Day Three – Tuesday May 23rd
Ok. This was it. Today I would finally watch a film, at the film festival I was attending. Wise to the folly of my previous ventures into the town, I located the pick up zone for the free shuttle and camped out with the crowd to wait for our ride. Crammed into the back of a small van, wedged between a guy who either had bad B.O. or used a fine cheese for cologne, and a woman who insisted on shout-talking to the driver the whole journey, I couldn’t help but feel… that this was SO MUCH BETTER than walking up that hill. I was all about the free shuttle from that moment on.
Luckily, the drop off point was basically right next to the bus station, so I found myself in familiar territory when I finally got into the town. Based on my walk the previous day, I knew vaguely in which direction I needed to walk in order to find the building with all the films showing in it. Unfortunately, I had not managed to figure out that the entrance to the Palais was sat in the middle of it’s two major theatres – the Debussy and the Lumiere. As such, I joined the wrong line, and ended up queuing for a film I had no ticket to see for a good ten minutes.
Once I’d sussed my mistake and moved on to the actual entrance, I noted the difference in security for the peasant door compared to the company entrance I’d used the day before. There, when I had gone out for a cigarette – an activity that, unless it’s being done horrendously wrong, should take no more than five minutes to complete – I was greeted with friendly smiles and offers of a chair to sit on while I puffed away. One time, I was even offered a cuppa by a guy doing a coffee run. Being painfully English, I was actually happier with the stern faces and rough hands on offer at the other door. Deference just makes me uncomfortable.
While the Riviera building was nothing to scoff at, it was obvious that the Palais was the real place to be. There were grand staircases, strings of lights, swathes of red carpets and even a gift shop. Finally I was in the right place. Sort of. Since I still had no idea where in this wonderful building the films were being shown (it shouldn’t be that hard to find a film at a festival), I just took the first staircase (pictured left) and went for a little explore.
The ground floor (Or actually, I guess it’s the underground floor) was essentially a long, long boulevard with splintery little corridors jutting off in random directions. I can’t say for certain, as I’ve seen enough horror films to NOT go wandering down weird little underground corridors in an unfamiliar environment, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that each and every one of them led to certain doom. Either way, I decided to just shoot straight down to the other end of the long, brightly lit corridor, and was fairly surprised (and more than a little enraged) to discover that it led all the way to that nifty little restaurant area that makes up the knot in the bow-tie. It was around this point that I realised how close I’d come to finding my way into the Palais the day before. Damn.
Luckily, the subterranean strip wasn’t all horridors (horror-corridors) and crushing realisations of personal failure. An information desk that I stumbled onto after spending way too much time in the gift shop (didn’t actually get anything in the end, but that’s a story for Friday), was handily stocked with daily programmes that listed all the films showing in all the screens on that day. Finally, I held in my hands a comprehensive guide to all the vast options I had for my viewing pleasure.
And still no idea where any of it was.
This time, thankfully, I wasn’t floundering around like a plastic bag in a hurricane for very long. On another little side-quest I’d undertaken to collect my red carpet tickets from the automatic machines, I noted how swanky the upstairs area looked, and decided to check it out. And there! Finally! I found… some of the screens. At this point, I was calling it close enough, and decided to pick a film that was showing at one of these easily accessible venues.
Turns out, that by limiting my options to those showing at the exact time I had arrived, in the only screens I could find, I wasn’t exactly spoilt for choice. However, I was able to find a Canadian film called “Extremity” that sounded pretty interesting, so I headed around the corner to see if people were queuing for it yet. Given that it didn’t actually start for another 45 minutes or so, I expected to have to wait a little while, but hey, I had nowhere to be.
Weirdly, I barely had to wait 45 seconds. Some guy came out of the room, looking less than impressed, and strutted away. The lady at the desk then caught my eye and beckoned me over. “You want to go in?” Confused, and wondering if I’d misread the start time for my film, I nodded, took swift advantage of this one-in, one-out system, and pushed through the doors into the already dark room. There was already a film showing, so I hastily sat down in an open chair, and tried to catch up.
