2012 brought rain, and not so many memorable filmic moments, but there were a few. Cannes at festival time is always unique, with a special experience lurking somewhere even if a downbeat mood hung over the Mediterranean resort as it did for several days. The Cannes festival finds a way to transcend gloom whatever weather blows in.
Still, for all the ability of Cannes to transcend itself, I was left with the impression that this year will not figure among the list of the best festivals. That said, a gentleness hung in the air I liked, replacing the more manic moments I have seen in years gone by.
I was late in arriving and saw Roman Polanski present a reworked Tess on the evening of May 21. It is hard to remember what the original release in 1979 was like, but it doesn’t figure in my memory anywhere near as good as this version. Now the story seemed to make complete sense. Now we saw Hardy’s vision up on the screen. The two great adaptations of Hardy novels I have seen, Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess (of the D’Urbervilles) are epic cinematic experiences for any age and epoch.
Late in applying for accreditation as I was, film badges presented difficulties. Getting into the venues I wanted to be in was not straight-forward. One day I set out to bus from Golfe Juan to get to a screening of On the Road in Cannes. I gave myself ample time but three, then four number 200 buses from Nice went by, all full. Running to the train station I found the train for Cannes La Bocca was cancelled; train workers were on strike. Then I had to wait nearly thirty minutes for a train to Cannes itself. Show time for the film was five o’clock and that time was looming. Finally I was able to take the train as far as Cannes and then tried walking the rest of the way in the rain but had to give up. The film began while I was still two kilometres away from the cinema. There were probably no seats left in any case.
The next re-screening of Jack Kerouac’s era-defining novel was on the last day at 9 am, but as I was at a screening of the Korean, The Taste of Money, up until two am, I missed that screening as well.
I had re-read Kerouac’s novel carefully and really enjoyed it. I was looking forward to the film adaptation of it. However lukewarm the reviews, I wanted to see On the Road more than any other film. I wasn’t the only one.
I did make it to Holy Motors at 11.30 am that next morning, and left thinking, except for a couple of wild scenes, what was all the fuss about? Overall Carax’s style is manufactured shock-treatment, a director setting out to do the impossible in 2012, shock us; you can’t shock anyone in a cinema anymore, only bore or pleasantly surprise audiences. The lead actor was bravura, but as Irreversible did some years back, the film’s attempts to violate left me cold, even colder when it calmed down into quiet film parodies. I left the theatre thinking, we have been down this road before (with David Lynch, perhaps). I didn’t bother with Cosmopolis. Reading DeLillo’s book, seeing the film trailers, convinced me there were no surprises to be had in it. I wasn’t alone on that either. There were better things to do.
I saw the American Mud. Sustained irony might have helped it along, though it was easy on the eye and on the mind, that’s if you’re into 14 year old cute boys, Matthew McConaughey without his shirt, or Reese Witherspoon, if any or all of them float your boat.
I didn’t have tickets for the closing ceremony in the main auditorium, joining journalists in the cinema adjacent. I saw the event in close circuit cinema in row two. Before that I took pix of photographers running from the red carpet to the action inside. They didn’t look pleased to be pixed. Weird, photographers hating having done to them what they do ad infinitum to others.
After the awards were handed out, I stayed second row to see the late Claude Miller’s Thérèse Desqueyroux (something I didn’t regret doing). I felt more at home in that pre-modern space of 1890-1930 set cinema. Miller’s film set in 1928 rural France is beautifully realised, by a master of period cinema, just as is Polanski’s Tess set thirty-seven years earlier across the channel. Both films deal with misunderstood women who suffer injustices. Both are big, slow moving, carefully manicured epics that did nothing to unmake my festival.