Brazen Mediterranean winds paid the city of Cannes a visit yesterday, announcing their arrival by whipping up skirts, sending plastic cups tumbling across tables, transporting cloth napkins into alleyways and ruining every best laid hairstyle to hit the Croisette. It was divine. Usually these wild gusts of wind herald a coming rainstorm. The clouds came but the rain never did. It was a Los Angeles moment. We often wait for rain that never comes. Meanwhile today’s NPR headline, buried beneath the more important one about the Boston bomber being sentenced to death, was that a “Massive Antarctic Ice Shelf Will Be Gone Within Years, NASA Says.” When you read something like that you see the future headlines, the future think pieces about how no one was paying attention to what was coming. So much so that it’s best to forget about it. Just strap yourself in and hold on tight.
The wind through Cannes seemed to heighten that inevitable feeling of homesickness that creeps in during one too many restless nights. Who I am and what I’ve built and how I’ve chosen to live are all left on another continent. Here, there is only work — the promise of good movies that might be delivered unto you, the audience, someday. It is a place where opinions can be caught in that wind, whipped up into a frenzy, and then disappeared over one of the hills behind the Suquet.
Yesterday, I saw three films. The first was Woody Allen’s An Irrational Man, followed by The Lobster and finally, The Sea of Trees. Each of these films was about a man in crisis. Loss of identity, loss of manhood, loss of companionship. While the women mostly get on with things — the business of living, learning, loving — men are stuck in an endless muddle, confused about which foot to put where. Sooner or later filmmakers are bound to run out of their endless fascination with the male protagonist. I mean, they have to, right? This same theme is mostly played out by now, especially with the massive antarctic ice shelf getting ready to be gone. We need to slap all men hard across the face: snap the fuck out of it already. Condolences! The bums lost. All good intentions for a perfect world have failed. Our iPhones didn’t save us. Our vegan food trucks didn’t save us. Our blockbusters have had zero impact except to distract us, as Woody Allen said in a press conference, from the bleakness of existence. Well, we’re past existence now. We should be so lucky to exist at all.
At the same time as these three films marinated in the pointlessness of mankind, so have so many films here told stories of women that would not have the same kind of prominence — the world stage — in the states. This has been consistently true of this festival in the six years I’ve attended it. Just like you have to come here to eat real non-GMO produce, you have to come here to see movies where women are treated like members of the human race, interesting beyond their boner-lifting capabilities. What has happened to American film?
It is so common in Cannes to see movies with women of all ages and ethnicities presented as human beings, one doesn’t even feel the need to point it out. I only do so because once Oscar season starts no one will think about women anymore. Female filmmakers are getting much support from the New York Times and Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood. The #seehernow campaign has lift-off. The problem will always be that their movies have to be good enough to compete with the best from men. Art is not like sports or chess. Women CAN compete in the realm of art. The trick is to find the good ones and push the hell out of them, not necessarily to push the bad ones in hopes that people will grow to love them. Women can’t succeed unless they’re allowed to fail. Male filmmakers, like Gus Van Sant for instance, are allowed to make bombs and then come back with the next film where most is forgiven. Just look at the way audiences continue to forgive Woody Allen or Cameron Crowe. But women get written off after one flub. They need to be allowed to return even when they make a bad movie.
It was not fun to watch Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees. It was not fun to watch it be such a bad film and it was not fun to wait for the inevitable boos that were coming. Unintentional laughter behind me, shifting bodies next to me, people checking their watches. I knew it was not going to go over well. A shame because it had much promise, this earnest film about a man who has nothing left to live for and heads over to the Aokigahara forest in Japan to end his life under the watchful eye of Mount Fuji.
Known as suicide forest, the Aokigahara really does look like a sea of trees and does indeed look like a good place to die. This film, though, derails so fast and so hard you end up wishing it were a documentary about the forest itself. While Van Sant does a marvelous job of bringing the spirituality of the place alive, and revealing some of what it must be like there, his sensitive depiction can’t save the terrible terrible screenplay, nor Matthew McConaughey’s unsubtle, over the top, Interstellar-like wracking sobs. This film has its heart in the right place. It might have been a good story if they’d made some crucial choices about certain plot points. It’s the kind of movie that would get two stars on Netflix that you’d watch out of curiosity and think, that wasn’t great. But if you’ve lined up for over an hour in at a world-class festival, crammed into the theater to see something you have high hopes for, you’re likely to see a crowd turn on a movie in the way only Cannes knows how. No one boos films at any other festival that I’ve been to. They simply exit the theater in a fog of disappointment. But these crowds are holdovers from the old theater days of throwing rotten tomatoes at the stage. They cheer wildly when they love something and boo loudly if they hate something. One boo tends to inspire others. They do it because they can, because we are still animals, primates, who want to communicate how we’re feeling to those around us.
Though I’m only at the half-way mark I’m already ready to go home. It isn’t that I don’t love this place, or that I’m not grateful for having a pink badge and being able to see movies downstairs —- it’s that it always happens to me that I start to feel that pull. Those bonds we build with people. That’s what counts in the beginning, in the middle and in the end.
I know that I will spend some hours trying to find the right gifts to bring home to them. I know that I will be packed a day ahead I’ll be so ready to go. I know that I will never feel the same kind of uplift leaving Los Angeles as I will when my plane comes to a safe landing on the ground in that dirty disgrace of a city with so many misbehaving heathens.
There is still a half of a festival to go. There’s a Disney/Pixar thing with John Lasseter that I’m ticketed to attend. Inside Out seems like one of the big Oscar launches of the year. They’re probably going to go for Best Picture but unless the Academy expands to ten Best Picture nominees that isn’t going to happen. There’s Todd Haynes’ Carol tonight and the press conference tomorrow. There are a few other films I’m hoping to see. There’s the wind. There wasn’t the rain.
Each year, this festival offers a different experience. I haven’t been to the wi-fi room once. I haven’t felt the need to look at famous people in real time. I’m spending all of my time meditating on things like the different flavors of strawberries and the sounds of Brian Eno playing in the early morning hours. I’m not sure my sleep theory is working out so well. I’ve yet to lay down for eight hours straight but seem to be doing four at a time. The difference between waking life and dream life is narrowing. So I can’t really be sure if I watched a movie where Matthew McConaughey goes to Japan to kill himself and it gets booed by the audience. I think is saw it. Twitter tells me so. But I’ll never really know for sure. I wake up empty. I come home filled. I drink my coffee out of a bowl. I am depending on my beating heart. I am watching the water. I am listening to the wind. I am waiting to go home.