It became pretty clear, pretty quick, that I had walked in to the last ten minutes or so of the film that preceded the one I meant to watch. Too embarrassed to get up and leave again (And hell, I promised myself that today was the day I would watch some damn films, I wasn’t about to pass up a freebie), I sat back and tried my hardest to understand the existential french film that I had missed the most crucial elements of. There was mention of the multiverse, and talk of an aborted child who came to seek revenge on the parents, and then it was over. Eh, still wasn’t the worst thing I saw at the fest.
Fully psyched up by the ten minutes of cinema I’d just watched that were either genius or rubbish (such a fine line), I instantly swung back around and joined the couple of people waiting to go in to the next screening. Given that the lights were on, I was able to choose a better seat this time around, and settled in to enjoy my first full feature film of the fairly famous French festival (say that ten times while drunk). As it turned out, the screening was something of an anomaly, at least judged against the rest of my experience, as the film was only partially finished, and a few members of the cast and crew had come out to show the product-so-far.
I won’t mince words on this one – I didn’t like it. The premise, featuring a woman who elects to be subjected to horror film experiences at the hands of a specialist company who cater to thrill seekers, was an interesting one, for sure. I liked the idea of skewing the usual horror film defiance by twisting it so that the victims actually volunteered for their torment. Kind of like a mix between a haunted house and an escape room. While it may be unfair to judge the film as bad, given it was only semi-complete, the key flaws that I found (mainly in the script, but also notably a tone-deaf implication that a woman is only a lesbian because so many men have mistreated her in the past) were not things that could be fixed by adding special effects and a cool soundtrack.
Less than overwhelmed with my experience of the films on show so far, I left after Extremity and caught the free shuttle home. Once again I thanked the wide variety of Gods on offer (because I couldn’t really be sure which one blessed us with free shuttles that save us from having to walk up a mountain to get back to our villas) and headed up to the room. As a silver lining of a rather lacklustre day, the fellas were having a whiskey and talking shop when I got back, so at least the evening wasn’t a total loss. I didn’t take that many artsy photos, so instead here’s a picture of all the red carpet tickets I managed to score, all laid out nicely on my bed.
Day Four – Wednesday May 24th
Having tried my hand at the marketplace screenings yesterday, and come away less than impressed, I was very excited for my first red carpet screening – even if it did mean waking up at 5.30 in the morning. Tired as I was, the prospect of strutting down the scarlet walkway in a dope ass tux – to see a film by a director I had actually heard of, no less – was exciting enough to get my sleepy body moving. Since most of my housemates didn’t have to be up at such a ridiculous time, I had a somewhat surreal experience of washing, brushing and styling myself into a presentable human being, all while being completely silent.
Even by the time I was washed and pressed into the penguin suit, the sun had barely crept over the horizon, so the chances of catching a shuttle into town were pretty much zero. Luckily, I had successfully scoped out the bus stop a couple of days earlier, so I knew exactly where I could catch some public transport to the screening. The hill killed a few more minutes, meaning that when I rocked up to the stop, there were honest to god people milling around the streets. I got a fair few stares as I stood there, careful not to flick cigarette ash on my lovely clean tux, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Surely by this point in the festivals history, they had seen a few people decked out smartly for early morning screenings? More on that in a minute.
I’d hoped that getting up three hours before the film started would have given me time to grab some food before the screening, but looking at the queue forming outside the Lumiere theatre, I felt that it wasn’t worth the risk. As I sweated profusely in my three-piece tuxedo, under the blazing sun of southern France, I also felt something else. Confusion. You see, stretched out in front of me, suffering in the heat as much as I was, I expected to find a long, but reasonable line of smartly dressed, beautiful people, all waiting patiently to see this brand new, exciting film, at one of the most historic cinemas in the world. Instead, I saw polo shirts. I saw shorts. I saw trainers, people. God-damned trainers.
SOMEHOW (in hindsight, it was probably the fact that I skimmed the website in my haste to secure tickets), I had misread the information about dress-code, and taken the phrase “strict black-tie only” to be in reference to the whole shebang. It was actually only enforced for the evening screenings, leaving me the only sucker melting in the morning heat. Still, at least I was the best looking sonbitch there (as shown in the zero to hero shot on the left).
