Bellamy does Cannes

CANNES, FRANCE–One could make the argument that I was distinctly out of my league.

But there I was.

For the third time in history, the Cannes Film Festival welcomed The Daily Utah Chronicle, France’s favorite American college newspaper.

Two solid weeks at the biggest, most glamorous film festival in the world. Walking along the only red carpet that matters. Rubbing shoulders with the most important film writers, journalists and filmmakers from across the globe. Eating little, sleeping less and, of course, burning my eyes out while viewing four or five movies a day. This, in case anyone was wondering, is my idea of a good time.

It was my first trip down the Croissette–an extended strip of theaters, hotels, cafes and makeshift tents situated against the Riviera. The entire festival takes place here.

Unlike Sundance, which busses its patrons from theater to theater across Park City without rhyme or reason, every theater at Cannes is in one block. Everything else you need–food, lodging, beach, photo-op, perhaps a yacht–is within a one or two-mile radius.

In France, that’s apparently called “walking distance.” This was a highly unusual concept for me. But, joined by my good friend, fellow film critic and former RED Magazine editor Jeremy Mathews, this was how we traveled the vast landscapes of this small, oceanfront town–by foot.


Technically, this was Day Four…or perhaps Day Three, depending on how much stock you place in two days’ worth of international flights, layovers and an eight-hour time change. After getting lost for several hours in what I was later told was not a very good area of town for an American with expensive electronic equipment, we finally checked into our room (approximate size: four square feet).

I digress.

Let’s say it’s Day Three and a Half now–opening day of the festival. The big premiere. The red carpet finally gets rolled out. The fireworks–quite literally–begin, to the extent that as we sleep, we actually begin to think we have stumbled into an international crisis, and the entire Croissette was being bombed into smithereens.

The festivities were set to begin Wednesday morning with the premiere of Wong Kar-Wai’s English-language debut, “My Blueberry Nights.”

Needless to say, everyone was waiting with bated breath to see if Wong would actually have his film finished on time for the scheduled 10 a.m. opening. To clarify, deadlines aren’t exactly the guy’s strong suit. Three years ago at Cannes, his long-anticipated premiere of “2046” was postponed because he was still in the editing room.

“I’m Wong Kar-Wai,” he might say. “I wear sunglasses indoors…and at night. I can do whatever the hell I want. You’ll sit back and like it.”

Scheduling his newest work as the festival’s opening-night film was a recipe for disaster given his tendencies, but thankfully the print was there, on time and ready to go.

And there I was, standing outside the Salle Debussy theater with a sad look on my face, shut out of a packed house.

This is the downside of Cannes. Press badges are nice and all, but they only get you so far. This is the second-biggest media event in the world, second only to the Olympics. Everyone’s here.

Needless to say, I’m not exactly the highest head on the totem pole. And so I was left outside with all the other sad-faced outcasts, Charlie Brown music playing on the loudspeakers as I slunk away with my head down.

Thankfully, I was able to make it into the next screening…unfortunately, in a delightful ironic twist, it turns out that “My Blueberry Nights” could have used a lot more time in the editing room.

The film is an episodic meditation on love between two heartbroken romantics (Jude Law and Norah Jones, in her feature film debut) who have to take their own long roads to recovery before they can even think about finding love with each other.

The film takes this literally, as Elizabeth (Jones) takes off on an extended road trip, stopping off in various towns–a few months here, a few weeks there–before finding herself back in New York at Jeremy’s (Law) late-night diner, eating slices of abandoned blueberry pie.

Natalie Portman and, in particular, David Strathairn deliver excellent performances as people she meets along the way–Portman as a hardened, cynical gambler con artist whose luck has run out, and Strathairn as a depressed alcoholic trying desperately to reconnect with his younger wife (Rachel Weisz).

Wong brings his patented eclectic visual style to new American landscapes. You know exactly who directed “My Blueberry Nights” in the first 30 seconds. But while his flair for the dramatic and romantic remains, the constant and excruciating voiceover derails the film.

The narration, which goes back and forth between Elizabeth and Jeremy, is painful to endure at times–spelling out every obvious emotion, theme and metaphor the film has to offer. For a director so adept at telling his stories through visuals and mood, it’s curious to see him leaning on such an unnecessary tactic. Supposedly, this is the final cut. But perhaps–I might even say hopefully–he’ll change his mind and head back to the cutting room.

