Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Poor Connoisseur in Cannes

Previous: An Invitation for a Kiss

The Marché du Film feels much more real to me, with its labyrinth of trade booths, just downstairs but a world away from the hype of Todd Haynes' Carol, which is screening for the first time today. The press saw Carol last night and there is a minor freakout going on in Cannes over the film. There must be fifty desperate people outside holding signs, “Invitation pour Carol SVP.”
Doc Corner is having consulting sessions at the moment and later today there are drinks. On Monday, Dennis Lim from Lincoln Center is part of a panel discussion with Thom Powers of TIFF. And Tuesday there are one-on-one meetings with various festival heads and sales agents but you need a Marché badge. I’ll come by tomorrow morning and see if I can book a meeting with an interesting person. And if so, I’ll spend the €30 for a Marché badge on Tuesday.

I’ve met a lot of people but so far, I’m not sure if anyone will be more than a passing acquaintance. There are a lot of parties, a lot of schmoozola. It’s all rather tiring and I’m also rather worn down with worrying about money and dealing with my Turkish host, who speaks very little English and bores me to death.
“What films do you like?” I asked in desperation to find something to talk about. I had to type this into Google Translate for him to understand.
He spent three minutes typing something painfully into my iphone. To my surprise, it was one word, “Action.”
I typed back, “No I mean, what are the names of the films you like? Or the names of some directors?” 
He reads the translation out loud very slowly and then replies, “Jason Statham. I like.”
I google Jason Statham and type, “Oh, he’s an actor. What do you like about Jason Statham?”
“Jason Statham. I like.”
Uninspiring is an understatement. He’s not even eye candy and he has no idea how to dress. He’s one of those guys who wears jeans with bad bleach stains and t-shirts that say ARMANI. And his apartment is a hovel. The kitchen cabinet has fallen off the wall and is resting on the counter and half of the stove. The toilet tilts to the left rather alarmingly when you sit on it. There is a constant drip from what looks to be the water heater, collected by a Tupperware tied underneath, which is continually overflowing. Worse, there is an odor in the bathroom that I can’t get used to and permeates the entire apartment. It smells like a feral animal, like cat pee or skunk pee, it’s acrid and eye-watering. But on the other hand, I have a place to sleep right in Cannes at only €25 per night, so I can’t really complain too much. It sure beats running to catch the last train to Nice at 11pm.

I met the Turk on the train to Nice. Yeah, no idea how. Some angel with a peculiar sense of humor was watching over me that day.
Before I arrived in Cannes, I had booked two couch surfing hosts. The first guy was in Nice and the second one was in St. Laurent du Var. Free accommodation within a 30 minute train ride was amazing, but it was difficult to keep to a 10:45pm curfew in Cannes. The first night I managed to pull a Cinderella and I got to the station just a minute before the last train left for Nice, but the second night, I missed the train completely and had to spend the night on the spare bed in a friend’s hotel.
That was supposed to be my final night in Nice, so the morning I met the Turk, I was on my way back to pack up. But I didn’t know where I was going. The couch surfing host in St. Laurent du Var had cancelled. I spent 15 minutes on the train, struggling with the airbnb app on my iphone trying to secure another place to stay. I gave up when I heard the announcement, “Prochaine arret, Nice Ville.”
A scrawny brownish guy stood up also and followed me to the door, where we stood opposite one another, waiting for the train to pull up to the station.  After a while, he struck up a conversation. Well, it was sort of a conversation since his English is awful and my French is worse. When he found out that I about to give someone on airbnb €30 per night, he offered me his couch. “Mon appartement ici,” he said, pointing at an imaginary spot on the door, “et la Croisette ici. Vous en peut marcher en cinq minute.” He walked his fingers in an L shaped pattern to another imaginary spot, clicking his tongue at every imaginary step. “What’s the catch?” I wondered, but I sized him up as someone harmless and rather simple, so I agreed.
It turns out that the catch is utter boredom. And he follows me around. I have to tell him every morning that I’m going to the Marché du Film and he can’t come in without a badge. I think part of the problem is that he doesn’t understand film as a business. Every time I mention the Marché, I could see his wee mind trying to adjust to the idea of a Marché for films like the Marché near his house where zucchinis with flowers and ridgy tomatoes and candied fruit are bought and sold.

I really love the Marché near his house. It’s called Marché Forville and it’s open every morning except Monday, when there is an antique market there instead, a fact that the Turk didn’t seem to know. He told me that it was only open on Sunday but then it’s quite obvious that he doesn’t cook and isn’t interested in beautiful local produce or the life of an outdoor market.
The Marché Forville is clearly the center of the eastern end of Cannes, which is the oldest part of the town. There are fewer tourists and it's poorer, but much more genuine and really beautiful, with steep winding streets cobbled with smooth yellowish stone. I almost forget about the squalor and pissy smell when I step out of the Turk’s building. Almost, but not quite. As I wander past the fancy touristy restaurants on Rue St Antoine, I wish I weren’t on a rather impossible budget of $12 a day, which I wouldn't even have if a friend hadn't lent me some money. Then I turn down a pedestrian shopping drag, where I can’t afford anything, not that I’m terribly interested in cheap shoes or souvenir t-shirts or a shop where you could buy a checked apron and have a woman embroider it with your name in cursive script. But still, it’s depressing having so little in your pocket and nothing but three wrinkly dresses to wear that probably smell like cat piss.

