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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Cannes Day 1: Spring Fever
Cannes Day 1: Spring Fever
Cannes is hot and sweaty, as usual. The mob of journalists and industry professionals have already descended on this French resort town, mingling with an equally determined mob of full-time star-gazers and young women in see-through black dresses holding placards begging for tickets for the opening-night gala screening of the dazzling Pixar animation “Up”. This afternoon I spotted a woman with a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “PORN STAR”, then a bald uncle whose sleeveless top screamed “ITALIAN STALLION”. Can you get more literal than this? This was not far from the famous red carpet of Grand Theatre Lumiere, where the elite Competition films are screened and where, every evening, stars in magnificently low-cut dresses climb the steps and pose for photographers. Cannes, at least during the film festival, mixes the tacky and the glitzy, very confidently.
In my first entry I predicted a gladiatorial bloodbath among the films in the Competition, where the heavyweights in world cinema will face off spectacularly during the next ten days. Another battle, this one behind closed door, that all observers are dying to witness (but no chance) is the one between the nine-member jury, who will decide which film will get the coveted Palme d’Or, perhaps the world’s most prestigious film award (yes, much more than the Oscar).
This year Cannes appointed French actress Isabelle Huppert to chair the jury. The other eight members include four actresses – American Robin Wright Penn, Taiwanese Shu Qi, Indian Sharmila Tagore III, and Italian Asia Argento (last seen tongue-kissing a Rottweiler in “Go-Go Girl”) – three directors, namely Nuri Bilge Ceylan from Turkey, James Grey from the US, and Lee Chang-dong from Korea (once he was Korea’s Minister of Culture), and lastly the British novelist Hanif Kureishi.
Most Thai boys, I suspect, would have the hots for Shu Qi, the former soft-porn star who has lately become a muse for arthouse auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien, or maybe Asia Argento, whose beauty and talent verge on terrifying. Me? Well, it must be the sign of my age but I would like to point out that Ms Huppert, 56, interpreter of many intense, scary, and sometimes soul-crushing roles during her long career, is the sexiest of them all. But that’s not the point. The point is: Ms Huppert is a tiny actress who, on screen at least, can be very strong, extreme, towering and flat-out frightening – so who’ll dare, one might suspect, go against her during the jury deliberation?
When that question was raised during the press conference today, no jury members uttered a word. “Then I’ll go against myself,” Ms Huppert said, with a serene smile that quieted the whole room. At that point I vowed to obtain her autograph no matter what it costs.
The only Thai person who ever sat on the Cannes jury was filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Speaking of the jury, I wonder how they’d react to the first Competition entry screened for journalists on Wednesday: It was the Chinese film “Spring Fever” by director Lou Ye. Lou’s previous film was “Summer Palace”, a sulfurous, melancholy tale of political and sexual liberation that was released in Bangkok last year. “Spring Fever” is perhaps the opposite, a poetically asphyxiating story of sexual repression told through two love triangles that are increasingly torrid and self-destructive. At the centre of it is a homosexual ex-cabaret singer who drifts through the nocturnal Nanjing leaving a trail of erotic misfortunes.
It’s a strong film that captures the lives lived on the edge of a void, and it confirms Lou’s talent as a chronicler of tragic youths in modern China, and I might venture to predict that all the female jury members would dig it.
“Spring Fever” still has no Thai distributor, though I believe the film would do well in Bangkok. So get a move on!
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