Cannes, Day 9: a Jaws-dropping look at The Paperboy, sans Kanye

Thursday May 24th 2012

This morning I saw a coming-of-age-story-cum-investigative-thriller-cum-race-relations-drama, about a teenage boy who falls for an older woman while his journalist brother fights to exonerate her wrongly incarcerate husband. It was directed by Precious‘s Lee Daniels and starred Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman. Macy Gray appeared in a supporting role as the family’s downtrodden maid Anita, and also narrated the film. And as you can see from the picture to the left of this paragraph, somewhere in the midst of all that was the sight of a disheveled John Cusack wielding a bloodied machete. Welcome to the world of The Paperboy.

The curveballs come thick and fast in Daniels’s film, which opens with Macy Gray lying flat on her back stroking an imaginary penis — and then gets weirder. Among the film’s highlights: a much-fêted scene in which Kidman squats down over Efron and urinates on his face to soothe a jellyfish sting; another in which an aggressive sexual encounter between her and Cusack is intercut with footage of farm animals; and the entirety of the film’s baffling, non sequitur third act. It should be noted that none of these moments do anything to drive the plot forward; they’re inserted seemingly at random, like particularly trashy Family Guy jokes.

While critics’ star ratings have varied — four from the Guardian, one from the Telegraph — most reviews of the film have come to the same conclusion: The Paperboy is a undeniably singular piece of camp cinema, whose extreme inconsistencies of tone and structure are mercifully offset by its moments of perverse (and possibly accidental) genius. In ten years time, don’t be surprised to see ironic ‘guilty pleasure’ screenings of the film spring up, at which point this Cannes premiere will seem like some kind of surrealist joke on the part of the programmers.

One film that promised to be equally eccentric was Cruel Summer, a new half-hour short from fashion designer, restauranteur and occasional rapper Kanye West. Screening in a specially-constructed pyramid tent, the film is described as…

‘a fusion of short film and art installation; an immersive “7 Screen Experience” for the eyes and ears unlike anything West has attempted before.’

Sadly, upon arrival at the supposed address of the press screening, we failed to locate a single one of Kanye’s septuple screens and were instead confronted by an empty car park.

Which of these is French for ‘fusion of short film and art installation’?

Resigning myself to a life lived in the absence of Kanye West’s latest offering, I returned to the flat and whiled away a few hours before the night’s big event: a brand new digital restoration of Jaws, being shown for the first time at the Cinéma de la Plage — Cannes’s beachfront screen.

Rumour has it that the UK’s one remaining original print of the film has been so heavily modified over the years — mostly by projectionists eager to extract a frame or two of cinematic history for their personal collections — that several of the shark’s early appearances are now entirely missing. So a pristine new transfer, overseen by HRH Steven Spielberg, is nothing to be sniffed at.

Sadly, the festival organisers still haven’t quite perfected the whole beach screening thing, and after 45 minutes or so of (the admittedly very good looking) new print, I got sick of watching Jaws: The Dubstep Remix — In Association With The Party Next Door, and wandered home to prepare for the following morning’s Cosmopolis screening. There’s only so much mindfuck the human brain can withstand in the space of 24 hours.