Cannes in Times of Terror
This morning Europe woke up with a collective sinking heart. An apparent suicide bombing attack took more than 20 lives at a concert in Manchester. What’s truly scary is that it’s all becoming so familiar and abstract now. How many deaths in Nice again? Paris? Brussels?
Security concerns are definitely felt in Cannes as well. The beautiful Boulevard de la Croisette is barricaded this way and that, blocking crowds hoping to get a peek at their favorite stars well away from the glitzy red carpet. You can’t go anywhere in town without noticing the presence of patrolling police and heavily armed soldiers. Before each press screening at the Palais des Festivals, all accredited journalists must go through a metal detector, subject themselves to a thorough bag check and, just before entering the theater, be swiped for who knows what again.
Even so, just last week an evening screening of competition title LE REDOUBTABLE was delayed and hundreds of journalists queuing outside evacuated after the staff found a bag in the bathroom inside. It’s safe to say people are aware of the threats and rightfully nervous.
In the shadow of such tragedy, where innocent people saw their lives abruptly, senselessly ended, one must ask: what are we doing here talking about movies? But I digress.
Without the light jazz that usually greets waiting press in the theater, the screening this morning of Japanese director Naomi Kawase’s latest drama RADIANCE started off on a decidedly sober note. As we’re transported to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo accompanied by some blandly pleasant movie music, one anticipates with alarm the sight of something syrupy that’s going to seem particularly inappropriate today.
Luckily RADIANCE turned out to have something rather poignant to say, the admittedly sincere if less than artful forms of expression notwithstanding. Starring Ayame Misaki as a young woman working in the audio description of films for the visually impaired and Masatoshi Nagase as a photographer who’s losing his sight, the film touches on the essence of communication and the subjective nature of art I find captivating. How do you describe something to someone with enough details to help them picture it but without giving too much away so as to not limit or intrude on their own free imagination/interpretation?
This is obviously the most critical question to ask when translating an inherently visual medium for the blind. But don’t filmmakers themselves need to contend with the same issue when they try to get any idea or emotion across through their work? Don’t all storytellers? At the heart of the film’s somewhat heavy-handedly relayed message is a plea for empathy, the capacity and readiness to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. Live their experience, understand their struggles. As one character puts it, the reason she appreciates cinema is that it connects her to the lives of other people and allows her to interpret the lives of those people, which in turn helps her live.
In a world increasingly marked by division, hateful isolation and inevitable mistrust, I found myself struck by the profound modesty of this statement. Therein I also see the value of the gloriously elaborate hassle that’s Cannes, where perspectives, viewpoints, life stories are shared and celebrated.
One such unique story is certainly being told in Sean Baker’s THE FLORIDA PROJECT, premiering here in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar. Set among several low-rent motels near the Disney World Orlando, it follows 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) as she spends one stickily hot summer with her friends navigating a world of wonders and disappointments. The kids, usually without any adult supervision as their parents either work five jobs or are too fucked-up to work at all, steal, lie, trick their way around the impoverished neighborhood like bosses. That they don’t have any money, their parents can barely put food on the table each night never seems to even register. The most dodgy-looking places can be their playground and everything is a game.
The film is much less structured than Baker’s last feature, the critically acclaimed TANGERINE, consisting predominantly of loose episodes of Moonee and her friends’ adventures. The scenes feel and most likely are improvised, giving them a sizzling energy that (often literally) screams authenticity and speaks volumes about the protagonists’ furiously nomadic way of life. From a narrative point of view, however, this doesn’t always make for an engaging ride.
For its truthful, freewheeling, visually and tonally colorful portrayal of the American underclass, THE FLORIDA PROJECT would seem like a shoo-in for the Spirit Awards. Bria Vinaite, who turns in a storm of a performance as Moonee’s mother and Willem Dafoe, who plays the kind-hearted, steadfastly multitasking motel manager, are also bona fide contenders. Ditto Prince, whose one devastating scene at the end should guarantee her many young performer accolades.
In spite of the horrors of our times – heck, exactly because of them – hear each others’ stories, find out something about those you don’t know, go see a movie.