You Talkin' To Me?
Scorsese shows us the half-monty and later the press crunch becomes uncivil
By Grant Rosenberg

The downside to the nature of film festivals is that there is little time to reflect before going to the next film. It is a factory line, a cluster of collective memory, one film following another until you can’t remember if a certain scene or moment or theme was from this movie or that one. I’ve met journalists, who see a great film in the afternoon, and despite time for another film or two, find themselves not seeing any more that day, content to just let the great one stay with them, like the last bite of a nice meal.

This happened for me with About Schmidt, the new film by Alexander Payne (Election) starring Jack Nicholson. Like Punchdrunk Love, it nails that tone that allows for comedy and tragedy to exist in the same moment, and does so with a certain grace. About Schmidt is a look at mortality, the life of a man in Omaha, Nebraska who lives a comfortable if bland life. That’s how the film begins. Since all the films here are new, with a few exceptions, we are able to see them without any preconceived notions or exposure to ad campaigns, and all audiences should, ideally. So I say: it is a bit slow at times, but it is quite good. When it is released, go and see it.

Though it has been well-received here, it did not compare to the reception of Nicholson himself, looking the antithesis of the sad, pale, chubby, combed-over character Schmidt. With his wide goatee, bronzed face, longish hair and orange-tinted glasses, Nicholson radiated his Jack-ness and only members of the elite press were able to enter the press conference, the rest of us watching it on TV monitors outside the doors. Nicholson spoke, perhaps a bit too self-indulgently, about not watching dailies for this film, not looking at himself in the mirror for the duration of the whole shoot due to how… well, unbearably un-Jack he was, sitting there in Omaha, being filmed without lighting tricks to take away the neck shadows in this, his most un-vain performance.


A day earlier, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz walked up the red carpet to show an extended preview of his epic period film Gangs of New York which will premiere at the end of this year. Much like a CEO reporting to stockholders, I couldn’t shake the idea that Scorsese seemed to be making himself accountable when he didn’t need to. Furthermore, it seemed awkward and unwise to present 20 minutes of scenes from a film—unless it was the opening chronological moments—because it would effectively spoil the plot. But it seemed like a unique opportunity, so I attended nonetheless. Before showing the film, Scorsese took to the stage for an homage to Billy Wilder. He spoke of his personal relationship to the late director, and then showed scenes from Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Sabrina and a few others. But it was clear the people here were waiting to see the footage from Gangs of New York, a year late in its release. The preview was paced interestingly, an abbreviated version of the story that clearly indicated the relationships between characters, giving perhaps too much exposition, and ending with the standard trailer’s quick succession of images set to bombastic music.

What can be said about a film based on its trailer? It tastes like chicken. It’s a long commercial, so all we can really say is that has great sets, nice production design, pretty actors, good music, and some interesting lines of dialogue more melodramatic than I had expected. That’s really all a trailer can tell us, as we all know from seeing great trailers for poor films. During its presentation, there were at least a few dozen camera flashes, from people in the audience, usually when DiCaprio was onscreen. The rest of the viewers were a bit exasperated because the concept of film projection is still unclear to these people, who will be surprised to develop their film and find a blank white screen instead of lovely Leo. This happens at every screening, where people take flash photos of the Cannes logo before each film. It would do the festival well to add a comment about this along with the warning to turn off cell phones before the films begin.

The area outside of the press conference was a madhouse , leaving a sea of pushy, near violent media wanting to get inside. Only a third would be able to enter, those with the coveted white and pink passes (Gadfly gets blue this year, but there is always hope for next year), though there were still dozens of media people who left the screening as it began in order to get a good place in line for the conference. Later, as I stood in this melee, I wondered if these people are personally as unsavory as they appear to be as they cut in line or exasperatedly complain to the security personnel how there is some mistake, and they are being unnecessarily screwed by the system, or if it is simply the pressures of deadlines and needing to get quotes that force their hand.


Earlier today I saw Le Fils (The Son), by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes. This is their third feature film after years as documentary filmmakers, and all of their features feel like non-fiction. As with their two previous films, La Promesse and Rosetta (which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes several years ago), Le Fils is a minimalist story about people living in Belgium. The stories begin in the middle of the lives of the characters, who are often introverted, and end without any sort of permanent resolution, giving us the feeling that we are just peeking in on their lives at this moment and that conflicts will continue, even those raised in the film. Le Fils has no music at all, is shot entirely hand-held often in long continuous shots, and though you might not be able to put your finger on it, is significantly devoid of frontal views. Instead, the camera is literally over the shoulder of the characters, following them around as they do things, looking at them from the side. This film is about a carpenter, and aside from the drama that is the plot of the film, we watch him teach the craft, and spend time with him as he works with the wood. It is a different kind of filmmaking, to be sure, and also a different kind of acting as well. Lead actor Olivier Gourmet, with his "everyman" looks and demeanor explained after the film that he doesn’t like historionics and "demonstrative acting with all its tears." Because the film is more about his character doing actions, and less about words or facial close-ups, Gourmet said that it forces an actor to act with his whole being. "I get the impression that I am acting with the back of my neck, that I’ve got emotion there."

The Dardennes do not put marks down for their actors, meaning the places they are supposed to be standing during a scene to achieve the ideal lighting and focus. This adds to the sensation that we are simply watching real people go about their lives. All three of their films have carved out a certain style, and due to their existential, sparse simplicity, find an intelligent complexity about how real people live and work.


Along the beach in Cannes, near the main Palais, is the international village, a series of well-outfitted tents representing different nations attending the festival, a sort of film fest version of EPCOT’s IllumiNations. There is the Irish Pavilion, British Pavilion, Italian Pavilion and so on, with the American Pavilion at the front, and possibly the largest. It is Los Angeles transplanted, with its multiple cafes, replete with veggie wraps and donuts, alimentations hard to come by in France. There are a dozen high speed computer terminals as well and some office space for certain major U.S. media. Inadvertently I stepped into an area that unlike the rest of the pavilion is not all-access. A guy working for an American TV station, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, coarsely and arrogantly told me to get out of their area due to it technically being an office where there was some TV equipment. When I questioned his rudeness, he got in my face until his colleague calmly told him, without looking up at us, "Okay, it’s over, man, let it go."

Whether it is simply ego or the pressures of the job, this is just Cannes, man, not Yalta.

Cannes Notebook #1

Cannes Notebook#2