The Magic Bird of Cannes

The Magic Bird of Cannes

By Marina Shron

The 64th Cannes film festival is drawing to a close and the award ceremony is to begin in two hours. From the crowd that densely packs the square in front of the Palais des Festivals, I am watching the clusters of celebrated guests ascending the red -carpeted stairs towards the entrance, patiently posing in front of cameras pointed at them from all directions, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd., smiling – always smiling… From where I stand, the parade seems endless. And surreal – and not only because it comes as a culmination of my three (only three!) sleepless days in Cannes – days filled with at least four screenings a day, lots of wine and hardly any food, not to mention my (meager) attempts at schmoozing. There is something surreal in a huge camera floating in the air above the red carpet. Held by a long robotic arm, it moves up and down, right and left, tilting and zigzagging and taking dives -– scanning all that is there, capturing only what is worth seeing. As a charmingly disembodied voice announces one by one the names of the stars and their entourage stepping on the red carpet, their oversized images appear on a gigantic screen overhead. Jane Fonda, Rosario Dawson… Robert De Niro, surrounded by “eight graces”- the members of the Jury. The projections accompany the guests all the way to the entrance, magnifying their presence and capturing their faces and bodies from a variety of (flattering) angles — wide, medium and close-ups… The images on the screen are mesmerizing and overwhelming. The actual life-size figures ascending the stairs are less impressive. They look small and ordinary next to their glamorous shadows on the screen. The originals are dwarfed by their reflections, eclipsed by them. The real people walk on the carpet virtually unnoticed -– everyone’s eyes are glued to the screen.

Watching this parade from the crowd, I can’t help but think how aptly this visual metaphor describes the festival as a whole — at least from where I stand. Like The Wizard of Oz, Cannes hides its “true” self behind many screens — of smoke and silver. It surrounds itself with walls of (fun) mirrors and (distorted) reflections. Behind these ephemeral walls, it’s easy to miss the festival’s real magic — ordinary, human, vulnerable magic of cinema. Perhaps this magic needs the disguise of showmanship to protect itself… And no physical body can exist without a shadow. As long as the real thing is still there, I don’t mind the distortions of mirrors.

This is my first time in Cannes. Before I came here, I imagined it as a place of “pure” cinema – a measure of all cinematic measures, free of vulgarity, commercialism and politics. Well, it is not that pure. Perhaps it once was. But since its inception in the late thirties, the festival has grown many limbs — and many skins. There’s the Main competition, Un Certain Regard. Critics’ Week and Directors Fortnight. Etc, etc. And then, there’s Short Film Corner (which brought me here – and for that I’m grateful) and Marche du Film (Feature Film Market). Not all the filmmakers come to Cannes to compete. Many come in search of their audience, future collaborators… distributors. Mostly distributors. And producers.
I met quite a few business-savvy filmmakers who were SO successful at networking – they didn’t have time to watch films. I admire these people, their focus and determination… I envy them. But I also miss the obsessive selflessness of cinephiles who can dissect for hours one particular shot, a camera movement, a fleeting expression on a character’s face… I don’t see too many of these types around. I don’t hear too many conversations about the “art of film”. Perhaps understandably so. These days, Cannes is hardly a place for a cinephile. It’s not easy to find your way around the Palais and the nomadic village surrounding it. Simply getting a pass to “the right” screening or an invitation to the “right” party requires superior survivor skills. Young filmmakers with a few films under their belt don’t come to Cannes to simply watch films. They have more than one bird to kill. They come here to network and watch films, yes — so that they could learn the new winning “techniques” which can secure them a place among the forerunners… Next year.

Then there’s another mirror – critics, journalist – all those who mediate the festival events to the outside world. Although “the outside world” is hardly the right expression. At a festival as big as Cannes, everyone is more or less an outsider. One simply cannot be at all the places at once; the only way to stay tuned is to follow the festival via internet or press. The TV monitors, generously installed on every floor of the Palais, broadcast the highlights of the festival ( including press conferences) in real and delayed time. But the festival participants have hardy enough time to watch these broadcasts. … I’ve heard “The Tree of Life” was booed by critics during its first screening. I wasn’t there, alas. Neither had I witnessed Lars Van Trier infamous gaffe that got him banned out of Cannes. I watched the clip on You Tube: he understands Hitler, he said. He sympathizes with him… as a man. But so did Chaplin while he was making his “Great Dictator… no? Perhaps, I got the connotations wrong. “How do I get out of this sentence?” He never did. He sounded foolish… He said things not worthy of the man of talent . Yet I sympathize with Van Trier, I should admit. By the time I got to Cannes, the image of him extending his right fist from the projection screen at the entrance to Palais was all that was left of his presence. The fist had four letters tattooed on his finger, right below the knuckles — “f”, “u”, “c”, “k” and was pointed straight at me (or at anyone who would dare to take it personally). The man had been eclipsed by his fist… And the worst of all, I didn’t get to see “Melancholia”! It was screened once again at the last day of the festival – the day of reruns. But the screening time had been changed the last minute, perhaps for the reasons that had nothing to do with his sympathy for Hitler after all…

That last day of the festival turned out to be my favorite day. With most of the buyers and sellers gone, the festival had finally shown its true — its ordinary, human and flawed face. It finally felt like a film festival after all. And that was enough for me… perhaps even too much! I had to make some tough choices that last day – decide which films I wanted to see. I gave priority to “small” films, films I would not have a chance to see back in New York. Some of these small films turned out to be big winners. I can’t say I loved all them unconditionally (except “We need to Talk about Kevin”, Lynne Ramsay new film – I gave myself to it without reservations!). “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” put me to sleep. It stretched on like the steppe it portrayed – but empty and flat and predictable, not at all infinite. “A Boy with a Bicycle” stalled at the end, turned strangely inarticulate… “Elena” which opened with a stunning almost static shot, seemed to have gone down the hill from there. In fact, in each and every film I saw in Cannes there was a moment — a shot, or a scene of genuine cinematic beauty, a moment of unexpected truth… Those moments are what I carried away with me from Cannes. Perhaps the festival turned out to be impure… like life itself. A mixed bag of inspiration and pretense, subtlety and banality, authenticity and vulgarity… But a few moments of real cinema I witnessed in Cannes, 64th edition, were well worth coming here for. It is these moments I will remember – not the glamorous shadows on the screen above the entrance to the Palais. Perhaps in the Platonic cave we find ourselves today, where reflections often overtake the originals, cinema alone is capable of creating moments that seem more real than life itself?

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