So, sweating and wincing as my shoes rubbed the hell out of my heels, I followed this conga line of the casually dressed through security, and finally stepped onto the illustrious red carpet. Straightening my bow-tie, I swanned between the swathes of beautiful, famous people, and headed for the stairs up to the theatre. Turning to look back upon the crowds, I couldn’t help but squint against the glare of hundreds of flash-bulbs, as the journalists hastily snapped off thousands of pictures, each of them desperate to get the absolute perfect picture of me – the best dressed guest of the fest.
Nah, just kidding. It would seem that along with the 8.30 screenings having no dress code, they also have none of the fun stuff you usually associate with red carpets. There’s no press, no famous people, and no making one wide-eyed country boy feel like he’s special for a few brief, but precious seconds that will serve as a highlight of his existence when he inevitably looks back on his deathbed, and wonders if it was all worth it. But that’s fine. Playing pretend at being a part of that extravagant world sounds lovely on paper, but photobombing balding tourists in ill-fitting t-shirts as they throw gang signs in front of a beautiful, historic building is just as good. Sort of. I guess.
I kid, mostly, because I did eventually manage to experience that thrilling walk I’d been picturing, later on in the week (stay tuned). This go round was still pretty interesting mind you – I’d never been on either side of a red carpet before, so as my first experience of such a staple of the movie business, it was probably for the best that it was nice and low-maintenance. Best of all, given the slow trickle of people, the security staff weren’t too bothered about us lingering around for selfies and whatnot, so I had plenty of time to hang out and reflect on how many important films had premiered in the theatre I was about to enter, and how many famous people had stood in the exact spot I was standing. Or at least near it. Definitely within ten feet or so.
For this first film, I was sat in the upper balcony area, which gave me a great chance to see the theatre in all of its glory. Free of the strict dress-code I had imposed on myself, I gratefully removed my jacket and tie, unceremoniously stuffing them in my Cannes FF branded goody bag, rolled up my shirt sleeves and loosened my collar. The theatre was by no means cool – thousands of people kick up a fair amount of body heat – but stripping away the outer layer of my penguin suit made me feel like I was standing by the ocean, with a strong breeze washing over me. Or something like that.
Soon the lights dimmed and I settled in to watch my first film that was actually being judged by the panel (the rest are pretty much there to either gain distributors and/or investors). The film was called “The Beguiled”, it was directed by Sophia Coppola and it starred Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. I knew of Sophia Coppola originally because I enjoyed her dad’s work so much, but I soon learned that she’s just as talented a director as he – with work like “Lost in Translation” and “The Virgin Suicides” earning her a reputation as a versatile and committed filmmaker. Her latest is no exception, and may well be her best film to date. If you want to read more about my thoughts on it, check out my review here.
A couple of hours later, pumped up by how much I enjoyed the film, I made it my mission to grab a bite to eat before doing anything else, as I had already drawn quite a few stares and tuts in the screening, when my stomach rumbled loudly during tense, quiet scenes. I don’t see how that was my fault; cinemas let you take popcorn and hot dogs in to avoid this exact scenario. Full stomachs don’t rumble. Full stomachs don’t ruin tense scenes. Learn from this, Cannes. In the meantime, I was forced to seek something more sustaining than ‘corn and ‘dogs, so, naturally, I thought I’d see what the French made of a Maccy’s breakfast. And boy was I glad I did.
Meet Scrappy. I called him that (in my head, at least) mostly because he spent the entire time I was eating begging for scraps, but also because he was small and jumpy, like Scrappy-Doo. Also, y’know, he was just… a scrappy little guy. I was rooting for him the whole time. Anyway, Scrappy here made my breakfast – beef McMuffin, some weird pancakes, orange juice and black coffee – a great laugh, and to thank him, I’ve chosen to immortalise him, forever, in GIF form.
