One of the frustrations of Cannes can be missing out on the most talked about movie, which happened to be with Blue is the Warmest Color (French title, “La Vie D’Adele Chapitres 1 et 2”). Because of the film’s intense sexual scenes it was all anyone could talk about, though critics were also saying it was deeply moving and the festival’s only masterpiece. You couldn’t find any male critics with a negative thing to say about it — graphic, titillating, moving. But it suddenly occurred to me that there weren’t many, if any, female critics ringing in. Why was that? Then came the realization: There just aren’t that many female critics left.
However, Manohla Dargis of the NY Times did write up her thoughts:
However sympathetic are the characters and Ms. Exarchopoulos, who produces prodigious amounts of tears and phlegm along with some poignant moments, Mr. Kechiche registers as oblivious to real women. He’s as bad as the male character who prattles on about “mystical” female orgasms and art without evident awareness of the barriers female artists faced or why those barriers might help explain the kind of art, including centuries of writhing female nudes, that was produced.
I suspected ith film might hover more in the uncomfortable realm for many women. The sexual lives of teenage girls is a subject that is mostly avoided here in America, except where it thrives in the porn industry. For young lesbian women I suspect it will be a life-changing film to see — sadly, I didn’t find many LGBT writers on the subject and somehow I doubt this will be the film’s primary target demo. But there is nothing that can be done about it. Sexuality is a complicated subject and filmmakers have mostly covered everything. There isn’t anywhere “new” to go — yet, judging by many of the films showcased at the Cannes film fest, the subject of young female sexuality is one remaining constant, the urgent touchstone in an industry that is mostly built around the tastes of hetero males. And so it goes.
Still, it was a film I very much wanted to see. I suspect my thoughts eventually will lead me back to one question: why a 20 minute graphic sex scene again?
My last day started with a screening of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. Because I needed to get my review out early I had to miss the only available screening of “Blue” — I waited in line but the theater was filling up and time was dwindling. My plan was to get into the Lumiere with 30 minutes to spare so I could open my laptop and quickly write my Nebraska review. But the screening was mostly for those who had invitations. The pink badges naturally got in. The blues were gathered in a small waiting area. I could tell that if I got in I wouldn’t have time to write — it was a tough call but work comes first and I’d promised The Wrap I’d get my review for this film out as soon as possible.
The Nebraska cast and Alexander Payne were having their press conference. There were no journalists around since they were all scrambling to see “Blue” — nothing can get the attention of human beings like sex. You’d think someone was handing out hundred dollar bills the way the press flocked to that movie once word got out that there was actual labia shown.
But that left open the press room for a blue-badged person like myself. I was able to get in for the first time in four years to a major competition film’s press conference. Payne was his usual plain spoken self, always humble to a fault, and never seems to presume that his films mean as much as they do. Somehow it is an even more prominent trait in France than it has been in America the times I’ve heard him speak. But Bruce Dern, who’d brought along his daughter Laura (who worked with Payne on Citizen Ruth), dominated the panel. Also remarkable were the two elderly women who joined Payne to promote Nebraska — a stark contrast to the usual sexy young women who seem omnipresent in the films selections — they are trotted out like decorative bon bons. These women were upwards of 80. That’s something you never see here.
As is his way, Mr. Payne maintains an amused, ironic distance from his characters that may feel as if he’s condescending to them but is more truly an acknowledgment of life’s absurdity. The characters in “Nebraska” are at times ridiculous. They’re also warm, cruel, generous, selfish — in other words, recognizably human.
And while the movie largely hinges on David and Woody, its most vivid performances are from two character actresses: Angela McEwan delivers a flawlessly calibrated wistful performance as a newspaper editor who knows more about Woody than his son does, while June Squibb turns Woody’s hectoring, quietly complicated wife, Kate, into a minor miracle. Mr. Payne makes her a saving grace.
After the press conference, Craig Kennedy from Living in Cinema met me in the wi-fi room to take me to lunch at La Pizza. I’d finished my Nebraska review and sent it off before heading down the Croisette. With the sun out once again the streets filled with people, some with badges swinging from their necks, some without. Every so often you see a pair of high heels stroll by, a tuxedo.
