caveat: flats MUST be permitted). And on the carpet itself, don’t have security be the style arbiter - have actual stylists at all the entries to give a thumbs up or thumbs down!
Okay, that’s a bit tongue in cheek (especially the stylist part). But it seemed that the protocol office didn’t know whether or not there was a “no flats” policy. Here at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, one would hope that the entire staff was on the same page. After all, they’ve had 68 years to practice.
The Measure of a Man
It was just at the half way mark of this year’s Cannes that I saw what to me is the performance of the festival. Vincent Lindon in Stephane Brize’s The Measure of a Man gives one of the most compelling performances I’ve seen in a long time. Timothy Spall gave a wonderful, larger than life portrait of JMW Turner last year (and won the best actor award here), but Lindon portrays a true everyman in a remarkably controlled performance.
In Cannes’ “year of the woman” some of the most affecting acting is coming from men. In addition to Lindon, Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are marvelous as long time friends and artists (the former a composer; the latter a film director) who mull over their own impending end of days in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth.
Colin Farrell gives a well-tempered performance as a man in a society a bit in the future (but might as well be today) who must marry or be turned into an animal (yes, you read that correctly) in Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark, dark comedy The Lobster. Hungarian actor Geza Röhrig leaves an indelible impression as a concentration camp prisioner in Son of Saul, by first time Hungarian director Lázló Nemes.
Over in Un Certain Regard, Matthias Schoenaerts plays a French Army veteran with post-traumatic stress syndrome after a tour in Afghanistan in Alice Winocur’s Maryland (Disorder). His character must deal with his personal demons while guarding the family of a shady businessman. In another film dealing with the war in Afghanistan, Jérémie Renier is superb as a squad captain struggles to find some of his soldiers who have literally disappeared from the face of the earth in Critics Week selection The Wakhan Front by Clément Cogitore, making his feature film debut.
Not all of these actors are eligible for the Best Actor award – only those in competition films have a shot. As good as they are, neither Schoenaerts nor Renier will see the award; their films are in other sections. But my top choice is M. Lindon. He has a long and wide filmography and though his name might not be recognizable, chances are you’ve seen him in a number of films, if you go for the French ones.
Other big names are certainly represented in the competition: Vincent Cassel gives a wild turn as a sex-starved king in Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, his compendium of medieval fairy tales. Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanable wander Gus van Sant’s The Sea of Trees trying to find a way out (from the forest, or from life?), while Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro play colleagues but also antagonists to Emily Blunt’s FBI agent in Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario.
Gerard Depardieu plays opposite Isabelle Huppert as exes trying to reconnect with their dead son in Death Valley in Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley of Love. And, though the film hasn’t played yet in the festival, everyone is looking forward to seeing Michael Fassbender’s interpretation of the lead role in the Scottish play, as Justin Kurzel brings Macbeth to the screen again.
More performances to come, and there will be female performances to address as well. As each film unspools (actually, only one short film in Directors’ Fortnight was on 35mm and actually unspooled), the favorites and the odds change.
Never let your guard down in Cannes. Nineteen years and you think you can handle it all. Then: you take a header – splat! – right on the Croisette, spraining your leg, knee to foot. But at least nothing’s broken; not even your sunglasses or your iphone, both of which went flying.
Just when you have that under control (get band-aids, antibacterial ointment, ace bandage – or French equivalent – and so on) and you can take care of it all without professional assistance (ie, a doctor), you realize your credit card has been stolen and the miscreants tried to charge over $5,000 in a half hour. Now you need the professionals - that is, your bank. The rest of the festival will be an all-cash affair.
Somehow this intrepid correspondent still managed to take in a number of films. While waiting for the bank to get on the line, there was time to consider themes and trends in what has played in Cannes so far. It’s only the third day of the festival: what can a dozen or so films tell us about the world as we know it?
History certainly looms large, and the Holocaust is never far from our minds. Competition film Son of Saul, a first feature by Hungarian director Lázló Nemes (eligible for both Palme d’or and Camera d’or) tells an original WWII tale of a Jew in a camp who tries to get one murdered boy a proper burial.
Actress Natalie Portman’s first directorial turn, A Tale of Love and Darkness, screened out of competition, puts images to author Amos Oz’ memoir of the birth of Israel. Portman also plays Oz’ mother, so we see the nation take shape through the stories she tells her son and his observations of his mother as she navigates the new country they are forming.
