A life in Cannes

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The sixty-fourth Cannes Film Festival starts in France today. Dave Calhoun looks back on a decade of attending the greatest film festival in the world

As I packed for Cannes (Vitamin C, check; stamina, check; ability to withstand endless scenes of sex, death and angst, check), I realised I’d reached a milestone: this will be my tenth consecutive year of attending and reporting on the Cannes Film Festival. That’s roughly 120 days of watching movies. That’s four months of talking about films as if they are horses (‘Did you catch the 7.30?’ ‘The Von Trier doesn’t have a chance in hell of a prize’ ‘It started well but didn’t know how to finish’) and speaking of filmmakers and their work as if their parents never gave them a first name (‘The Polanski’, ‘The Loach’, ‘The Kaurismaki’…).

That’s 17 weeks of trying desperately to stay awake during the tenth early-morning screening in a row. That’s 17 weeks of using my elbows to barge past arrogant Italian journalists in endless queues for films. And, yes, that’s 17 weeks of partaking of more rosé wine than is sensible for any healthy human being.

Images flash into the mind. The shock of hearing someone shout out ‘rubbish’ and then ‘fuck off’ at the end of a Cannes competition screening of Olivier Assayas’s ‘Demonlover’ during my first festival in 2002 – the kind of end-credits cat-calling you soon get used to at this festival. The elation of catching Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s ‘Uzak’ on the final day of my second festival in 2003 and finally going home happy and thinking I’d seen something special. The sense of a riot about to break out during the showing of Vincent Gallo’s disastrous ‘The Brown Bunny’ during the same year. The woman convulsing next to me during 'Antichrist' and the scene in which Charlotte Gainsbourg attacks herself with rusty scissors. Watching such remarkable, world-class films as ‘The White Ribbon’, ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ and ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days’ – all of which would go on to win the Palme d’Or.

And what about memories from outside the screening rooms? I can remember the impossibility of avoiding mouthy Brit actor Nick Moran at any beach party for the first few years. The sight of a rubbery Arnold Schwarzenegger (pre his Governator days) pressing flesh at a tacky MTV party for ‘Terminator 3’ at Pierre Cardin’s villa in the hills. The Danish art clown Lars Von Trier sparring with journalists at press conferences. Me, trying desperately, hard to ask sensible questions of Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas through a fug of tiredness and a hangover one far-too-early morning. Being barged off the pavement by a striding Kevin Costner. The man I passed on the Croisette on the final day of my first festival wearing a tatty old t-shirt with the legend ‘Life is short. Cannes is long’. (It seemed like wisdom at the time.) Talking to a Turkish man at a party who claimed to be the tallest man in the world and was in town for a publicity stunt. The sight of a security guard with a Rottweiler telling me that it was time to get out of the sea and put my clothes back on. Now.

There’s a lot of glory at Cannes, especially when one proud filmmaker, like Apichatpong Weerasethakul last year, walks away with cinema’s most prestigious prize, the Palme d’Or. But looking back at the past ten years, there’s a lot of shame too – the dreadful films that should never have been selected, the misguided opinions thrown boldly across the dinner table, the evil gossip, the debilitating tiredness, the endless publicity stunts and the giant posters along the seaside for horrific new movies that have nothing to do with the cream of world cinema being projected inside the screening rooms. Cinema is both art and entertainment, but it’s a business too – and nowhere do those three things come together more beautifully – and more bizarrely – than at Cannes.

Author: Dave Calhoun



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