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Thursday, May 12, 2011
Cannes Day 1: Sleeping, Beauty
May 11, Day 1
In Cannes there are a number of strange practices that have matured into some sort of tradition. For example, at a press screening somebody in the audience would shout "Raoul!" right at the start, provoking a throaty laugh from the rest. For what, I have no idea, and who's this accursed Raoul I certainly haven't a clue. Then, outside the Grande Theatre Lumiere, the main venue of the festival whose steps are covered by the famous red carpet, there would be a number of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen holding hand-written placards asking for last-minute invitations (for the gala screenings, you only need an invitation to get in). These ticket-less men in tuxedo (see pic below) and women in their little black dresses display great perserverance and elegant desperation, because it's really, really hard to get a hold of Cannes invitations, and I suspect that their aim is probably not to obtain tickets from those who have spares, but to get dressed and get out in the Mediterranean evening and be seen as part of the procession that's partly a celebration of cinema, and partly a loony circus.
Another tradition is that Cannes often shows a bad opening film (with some exception of course). Last year, it was "Robin Hood". Some years before that, it was "My Blueberry Night" (Jude Law, Norah Johns, etc). This year, Woody Allen parted Cannes curtain with "Midnight in Paris", a continuation of the American director's expedition of enchanting European cities. The film wasn't bad, but perhaps only because we've stopped expecting the great, respected Allen to make great, respectable film like he did 20 years ago. Asked if he had seen "Midnight in Paris", a friend who's a New York critic looked at me blankly and said: "I wouldn't do something like that." -- Raoul!
"Midnight in Paris" is Allen's harmless ode to the fabled Paris of the 1920s. Among other childish conceits, the film parades the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, while Adien Brody turns up surrealistically to play the famous surrealist Salvador Dali. I laughed along, though the whole thing seems tired, despite Marion Cotillard's turn as the sensuous mistress of Picasso and despite Allen's gift for one-liners and in-jokes. As his characters romanticise the era that has come before them -- the belle epoque that they just missed -- we yearn for the old, brilliant films of Woody Allen of yore. Make no mistake, I wish the man would continue to kick it, to make a film every year as he's done in the past 20 years. We non-New Yorker gripe, but we would continue to watch him.
In the evening of Day 1, the first Competition film was screened to the hungry, jet-lagged press. After the customary "Raoul!", we saw "Sleeping Beauty", a perplexing study of female objectification by first-time Australian filmmaker Julia Leigh. Students of gender study will have a field day deconstructing this existential drama whose engaging power lies in the central performance by Emily Browning, last seen as baby-faced zombie-hunter in the chaotic "Suckerpunch". Here she plays Lucy, a university student who takes a well-paid job as a "sleeping beauty" at a high-class bordello, where rich old men pay to spend time with her while she, of course, sleeps. ("Your vagina will not be penetrated, your vagina is a temple," says the mama-san.)
This is not Kawabata's "House of Sleeping Beauties" or Garcia Marquez's "Memoir of a Melancholy Whore". The film is told largely through Lucy's point of view, and director Leigh, a novelist by profession, has chosen a precise, chilly, and tranquilised aesthetics to show the character's emotional inertia. The politics of the female body runs its course, without any stunning results or theses, though Browning bares it all to reveal that what's naked is not just the body but probably the soul as well. Too bad this film is unlikely to get a release in Thailand.
Which brings us to the question that I got asked soon after I arrived in Cannes: Will the Bangkok Intl Film Festival return this year? In Cannes, there are at least two dozen delegates from the Thai Ministry of Culture, Department of Export Promotion, Federation of Thai Film Producers, Thailand Film Board, etc etc, in Cannes this year. There will be a "Thai Night" at Hotel Majestic on Thursday. Despite the devotion to the "promotion of Thai film", I doubt if anybody could tell me if the Bangkok Film Festival will return this year.
Well, let's stick with Cannes for the moment. It's midnight in the Riviera. Time for a catnap now.
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