The festival’s big surprise came later that night–and not only ended up winning the Palme d’Or (the grand prize), but also set the tone for what would be a series of sad, depressing films. (I mean that in the best possible way).

Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” tells the story of a young girl in Communist Romania trying to procure an illegal abortion and the lengths to which her friend and roommate, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), will go to help her.

The film is a gripping examination of oppression and desperation, utilizing traditional documentary tactics and long, wide shots to create an atmosphere of dread and hopelessness. All three central performances stand out, including the abortion doctor, Vlad Ivanov, in a performance that is both darkly comic and menacing as he manipulates the situation to make himself look like the victim.

The film quickly became one of the front-runners for the top prize and ended up winning–not a surprise for a festival that often honors socially relevant and/or controversial films.


Warner Bros. made a mistake.

The studio released David Fincher’s excellent “Zodiac” in early March, not even trying to take advantage of the potential buzz generated at Cannes. The film bombed at the box office, but had they waited a little while to see if it would garner any acclaim at the festival–which it did–the film might have done much better business in the late fall.

The lesson: Hollywood studios are run by idiots.

In a very good year for American directors at Cannes, “Zodiac” was one of the better films in competition. But there’s little chance the jury is going to honor a film that has already come and gone on its own soil. Better to honor a film that needs the attention. Still, the good reviews poured in after its Cannes premiere on Day Two, this time from the international press.

In Un Certain Regard–a separate category typically reserved for more specialized films–Chinese director Hou Hsiao-hsien made his French-language film debut with “Flight of the Red Balloon,” which is both a memorable exploration of parenting and childhood amid the chaos of 21st-century life, and a loving, poignant homage to the famous short film “The Red Balloon.”

In a delightful ending to the second day of the festival–when we were still bright-eyed and hadn’t been too affected by the lack of sleep–we got to see the debut of Andrei Zviaguintsev’s “The Banishment.”

Commence eye-drooping. Leave it to the Russians to make the bleakest film in competition.

To be fair, the Romanians gave them a run for their money, but Russia was not to be defeated. As with the aforementioned “4 Months,” “The Banishment” also deals with abortion, after a wif
e announces to her cold, physically imposing husband that she is pregnant, and that the child isn’t his.

Of course, the film being Russian and all, the bar raises several more notches on the depression scale–but I’ll leave that for the viewers to discover. The biggest problem with the film isn’t its subject matter, but the choices Zviaguintsev and his writers make with the script. The film awkwardly employs retrospective plot twists that don’t hold up to its own explanations.

Konstantin Lavronenko pulled off a Best Actor win for his performance, but aside from this, the film doesn’t stand the test of close scrutiny.


Speaking of depressing, how about Christophe Honore’s “Love Songs?”

Sure, I know it’s a whimsical French musical, but it’s just about enough to slit your wrists. Split into three parts, the film details–quite unconvincingly–one young man as he goes from A) a committed three-person relationship with two other women to B) a state of mourning after his best girl drops dead to C) the gay lover of an annoying neighbor with a schoolboy crush.

The plot is pushed along by 13 excruciating musical numbers, and this only makes matters worse. I’m simply not buying it. Most people agreed with me, although some French critics had the gall to compare Honore to Jacques Demy (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”), which is not only an insult to Demy, but to musicals and French people.

Why this film was in competition while better films were left out is beyond me.

The big headliner on the third day of the festival was arguably the most anticipated film of all, the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” their first film in three years.

Adapting a Cormac McCarthy novel seemed right up their alley after their recent so-so screwball comedy offerings, “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers,” and the Coens are in solid form again.

Josh Brolin stars as a rancher in West Texas who stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong, discovering a sea of dead bodies, a stash of heroin and $2 million in cash in the middle of nowhere.

The film follows him on the run from a mercenary named Chigurh (Javier Bardem), and is framed through the eyes of the hardened, cynical cop (Tommy Lee Jones) who’s on both of their trails. The Coen Brothers, using an uncharacteristically natural, quiet style, have created a flawed but expertly crafted thriller. The film benefits hugely from Bardem’s performance as a stone-cold psychopath–a strange combination of sardonic wit and calm, calculated madness.


After the morning of the fourth day, everyone was talking about Michael Moore’s newest manifesto, “Sicko,” which takes aim at the U.S. health-care system.

I didn’t wake up quite in time to see it, so I’ll have to hold off on my opinion for now, but the film–while largely praised–drew plenty of controversy, particularly from the Canadian press, which felt the film drew too positive a portrait of their socialized health-care structure.