After a few days, I got into a routine of escaping from the Turk in the morning to have a coffee and croissant at Café des Poets, an unpretentious café-bar that had wifi. It was decorated with black and white photos from the 1950s and a framed pair of jeans. The clientele were an oddball bunch of weathered locals. Small tan women with purse-sized dogs and wizened guys who stand while drinking their kir or pastis. I learned later that this place had been around for more than forty years. Every morning, a round guy with glasses would greet me with a jovial, “Bonjour madame, café Americain et une croissant?”
During the day, I would slowly drift west. After a day of deliberating whether I ought to pay €80 for a 3-day Marché badge or €98 for a late registration festival badge, I managed to score a free badge from a friend who had registered for the Short Film Corner but decided not to attend. With the Short Film Corner badge, I had access to everything except Marché screenings and free wifi.
It didn't matter that I couldn't see Marché screenings since there were plenty of reprise screenings that I could attend, but the lack of wifi was a real problem. My British phone plan works well in the UK, but abroad, it costs 45 pence per MB. I’ve been using £10 every other day just sending texts and looking up information online. If I’d known better, I would’ve just gotten a €35 SIM card from one of the vendors in the Palais building. Instead, refilling my phone has drained me of £80 in two weeks. So my daily routine has been divided between chasing film funding and wifi.
I spend an hour or two in the morning at the Café des Poets, catching up on emails and researching the people I’d met the previous day. After that, I meander over to the Marché to find some people to converse about my various projects. Then I’d often end up at the Italian Pavilion, which gives me a fantastic view of the Mediterranean and unlimited free coffee, while allowing me to siphon wifi from the American Pavilion next door.
I didn’t like the American Pavilion. It’s full of gregarious filmmakers in their 20s whom I have very little in common with. And everything costs an arm and a leg. I paid €10 for a salad once comprised of five small mozzarella balls and a few watery slices of tomato on a thin bed of undressed lettuce leaves. And just to enter during the day, you have to register and pay $150. No other international pavilion has an entry fee. They do open their doors to the public at 6pm for a cocktail hour, but drinks are all over €8. In New York City that might be fine, but just to give you some perspective, in most of France, a glass of wine is about €4.
The only other place that I could get wifi was Steak 'n Shake, which had an upstairs area with tables conveniently placed by windows and electrical sockets. You could also get an okay vegetarian sandwich with fries for €8 so I would usually have dinner there. I was at the Steak 'n Shake so often, a friend jokingly called it my office. Because I didn't have any money and I didn't want to go back to the hovel, I probably spent a few too many lonely nights in the office, researching random subjects and wondering where I was going after Cannes. Sometimes, though, I did go on a trek with friends to random cocktail hours and beach parties and we would end up on the fancy western side of town at the Petit Majestic, where it seemed there was a nightly gathering of a few hundred people that took up the entire sidewalk around the bar. 
Then I’d wander back east to the hovel. Usually the Turk wouldn’t be back yet but once, I returned to find him parked on the couch I slept on, texting or whatever. I had to awkwardly shuffle back and forth in the doorway until he decided to get up.

One day, a film distributor whom I’d met at Doc Corner dragged me to a film. He was shocked that I hadn’t made much of an effort to see any of the films and couldn’t understand that this wasn’t my priority at the festival. “There’s a film in fifteen minutes and we’re going to see it,” he declared. We hightailed down the Croisette weaving through an enormous crowd gaping at the red carpet even though there wasn’t a premiere going on and there was nothing to see except a staircase covered by a rug.
It turned out we were seeing the second part of Arabian Nights by Miguel Gomes. The entire film was six hours long, so it had been divided into three parts. I had heard about the opus from a film programmer friend, who liked the director’s idea to tie tales from the Arabian Nights to current events in Portugal but was rather iffy about the execution. He also said that it reminded him a little of Pasolini’s A Thousand and One Nights. I could see what he meant. The story structure was similar and something about the mysteriousness of the characters, but the director didn’t come anywhere near the aching beauty or ravishing sensuousness of Pasolini’s film, which is a feverish dream of orange light and sandy vistas and gorgeous people with lithe brown bodies getting it on. In contrast, Gomes’ film is atmospheric but a little too abstruse. As the film segued from a story about an outcast hiding out in the hills to an oddly medieval-looking trial of a mother and son for selling furniture that didn’t belong to them, my distributor friend got impatient.
“Are you digging it?” he asked without even an attempt at being quiet.
“Well…” I whispered, not sure what to say. The second story had just begun.  
“I’m going to check out the Italian party,” he said without waiting for me to finish. He stood up and after a moment, I reluctantly followed him out. I had to go to the bathroom anyway.

Later, when I talked to him about the film, it was odd to me that he had only seen one Pasolini film.  I mean, he had lived in Italy for over ten years, speaks Italian with near fluency, and he identifies himself as a film buff. I forgot which Pasolini he’d seen; he said it really quickly as if he didn’t want me to ask questions.
I’ve also never met anyone who attends films the way he does. He doesn’t think you can get an idea of a film through its synopsis and consequently he has a scattershot method of randomly picking films based on what time they began. And if he doesn’t like the film, he would just walk out. “I trust my taste,” he says. Well, yes, me too, but I don’t think you can understand a film unless you’ve seen it through. I mean, I suppose if a film is utterly banal and formulaic and you know how it’s going to end, perhaps you might walk out, but that Portuguese film was definitely not paint-by-numbers. I’m probably a bit too careful about the films I choose to see, basing my decisions upon the synopsis, the reviews, the director, and the actors, usually in that order. But that's because a film affects me for days or weeks sometimes. “I’m an omnivore,’’ he declared. Okay, well then I suppose I’m a snobby connoisseur. 

By the time Tuesday rolled around, I had been at the Cannes Film Festival for six days and I was more than ready to go. But my luggage still hadn’t arrived.

Next: Frumping in France with Friends

1 comment:

  1. "The toilet tilts to the left rather alarmingly when you sit on it." My favorite sentence. I love the way you write about leading a life few would be courageous enough to pursue.