Cannes Diary – A Room with a View

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.

Father ad son

Father ad son

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.

Oranges and coffee

Oranges and coffee

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.

My pals the pigeons

My pals the pigeons

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.

Coffee

Coffee

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.

Orange WiFi lounge

Orange WiFi lounge

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.

Lady

Lady

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.

Olives

Olives

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.

17 Comments on this Post

  1. Cameron

    Lovely piece Sasha. Being an ex patriot myself I too miss my family and friends back home be I also love the opportunities that being in Europe offers. Haven’t made it to Cannes (or anywhere in France outside of Paris) yet but I certainly hope to do so in the near future. Enjoy your stay and I look forward to more of your writings.

  2. The French bread is to die for. It was mandatory eating for me when I visited Paris last June. Screw the end result of tighter pants. ;)

    I’m very, very intrigued by the positive reviews of Mr. Turner. Glad you enjoyed it too.

  3. Bryce Forestieri

    Will be reading your piece after GODZILLA, but in the meantime…

    OT: Public Service: We’re getting Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and >>>>ALL THAT JAZZ<<<< Blu-rays from Criterion in August. Try not to disrupt your surroundings.

  4. Your writing and pictures from Cannes are always a joy, Sasha, a true joy and one of the gems of this website.

    Btw, do you have a schedule for the festival this year? I remember you posted a Grand Lumiere screening schedule last year in one of your Cannes preview posts. Just so we can get a look at a rough order of screening for the competition films.

  5. Bryce…already disrupted. Sitting in IMAX waiting for Godzilla to start and what gets me more excited? Y Tu Mama Tambien on Criterion. Thank you!

  6. Ah blu-ray.com you sly devil Bryce

  7. Lorece

    Thank You so much Sasha for your Cannes Diaries! I’ll be leaving for Cannes tomorrow for the first time and you have been the inspiration along the way as I prepare!

  8. Bryce Forestieri

    You got it, Kane.

    And what a picture GODZILLA was. I can’t wait to see it again. I’ll be commenting on it here and there because I fell in love with it, and maybe to rebut misconceptions if they make any sense at all. Artful, rousing and emotional. I hope it gets nominations for Best VFX, Both Sound categories, and I hope they consider the score (I know they won’t); Desplat tends to be recognized not for his best work, imo. This year they have the Evans film and BUDAPEST HOTEL to choose from! Best compliment I can pay right now is that I didn’t think I’d be able to concentrate thinking about how great INTERSTELLAR’s new trailer was, but GODZILLA sucked right in.

  9. daveinprogress

    Lovely piece Sasha and a vivid postcard as you truly find it. I feel your disorientation and yet compelling push to take in as much as you can.
    There’s a sea of loyal readers wishing you onwards and upwards movie wise and travel wise. Take good care of you too.

  10. I’ll be commenting on it here and there because I fell in love with it

    I loved it too. Guess I’d better whip up a write-up so we’ll have a page where fans and foes can assemble. (Won’t be till early tomorrow morning though).

    The Interstellar trailer was nicely timed foreplay.

  11. Bryce Forestieri

    Glad to hear you liked, Ryan. I knew it was a matter of time before I had to make an impassioned defense of Aaron Taylor Johnson’s acting chops.

    “I feel less conviction for the croissant which”

    Bullshit TRIVIA: What was the last film In Competition at Cannes to feature the pastry? Or at least mention it…

    “While the French seem generally better looking than the rest of us”

    They’re alright.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBSCHj95S9Y

  12. Bullshit TRIVIA: What was the last film In Competition at Cannes to feature the pastry?

    Lars von Cronutberg’s Anticroissant

  13. Bryce Forestieri

    I believe the actual answer is Christophe Honore’s LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR, unless someone knows better, but I think I’m right!

  14. Sasha Stone

    Thanks Cameron, Simone, Lorece and Dave. Appreciate it. To the Godzilla fans — really? Do we need a Godzilla open thread or something?

  15. JPNS Viewer

    Sasha

    Another great read as usual.
    Kudos!

    As for the French bread, myself a Francophile of sort [by NO means an expert; not bragging, just relating to what I’m about to write], I’ve read online from noteworthy English-language websites about French pop culture and the likes sporadically and, if I’m not mistaken, understand that French people in general like their bread fresh and purchase it #daily, perhaps even twice a day. So, I venture, bread, despite being extremely common in the West, must have been something additionally special to them. Even some sort of symbol — commendably speaking.

    Anyway, I’m also looking forward to Mr. Turner. I’m hoping it’s as good as Topsy-Turvy.

    “[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.]”

    LOL . . . . Gotta luv the friendly thrust u gave 2 Wells.
    Jeff is a Samurai poet; he’s never easily tired of anything — . . . well, reportedly, except people with hairy legs who fancy wearing flip-flops while strolling on a sidewalk, as well as the Blu-rays that come out with un-right aspect ratios according to his nonpareil, mastery ken galore. . . . : )

  16. Sasha, just a review for us nerds to gasm about :)

    Bryce and Ryan, the Interstellar trailer was wicked great! There were a few things that reminded me of The Fountain and I can’t wait to see what visual effects shots we’ll see. I know Nolan likes to do things practically so I’m wondering if he’ll go the Aronofsky route and use microphotography for some of the visual effects.

  17. Lovely post. The food is so simple yet looks so good!

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