The film was playing out of competition, so it didn’t take home any awards, but will no doubt make a splash at the box office at the end of this month.

The day’s big highlight, for me, was Kim Ki-duk’s “Breath,” another quiet, experimental film about unexpected romance, much like his excellent 2005 offering, “3-Iron.”

This time, the romantic attraction is between a betrayed wife and a death-row inmate. She hears about him on the news one day and impulsively goes to see him. Over the course of a few meetings–during which she decorates the walls with the colors of the seasons and sings to him, creating a fascinating contrast with the captivity of the prison walls–an attraction builds, as the distance grows between the woman and her philandering husband.

With his characters, Kim explores different methods of communication to great effect. Jin, the prisoner, cannot speak because of a neck injury, so Yeon does all the talking–and singing, of course. Back at home, Yeon’s husband constantly talks at her, but she never speaks a word to him.

The film’s overall effect borders on surreal as it examines the tragically impossible romance between the two main characters.


The fifth day of the festival re-emphasized what had already become a growing sentiment–that certain films relegated to the Un Certain Regard category were infinitely superior to a few of the curious “competition” selections.

Case in point: Li Yang’s “Blind Mountain” and Daniele Luchetti’s “My Brother is an Only Child.”

“Love Songs” and “We Own the Night,” for example, could easily have been excised from the competition to make room for these two.

“Blind Mountain” is a powerful account of a woman sold into marriage. The film quietly builds anxiety and suspense through the character’s repeated hopeless attempts to escape, and ends with a brilliant and shocking conclusion that leaves the viewer only to ponder what has been and what may be.

“My Brother is an Only Child,” set in post-Mussolini Italy, tells the story of two brothers–one a Communist, one a Fascist–during the social uprisings of the 1960s. Equal parts funny and touching, the film could easily have been a contender if the selection committees had been a bit more discerning.


Day Six kicked off with my personal favorite of the festival.

Gus Van Sant, who took home two prizes in 2004 for “Elephant,” crafted another mesmerizing exploration of the teenage psyche with “Paranoid Park,” about a 16-year-old skateboarder who accidentally kills a security guard.

The film is deliberately non-linear, as Van Sant crafts the film as a memory rather than a “plot.” It’s all seen through the eyes and memory of Alex, played by Gabe Nevins, who was discovered through a casting call on MySpace. Instead of solid answers or plot conclusions, the film creates a tapestry of emotions through images, sound effects and music (brilliantly utilizing Nino Rota’s score from “Juliet of the Spirits”) that perfectly captures the confusion and indecision one might feel after such an event–especially a 16-year-old who isn’t sure what to do, what to think, who to talk to or even what happened.

Some people complained that the story was “sloppy,” but there’s a huge difference between sloppy and deliberately fragmented. “Paranoid Park” is the latter.

It’s not about finding conclusions, but experiencing a state of mind. Gus Van Sant proves once again that he can do that as well as anyone.

The day ended with the biggest crowd-pleaser of the festival. It was, of course, former Palme d’Or winner Quentin Tarantino’s extended version of “Death Proof,” which stands brilliantly on its own, especially in this version–which is about 25 minutes longer than the “Grindhouse” version. There’s not much I can really say–you all saw “Grindhouse.” Or if you didn’t, you should have.

This is QT’s half, but bigger and better.


A few surprising discoveries:

–“Persepolis,” an adaptation of the popular graphic novel series. The film is animated with exceptionally realized black-and-white art direction. It recounts the life story of Marjane Satrapi, who grew up in Tehran during the Islamic Republic. The film was a refreshing shift from the heaviness of most of the competition entries, as it examined alienation, rebellion and oppression in vivid detail.

–“Mister Lonely,” Harmony Korine’s surprisingly affecting tale of, once again, loneliness and alienation. The film follows a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) as he finds a connection in the heart of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) and tries to find himself among others like him–including a Pope impersonator, a Chaplin impersonator, the Three Stooges, etc. Korine captures the character’s identity crisis with charm, grace and poignancy.

–Found out I can still fall asleep in a movie. Hadn’t done that in a while. It was called “The Man from London,” it was exquisitely shot and I have no idea what happened in
the last 45 minutes. I was a goner.

It was boring as hell.

Sue me.


