Appellate Judge James A. Stewart was expecting Campbell's Soup and Hormel factory tours with John Ratzenberger, but this wasn't Cans: All Access.
"The first thing someone from the outside should know about Cannes is—you're not invited."—Richard Corliss, Time
The Festival de Cannes started life in 1946. At the event, running Sept. 20-Oct. 5, "nearly every film screened walked off with a prize," according to the official history. Among the winning films at that first festival were The Lost Weekend and Brief Encounter.
After a rough beginning—money troubles canned the 1948 and 1950 festivals—the Festival de Cannes moved to May in 1951. The awarding of the Palme d'Or began in 1955, with Delbert Mann and Marty taking it home.
By now, the Palme d'Or has become one of filmdom's most celebrated awards, and the Festival de Cannes has become the event of the year in the film industry.
And you—you're left outside. Literally, since the general public only gets to attend outdoor screenings on the beach. Mind you, this year's screenings included The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Piano, and M*A*S*H, part of a lineup that you can only dream of at your local park's summer series, but ordinary people don't get to see the inner machinations of Cannes.
With the festival having recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, Cannes: All Access promises an insider's look at the famed festival.
It does cover all aspects of the festival, talking to celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Samuel L. Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack, and Roger Ebert about their memories and experiences, and even offering quotes from a chauffeur and a concierge about what goes on behind the scenes. A lot of little details (Did you know the seats thump?) help give viewers a mental picture of the Cannes experience.
The trouble is, you don't get to see much of the festival. True, it's in the background as interview subjects talk, and you get clips of historic moments, like the 1968 political unrest or Madonna arriving in her underwear, but it doesn't have that fly-on-the-wall feeling that you'd want. What you get will be interesting to film students and buffs, but if it's All Access, you want to see more—especially when Entertainment Tonight brings a lot of the surface experience into people's homes each year.
The thirty minutes or so of extra features do give you more. Most of it is more people talking, but the package includes a "Fun in the Sun" Beach Montage, about a minute in length, and some odd footage of the "Ribbon Cutting @ American Pavilion." In "Ribbon Cutting," Anna Paquin first appears stunned, and then takes on a graceful celebrity image as she's confronted by reporters and photographers shouting her name over and over again. It's less than four minutes long, since she's finally rescued.
Oh, and you will get the obligatory glimpse of topless starlets here and there.
Cannes: All Access has its moments, but is guilty of overselling its insider promise. If you really want that fly-on-the-wall feeling, give Cannes a pass.
I'm not sure I'd go that far—it doesn't come with traffic, crowds, celebrities, and paparazzi—but it did get me thinking that, overall, maybe I did enjoy a small-scale foreign film festival as a DVD reviewer this summer.
After listening to Richard Schickel talking about the trouble he had getting a film crew around Cannes to do interviews during the Festival de Cannes in the extras to Cannes: All Access, I'm thinking that maybe "a complete film festival in the comfort of your own home" is a good idea. Especially since only pros are invited to Cannes.
So far in 2007, I've seen a number of international cinema entries that would be at home on the festival circuit as well as in your living room—with a bumper crop coming this summer. (I also saw Frankenstein Conquers the World/Frankenstein vs. Baragon and the made-for-TV Fabio Montale; I enjoyed both, but we're looking to get at least a little pretentious here.)
What 2007 entries would I recommend for your own living room film festival? I picked five from my recent viewing that'll give you a start, although it's hardly scientific:
• My personal Best of Show was L'Iceberg, a mostly silent film about a woman who heads for colder climes after being locked in the freezer at the restaurant she manages: "L'Iceberg is an ambitious movie that usually succeeds. The gags aren't as riotous and catastrophic as those of Mr. Bean and Mr. Hulot. Instead, there's a sweet, human quality to L'Iceberg that will take you into another world for a while. I can't wait to see what Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, and Bruno Romy come up with next."
• Yasuzo Masumura's Black Test Car, an unusual entry that follows machinations in the Japanese automobile industry and started a salaryman drama trend, comes in second: "Black Test Car is oddly compelling as it unveils its escalating corporate espionage. While I've been comparing it to noir films because of the obvious stylistic touches, it's at least as much a Shakespearean tragedy as we watch Onoda's moral descent and Asihina's struggle to rise above the situation."
• A strong performance by Nathalie Baye and a surprising twist—"halfway through, though, the movie heads in a new direction, knocking down what (writer/director Xavier) Beauvois spent the first hour setting up"—make Le Petit Lieutenant worth a look. It's an effective Paris police procedural with nods to The Naked City.
• Next on my list is Cinema, Aspirins, And Vultures, about a German aspirin salesman traveling through rural Brazil with a friend just before World War II breaks out. That's mostly because of a moving last reel, "when the Nazis attack Brazil, bringing the war Johann sought to avoid to him. Johann broods, while Ranulpho, at least on the surface, doesn't take things too seriously. Among the powerful moments in the last reel are pacifist Johann's encounter with a rattlesnake and a 'battle' acted out in pantomime between the two men, who play at war like children while they face their adult fears of combat."
• Why not end a cinema festival by just having some fun? After all, filmgoers can't live on pretentiousness alone, even in Cannes. Avenue Montaigne is like A Good Year transported from Provence to Paris, with the charming Cecile de France taking a bistro job as a very busy day nears in the neighborhood. I was "caught up in the atmosphere of the glittering city and the French tunes that fill the background."
I'm downgrading Silent Country and Short Films By Andreas Dresen to honorable mention, mostly because of the DEFA Collection entry's relative unavailability. After getting a few East German films under my belt in previous years (see The Silent Star, In the Dust of the Stars, Eolomea, and Carbide and Sorrel), I just had to check it out, though. If you remember the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the story of the dashed hopes that came with freedom is a fascinating one, although the foreshadowing quality is gone. The short films—among East Germany's last—make a great time capsule of the days before the fall.
Oddly, I wouldn't recommend Cinema 16: European Short Films for your first home film fest. Watching sixteen films from a variety of filmmakers is interesting and educational, but taking in such a variety of filmic perspectives can be a little bit like—gasp—work! It's ultimately worthwhile, but I'd try feature-length entries first.
Throw in some wine and cheese (or a baguette, Pocky, and a Caipirinha), and you've got a suitably pretentious Festival de Salon.
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