Reluctant as I was to stop taking pictures of Scrappy, I’d finally seen a great film at the festival, and I wanted to keep my streak going. Fully aware of where I could find a detailed list of all the films on offer, I high-tailed it back to the Palais, glided through security (after a while you just dump all your metal stuff in your bag and deal with it later on) and headed back downstairs to the information desk. I had a sift through the films on offer, and conveniently showing in a screen near me, in only 40 minutes, I saw an entry that was directed by a man whose name I recognised.
It took me a few minutes to place him, but as I wandered over to the screen, I realised that I was going to watch a film directed by one of modern TV’s most well-realised and engaging villains. Giancarlo Esposito is an actor I’ve enjoyed for a few years now – with his iconic turn as Breaking Bad’s Meth mob boss/Chicken franchiser, Gustavo Fring, being a particular stand out – but I had never seen how he handles being on the other side of the camera before. Given the fairly high profile cast and crew, I was quite surprised to find that I basically had the screen to myself. A couple of other curious customers wandered in before the lights went down, but the crowd was sparse enough that we all got a row to ourselves.
The film, entitled “This is Your Death”, turned out to be something of a mixed bag. The plot followed a reality TV host who sees a contestant kill herself, and decides to make a new show where suicidal people can end it all live on air, to earn donations for their loved ones. Although the concept is rife with rich, affecting material, all off the Samaritans guidelines for sensitively portraying suicide were essentially ignored, leaving the film full of scenes that could be traumatic and/or triggering for anyone suffering with suicidal tendencies. That said, other big names such as Sarah Wayne Callies, Famke Janssen and Josh Duhamel star alongside Esposito, and each of them deliver extremely powerful performances, giving the film a strong emotional core. For more detail on the film and the issues it raises, check out my review here.
After the fairly cerebral nature of both films, I was just about ready for something a little more relaxed. I remembered that my welcome bag included a pamphlet detailing a Virtual Reality experience being hosted by HP and Intel at a nearby hotel, and figured that now would be a good time to mix things up a little bit. According to the flyer, the hotel was due west from the Palais, a short ways down the street. So, turning my back to the rising sun (Jokes, I just used a map), I headed off, keeping my eyes open for any signs pointing to the event, or the hotel itself. Somehow, I managed to circle the block, TWICE, before I found the telltale red carpet that led back from the road, and up to the very swanky looking Hotel Majestic Barrière.
Surprisingly, given the rising popularity of VR in recent years, the little set of rooms that the HP and Intel teams occupied were pretty much empty. Other than team members, and me, there was only one other person – a middle aged woman strapped into a complicated looking set-up, waving her arms around like an inflatable tube-man and squealing with a combination of astonishment and glee. No, she wasn’t on acid. She was, of course, in virtual reality. While watching her freak out was hysterical – the best part of VR is watching others in it – I also got to see a rep from the film’s creators, New Reality Company, utilising fans and matches to create a four-dimensional immersion.
And then it was my turn. Simply called “Tree”, the film played out on an HTC Vive headset (Having already tried the Oculus and PSVR, this rounded out the big three for me), utilising a Subpac backpack and two controllers to maximise the interactivity. Starting in the real world, the rep hands you a seed and has you plant it in a pot. Then, entering the virtual plane, you see through the eyes of that seed as it charges up through the soil, eventually sprouting into a towering tree in the depths of the Rainforest. Here, the accoutrements come into play; with the backpack vibrating as you emerge from the ground, and the controllers giving the player full control over two of the tree’s limbs as they rise up to dizzying heights.
I won’t spoil how the film plays out, but I will say that it’s an experience like no other that offers an exciting glimpse at a use for the technology alternative to video games. Given that it takes place in the Rainforest, the underlying warning of the destructive ends of deforestation will come as no surprise. Rather than an opaque soapbox shoehorned into a piece of pop-culture like a sandwich stuffed into a pocket, the combination actually excels, as there really is no better way to understand a global issue than to find yourself staring it in the face. After taking the headset off, I was sent on my way with a seed in my pocket (no euphemism, they literally give you a seed to remember what you’ve learned) and I headed home to ponder my experience. To read more about the team behind Tree and the message of the piece, check out their website here, otherwise, enjoy these photos of the HP/Intel lounge I took while waiting.