We’d had another busy day at the theater, watching Fatih Akin’s trendy attempt at the Socially Relevant, Jumbled, Interconnected, Three-Part Narrative (SRJITPN), “The Edge of Heaven,” among others.

It wasn’t a bad day, but it wasn’t the most memorable day, either.

The best part was the end of the night–a simple dinner with friends in a nice, somewhat expensive French restaurant/pizzeria. Even if I had to get into a couple separate arguments defending the merits of “Paranoid Park” and “Magnolia.”

Everyone at the table agreed it had been a pretty good festival thus far, but that we were growing a tad weary of the dreariness. Online critic James Rocchi put it best: “I just want to go home, sit on the couch and watch ‘The Rundown.'”

Indeed. There’s no better cure for dreariness than The Rock kicking some ass.


You must understand something: Martin Scorsese has been my hero since high school.

I’ve learned more through his films–by choice–than in any class I’ve taken in high school or college. It’s my nature. I have tunnel vision.

So, the thing I was most looking forward to at this entire festival was Scorsese’s “Master Class”–a chance to basically listen to Scorsese talk about movies, from a filmmaker’s point of view, for an hour and a half.

For anyone who’s ever heard the man talk, you know he’s a joy to listen to. His passion for movies spills out of every sentence. Only this time, I was in the third row of a crowded theater and I got to see it up close and personal.

He spoke of the influence filmmakers such as Elia Kazan and Robert Bresson had on his work; we watched clips of his films and he explained his artistic choices and processes; he admitted that he has no idea how to film a sex scene, but enthusiastically said that he’s very much looking forward to giving it a shot some day.

There’s something Scorsese said that a lot of people spending tons of money on film school should probably listen to: You don’t need film school. You need to watch movies, and study them. Sure, Scorsese was part of the Film School Generation, but it was much different then from what it is now. The best thing to do, he says, is simply to watch movies.

Or, you know, listen to the legends talk about how to do it. That might help, too.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. I had “work” to do.

I witnessed–finally!–the infamous chorus of boos and whistles that the Cannes crowd has become so well known for.

This year, it was well deserved for the Joaquin Phoenix/Mark Wahlberg crime thriller, “We Own the Night.” The film garnered a ton of hype in the days leading up to its premiere because it sold for $11.5 million, but the product itself was a disjointed, incomplete, aimless mess.

But on the bright side, I followed that disappointment up with Roy Andersson’s “Du Levande,” which ended up being one of the best of the entire festival. An absurdist, deadpan comedy about human grief, “Du Levande (You the Living)” is an extraordinarily funny, existential masterpiece examining the follies of human suffering and apocalyptic dread.

It would be impossible to illustrate exactly what makes it what it is–because there’s nothing else quite like it.

And “We Own the Night” got 11 million bucks.

Damn you, Capitalism!


8:30 a.m.: Watched yet another bad movie starring Asia Argento, the third of the festival. This time, it was Catherine Breillat’s “An Old Mistress,” a lavish, sexually charged period piece that goes nowhere. Observation: Asia Argento mumbles through every performance she gives.

11 a.m.: Saw one of the best films of the festival, Denys Arcand’s “The Age of Ignorance,” a delicious satire on bureaucracy, government (OK, that was redundant) and modern adult life.

2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Decided to take a break from movies. Surfed Internet. Realized fantasy baseball team had completely tanked while I was gone.


7 p.m.: Got back in movie mode for “The Mourning Forest.” Didn’t realize what it was about until the closing credits took the time to explain what it all meant–the sure sign of a mediocre movie. Otherwise, no comment.

10:15 p.m.: Got in my seat for a restored print of the classic “Rio Bravo.”

10:20 p.m.: Excitedly listened as Quentin Tarantino introduced the film, going on for about six or seven minutes about how it was one of the great “hang-out” movies of all time. Applauded.

10:28 p.m.: Watched as Tarantino walked up the aisle and sat in the seat directly behind me.

10:30 p.m.: As the lights went down, made a conscious effort not to do anything distracting or embarrassing that would make Tarantino hate me forever.

12:52 a.m.: Applauded for the movie, one of Howard Hawks’ best.

12:53 a.m.: Turned around to see Tarantino, minding that I appeared casual.

12:54 a.m.: Met Tarantino. Shook Tarantino’s hand. Probably mumbled something unintelligible about Hawks. Tarantino probably thought I was Asia Argento’s brother or something.

12:55 a.m.: Crapped self.

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