The second day of the Cannes film festival put me in the fog of sleep. All of my moving parts shut down. My eyelids kept closing. My head dropped continually. There was no use fighting it. I lay down and let the sleep I needed take me over. It was either that or start hallucinating. The noises outside my window continually reminded me that life was continuing out there without me. A day wasted is a day wasted, whether the sun is out or not. The birds continued to whip their aerodynamic bodies down the cavern that was my street — up and back, up and back. Pigeons landed and cooed, seagulls squawked at the day, just because.
Settling into this festival is a process of making continual mundane decisions. This screening or that. Sleep now or later. Eat out or eat in. What is the best use of the limited time available? I’d gone to the market earlier and picked up a crude collection of items to “cook” back at the flat. A can of whole peeled tomatoes, salt and pepper, Herbes de Provence. Spaghetti. That was dinner. A glass of red wine closed out the night. Instead of TV I watch the birds speeding by my window, crying, screaming, fighting for territory, mates or food.
The one thing you should never do is come to France and not eat bread. France is many things at once. But the bread here is like the beach in California. It is the best the country has to offer and if you skip it to count calories you’re not worthy to come here at all. There is nothing quite like that hard crack of the crust meeting feathery insides. The baking process has been perfected for generations. This is why the baguette is such a constant here, popping out of shopping bags, sometimes being consumed on the street. They are made fresh here every day and if you’re smart you can get them early enough to really taste their splendor.
I feel less conviction for the croissant which, though supremely delicious, really is a recipe for disaster if you are trying to watch your calories. Although let it be known that the pastry at Starbucks with the least amount of calories is the croissant. So you really should be eating those, too, when you come here, unless you’re moving towards becoming a vegan then by all means skip the croissants.
I had an early morning wake-up call to the Grand Lumière for a screening of Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. This was my first ever experience in the big theater with the pink badge. My first year at Cannes I had the dreaded yellow badge. I invoked the class system and the French revolution and got upgraded to blue. This year, I requested pink and got it. Now I feel like a courtesan of Louis IV with my class privilege and all. Being able to see films down in the orchestra is the big difference, aside from having a little extra time not waiting in line. Seeing them from the balcony is certainly not bad.
Mike Leigh is a master of cinema. I knew this going in. Even compared to the many brilliant films from last year’s Oscar race, none of them had what Mr. Turner has: meticulous old school attention to period detail. Such a rich and odd experience seeing this film that it reminded me once again of the power of cinema, the power to transform the day by watching someone at the top of their game, as Leigh is here. Very few directors achieve this ever in their careers but when they do, there is nothing quite like it.
This was the first day I could feel the pangs of homesickness work through me like nausea. The panic of leaving a child behind, or even a lover, can start to mess with your head. Some come here to Cannes and they never want to leave. They feel like the screaming birds — freedom in flight with nothing but open caverns waiting for them. But for me everything I love is waiting for me back home and so I start counting the days until I can get back on a plane to see them. In the end, maybe life is all about human relationships for some of us. It certainly wasn’t that way for Mr. Turner, whose beautiful work determined how he spent his hours on earth. People were valued but ultimately expendable in that pursuit.
But the privilege of seeing the film, with my hair still damp from the morning shower, feeling wide awake from the walk down to the Lumière through that crisp salty air I know this is part of what defines happiness too. We humans get to create art. That is the best thing we do, other than help ourselves and others. Every shot in Mr. Turner reminded me why I came to Cannes, why I come every year, and why this part of the year in film matters so much. I will be watching out for Mr. Turner, wondering if it will have the same ultimate fate as Leigh’s Another Year, which took Cannes by storm then failed to stir the Oscar voters in any way. What a shame if that happens again. What a shame for the Academy to overlook that kind of creative mind in a business that is becoming like the highways of America — limited choices, fast food.
I found a seat in the newly remodeled wi-fi room amid the familiar faces of international journalists who come here to write about film and the business of film. Mike Leigh’s press conference was beginning. There was just enough time to chat with Steve Pond, who is here for the first time with The Wrap, find a seat next to Living in Cinema’s Craig Kennedy and give Thompson on Hollywood’s Anne T a kiss on the cheek. Shortly after that I would see her take a cell phone shot of the Leigh press conference. After she left I would whip out my phone and do the same thing, shamelessly copying her diligence.
The wi-fi room still provides as much free coffee as you can drink, delivering it in tiny paper cups with a small plastic spoons. Most Europeans here take sugar in their black coffee. Coffee with milk is a morning thing. The young men and women who work the counter and provide help seem to have sprung forth from an Abercrombie ad. They are astonishingly beautiful, juxtaposed against the scruffed-up journalists hunched over their keyboards. One such French journalist sat next to me, dropping his Lucky Strike cigarette pack near my computer. I looked over at him, with his long blonde hair and chiseled jawline. He would periodically get up and smoke out on the balcony. They all still smoke here in Cannes. Being American, one frowns on the deadly addiction but in France they are all still happily trapped in a 1960s Godard film.
While the French seem generally better looking than the rest of us, one thing that I’ll never get tired of here is how the women don’t fall victim to the shame many American women have in getting older. Most French women continue to dress in sexy, body revealing attire into their 60s and 70s. They didn’t get the memo that society prefers them to be age appropriate at best, invisible at worst. Perhaps that is why French men, particularly here in the South of France continue to eyeball women my age. It’s always an ego boost, that. Coming here is a way of redefining how one sees oneself as not diminished in the eyes of the opposite sex as our time begins to run out. If only this virus could spread to America. We live amid insanity in the States. We have all fully accept the lies we’ve been told about our attractiveness. This drives the diet, cosmetic and fashion industries which in turn boosts the economy. The only ones who pay are the women who often feel that their shelf life has expired before their 50th birthday. But not here. Women are desired at almost every age.
At 2pm I settled in for the Israeli film Loin de Mon Pére, one of the few in the Un Certain Regard competition directed by a woman. It was such a distressing sit, playing out just the one note of incestuous relations, that after a while I began to hate it with as much passion as I loved Mr. Turner. Then I began to wonder if I could muster up any decent words for the film, because it was directed by a woman and women filmmakers need all the help they can get.
I left the screening in a darker mood than I walked into it. That is the Cannes experience, too. Hating a screening so much it can almost ruin your day because you’d give anything to get those two hours back.
I tried to shake it off by walking through the marketplace, watching the dogs and children bathing in the sunlight. I picked up some bread, tomatoes and strawberries and headed back to the flat. I knew it wouldn’t be long until sleep overcame me again, even though Jeff Wells was telling me I needed to go out. That Jeff Wells. He is never tired. But I was tired. I was tired from jet lag, tired from having a heavy heart and missing my loved ones, and tired from worrying about women filmmakers who are trying so hard to be heard and recognized. We don’t want the male critics to do us any favors by pretending our bad movies are good movies. That condescending pat on the back only worsens things.
After three solid hours of sleep I woke up with a lighter heart. Those birds won’t let you wallow in despair for too long. Tomorrow, Atom Egoyan, a lunch with Mike Leigh and his actors, and a first look at the Weinstein Co. slate. I can’t stop now. I reached for one of those tiny red juicy strawberries and let it burst open in my mouth.
The taste of it reminded me of what potentially awaits, out there on the streets of Cannes. The beach at sunset. Street music. Sharp rosé. Though my heart and mind are still on Los Angeles time, my senses are reminding me to enjoy Cannes as one might a familiar but temporary lover. You know it well by now and that is precisely why it feels so good.