Yesterday an HE reader named Ephemerinko called me out on being too conventional in my choices about what to see at the big film festivals. “I’d like to see you take more chances, “he wrote. “True, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs, as they say, but when something pays off there’s no better feeling in the world. Festivals are about discovery, not being force-fed what the studios want you to see. Your site would certainly be better for it.”
He had a good point but he was also missing the particulars. Yeah, I could take more chances and kiss more frogs, I responded. I could do that. Maybe I should do that. But I feel at root that I have to try and see the films that have a real shot at being distributed and seen by Average Joes in Terre Haute, or at least seen by sophisticated ticket-buyers in New York and other towns that cater to people with actual taste buds.
That means seeing movies with brand-name directors (and by that I mean guys like Carlos Reygadas, Bela Tarr and Brillante Mendoza, even though their most recent films have been seen by maybe 1% or 2% of the hip moviegoing public) and actors and screenwriters with some distinctive history of accomplishment.
You have to make choices at film festivals, and you have to file like mad during the eight or nine days that you’re there, which usually translates into seeing maybe 18 to 20 films, at best. 25 if you’re superman.
There’s a decent possibility that the following films will be at Cannes: Agora (no U.S. distributor), d: Alejandro Amenabar; The Road (Weinstein Co.), d: John Hillcoat; Brothers (MGM), d: Jim Sheridan; A Serious Man (Focus Features), d: Joel and Ethan Coen; Bright Star (no US distributor), d: Jane Campion; Whatever Works (Sony Classics), d: Woody Allen; Ondine (no US distributor), d: Neil Jordan; Forgiveness (no US distributor), d: Todd Solondz; Love Ranch (no US distributor), d: Taylor Hackord; Coco avant Chanel (Warner Bros.), d: Anne Fontaine; Nailed (Capitol Films), d: David O. Russell; Inglourious Basterds (Weinstein Co.), d: Quentin Tarantino. Plus Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, Cristian Mungiu’s Tales From the Golden Age, Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, a new Michael Moore documentary about profligate Wall Street bankers, Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen, Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control, Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank; and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs a tire-larigot.
I’m counting 22 films, meaning if they all turn up I may have to shine two or three. Which ones would you recommend not seeing if it comes to that?
By your standard I should ignore the Tarantino because it’ll be opening in August. My response to that is, “Are you fucking nuts?” Maybe you’d say ignore Taylor Hackford‘s film about Nevada prostitution (if and when it shows there). But Helen Mirren won the Best Actress Oscar a couple of years ago and I suspect HE readers (and those beyond the periphery) would want to hear about this film. But if I followed your thinking, I would say, “Naah, fuck the Hackford and find a nice little frog that may surprise you and turn into a prince.” Right? I get that way of looking at things because that’s how you discover the odd pearl (it’s true!), but it sure seems ill-advised right now.
Even the Gilliam film, which I suspect probably delivers in a nutso flipped-around way that even the most Gilliam-friendly critics will have a slight problem with, is of interest because it has the very last performance of Heath Ledger, which people are naturally interested in. Who wouldn’t be?
On the other hand you hear things at festivals about films that you hadn’t necessarily planned on seeing (not as a priority) but you go to anyway on a hunch. I hadn’t firmly decided on seeing the public showing of An Education at Sundance, but I decided to go at the last minute because it was written by Nick Hornby and directed by Lone Scherfig. It turned out to be a very good call on my part. Last year at Cannes I decided I had to finish a piece I was working on rather than see Gomorrah. That was a bad call as it turned out.
But you’re always juggling, always wondering, always on edge during festivals, always running with or behind your schedule but never ahead of it. You never see everything you wanted to see, and you always miss a couple of really good ones. Happens every time.
I’ll never forgive myself for failing to see Anton Corbin‘s Control during the early stages of the ’07 Cannes Film Festival at the premiere of Un Certain Regard. (Or was it Driector’s Fortnight?) I just blew it and didn’t go. I could have gone to the second screening but Robert Koehler told me not to bother. Hands down one of the best films of that year, and Koehler told me not to bother! I wound up seeing it on my last day there, at a market screening on the rue d’Antibes.
Again, let’s presume that each one of the above films is shown at Cannes. Which ones would you shine, and why? I’d like to hear your thinking on this. Because I don’t think you know more than what I know, and I don’t think your instincts are any better than mine either.