La Pizza is where many of the Americans go to eat in Cannes. You can tell because the portion sizes are bigger than they are anywhere else. The pizza is crispy on the bottom and dripping with cheese. At some of the less tourist-centric pizza places here, the cheese is laid out thinly, more for flavoring than anything else. I got an email saying that The Wrap hadn’t received my review so I spent most of the lunch trying to get iphone to send it out. I checked my computer — no local wi-fi. I was starting to panic. After all, I skipped the most talked about film at the fest just to get my review out on time and it wasn’t sending. At this rate, I could have seen “Blue” and gotten out my review as well. But things never quite go as planned.
I had to run out of La Pizza right after dessert was served — apple tart with whipped cream slathered all over it. I opened up my laptop and waited for the Palais du Festival wi-fi to kick in. It finally did half-way there so I set up a temporary desk on top of a trash can, to the amusement of the restaurant staff dumping empties.
I sent off my review and headed back to the wi-fi room. My last film at Cannes would be Michael Kohlhaas starring Mads Mikkelson. I hurried out of the Palais just in time to stand in line and wait for an hour. It was a lovely way to get a sunburn. The film was as expected — a sumptuous period film all shot in the magic hour. Michael Kohlhaas was a bit of a revolutionary who stood up to the monarchy when he was robbed and mistreated by a member of their family. In the end he is executed. Regretfully, I slept through half of it. There is nothing worse than feeling the giant orb atop your shoulders drop down in involuntary sleep. But there is just no other option in Cannes. Sleep will take you, whether you want it to or not.
I had worked out a plan for staying awake on the last two days I would spend in Cannes. In the morning, on my way down to the Palais from my flat I purchased a single small apple from the fruit seller down the street. It cost under one euro. The produce they sell here is like organic produce in America only at regular price. It looks and rots like real fruit, not swollen to perfection, genetically enhanced superfruit you buy in the US.
Since I was just buying one small apple from the fruit seller every morning, I could see how this personality trait could rapidly snowball into an eccentricity and then might fully bloom into a sign of madness. “Here comes that crazy lady to buy that one apple.”
Still, it was one of the most satisfying things I did in France. You are not encouraged to load up a giant shopping cart here and haul bags of preserved food home. You buy only what you need. One small perfect red/pink apple was all I needed.
I would hide my tiny apple in a secret pocket in my bag. Just before the movie started I would take it out and take one bite. That one bite was as perfect as any bite of an apple I’ve ever had. Spurting with sweetly tart juice, crunchy and crispy, not so big you can’t get your teeth around it or leave half of it unfinished. As soon as I felt sleepy I would take another bite. No food or drink is allowed so I had to keep it all very much under wraps, hard to do with a crunchy apple. And what do you know — the trick did keep me awake, by some miracle.
But on my last day, I’d already eaten my magic apple many hours before Michael Kohlhaas, thus, I fought to stay awake. I lost.
After the film I walked around to the dock where the yachts were having quiet, yellow-lit parties. A band was playing something loud. Crowds gathered around to hear the music, watch the giant moon hang over Mediterranean. A cold wind picked up, a harsh, transforming wind that was telling me it was time to rest in a warm bed, and to say goodbye to Cannes.
I’d seen so many great films, even if the major critics were complaining that there wasn’t a single “Amour” in the bunch — no unequivocal, life-changing cinematic event. That might be true. The reason being, this year the Americans really threw down. For once, American storytellers had the most interesting things to say at the Cannes film fest. None of them were too heavily focused on the budding sexuality of young women but many of them had richly drawn, real female human beings in them. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, JC Chandor’s All is Lost, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring. I don’t know how you come to Cannes, in a year when we’re all lamenting the death of cinema in Hollywood and not be sufficiently impressed by what our country brought to the greatest international film competition in the world.
But perhaps we’re just too jaded as a film community to notice the hopeful new life that sprouted here. I’m wondering if it doesn’t signal a kind of rebirth. I’m not a major film critic, though, and believe me, what I say isn’t going to move the needle.
My fourth year at Cannes was finished. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years. I know the backstreets now. I can muddle through the language. I am learning how to live like a French person un peu. I packed my suitcase and cleaned up my flat before going to sleep. In the morning I would accidentally sleep too long and miss my morning window to write up this last diary entry. It wouldn’t get written until Cannes, then Nice, then the Zurich airport — it wouldn’t be finished until the Swiss Air flight was headed towards Los Angeles, gliding powerfully atop a cottony layer of clouds, en route to the wonderful place I call home, just in time to celebrate my daughter’s 15th birthday.