Politics and world events are the background for Arnaud Desplechin’s film My Golden Days which played in the Directors’ Fortnight. While the film is a memoir of young love and its lasting effect, when our protagonist (Mathieu Almaric is the adult Paul Dédalus) is stopped at the border coming back to France after years abroad, he relates how, as a teenager, he helped Jewish “refusniks” and carried out a dangerous mission while on a school trip to Moscow. The past is present, indeed.
Finally, even a new film that evokes the French New Wave – Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, which opened the Directors’ Fortnight – has shades of the war (as in WWII) on its fringe. Actually the story of a couple in love who make low budget documentaries. Each has an affair, but they don’t want to leave one another. Très français, non? The film is in black and white, and there are many shots of characters walking down Parisian streets (which certainly reminds me of la Nouvelle Vague). I may be making light, but I’m not putting the film down; it’s a lovely, light love story.
Oh – and the war angle? One of their subjects, a resistance fighter, turns out to have made up his exploits! Hmmm. Sounds familiar? Sounds contemporary? Europeans are still very preoccupied with World War II and with good reason, just as we in New York will be forever linked with 9/11. And there have been more than a few French who want to be associated with the Resistance, since they turned out to be on the winning side. As we have journalists now who want their own modern-day war coverage to be more exciting than it may have been.
Other groups of films will focus on other elements – whether as a major plot line or something on the side. No matter what the story is, there will always be reality grace notes.
As Sitting in a park in Paris, France… cue up Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album (get well soon, Joni). Sitting in that park in Paris after screening a couple of Cannes Film Festival titles (sales agents often have early screenings in Paris before the festival starts), one starts to salivate, wanting to see more and more films.
As I write this (now in Cannes), final preparations are underway before the festival begins tomorrow. Carpets are being nailed into place – both inside and outside the Palais. Journalists and film professionals are scurrying to the accreditation office to pick up their badges. Then everyone will take a deep breath before the races begin, and it does seem like a race. There never seems to be time to stop, reorganize yourself, and shift your screening priorities. (They shoot critics, don’t they?)
In terms of the festival slate, the number of veteran filmmakers with works in this year’s program is staggering. The official competition boasts names such as Kore-eda, Garrone, Moretti, Van Sant, Haynes (as in Todd), Trier (as in Joachim, who is approaching veteran status), Paolo Sorrentino, Jia Zhang-ke, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Denis Villeneuve (who had two films in release in the U.S. last year). Ahem, we won’t mention the lack of women’s names here – certainly no “veteran” female directors are gracing the competition, but that’s another article.
In other sections, masters such as Woody Allen take a bow without the stress of a competition slot. Naomi Kawase opens Un Certain Regard and the lineup in that sections features a new film by past Palme d’or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul (remember that name and learn how to pronounce it; in a few years – if not now – you will be glad you did).Bold face names of the auteurist kind, Arnaud Desplechin and Philippe Garrel, both make appearances in the Directors’ Fortnight. Why Desplechin’s film, “My Golden Days,” is not in the competition will be the subject of debate in the days to come. And two stars known in front of the camera – Natalie Portman and Louis Garrel (yes, Philippe’s son) – will make their directing debuts on the Croisette: Portman will present A Tale of Love and Darkness out of competition at a special screening, while Garrel’s film “Les deux amis” will bow in the Critics’ Week.
Big names, maybe big films, hopefully big ideas. In the festival’s Classics section, some past movie giants will be remembered with new documentaries, among them Orson Welles, François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock, Ousmane Sembène and Sidney Lumet. All of these names bring me back in Paris, where the Cinématheque Française is currently presenting an exhibition on the life and work of Michelangelo Antonioni. Beautifully mounted, it invites us to take in all aspects of this genuine Master of filmmaking.
From photos taken during production of almost all of his films, to his own abstract paintings to letters, cameras, music that inspired him (or did he inspire it?) and clips of his seminal films, the exhibit is a portrait not only of the man and his work, but the culture and politics of the times. Times which, of course, he prefigured in his films. In fact, I took a very low res (and compromised by the shine of the plexiglass) of a handwritten note to Antonioni from Roland Barthes. I had to capture at least a small portion of correspondence between these two cinematic intellectuals!
The Cinématheque Française and critics write of Antonioni and his heirs. How many of these heirs will we discover – or rediscover – on the Croisette this spring? This is the beauty of the Cannes Film Festival: the conversation of images that will take place for twelve days in which our cinematic past can connect with its future.
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