A look back at my very first Cannes Film Festival

Monday May 23rd 2011

After two solid weeks of painful 6am wake-ups, endless bus trips back and forth from the charming Parc Bellevue campsite and more filmgoing fun than I’ve ever had in my life, my first ever Cannes Film Festival experience is over. I return with a suitcase full of sweaty t-shirts, unworn ties and countless already-worthless copies of Variety. Needless to say, the shoes have lost their sheen.

A daily routine quickly established itself at the beginning of the festival: we would trudge into town on the bus for the 8:30am press screening of whatever film was showing in competition that day, be it a massive arthouse extravaganza (Melancholia) or a forgettable and mildly offensive French comedy (La Source Des Femmes). More than once I had trouble remaining conscious throughout the regularly 2hr+ runtimes, so I took to sneaking in energy drinks in my laptop bag – not as easy as it sounds when you have to submit to at least two bag checks just to get inside the Grand Theatre Lumiere. Still, it was worth the hassle just to STICK IT TO THE MAN (or in this case, the very friendly men and women who work at the Cannes Film Festival).

For the more popular screenings, my lowest-of-the-low yellow press badge meant I had to arrive at least an hour early to guarantee entry into screenings, but there’s something very satisfying about knowing that once you’re inside every single member of the audience is in the exact same position. You could be anyone from Roger Ebert to a staff writer at a Canadian high school newspaper and you’d still be party to the very first screening of a major piece of world cinema. It’s not exaggerating (but maybe a little pretentious) to say that the atmosphere of anticipation is ‘palpable’.

I saw twenty films in the end (twenty-one if you count a beachfront screening of A Night To Remember – although I did spend most of that film having a sand fight) but as you may have noticed, I only reviewed eight of them. It’s safe to say that this was partly down to laziness on my part, but you’d also be surprised how little spare time you get per day – especially if you’ve got a yellow pass. For every movie you see (and most days I only managed two or three, nothing compared to the six-a-day average of Cannes veterans) there’s hours of queueing, walking around and going back to the press room to get the jumper you left there, to be getting on with. Add to that weird sleep patterns, free espressos and writing the occasional Guardian article and you’re not left with a whole lot of time for flippant movie blogging. On the nights we managed to get into parties, animating a .gif image of Lars von Trier as a Nazi the next morning seemed like an even less attractive prospect than usual.

What I don’t want to imply, however, is that my time in Cannes was anything less than TOTALLY BONKERS AMAZING. I consider myself massively lucky to have been able to attend, and – hopefully coincidentally – I throughly enjoyed almost everything I saw there. My festival favourites included Michel Hazanavicius’s mega-exuberant silent movie The Artist, Nicolas Winding Refn’s edge-as-fuck pulp noir Drive and Markus Schleinzer’s haunting paedo-procedural drama Michael, while gems from the indie-r end of the spectrum included paranoiac character-study Martha Marcy May Marlene, brutal abuse-fest Tyrannosaur and unflinching serial killer thriller Snowtown.

By chance, the last three films I saw at the festival were both the longest and the worst I witnessed during my trip. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is an excruciatingly banal piece of ‘slow cinema’ (and a total pile of Bilge), Radu Mihaileanu’s La Source Des Femmes is a breathtakingly confused and lengthy battle-of-the-sexes comedy and Christophe Honoré’s Beloved is a quirky French musical that sounds like it was cobbled together in Microsoft Songsmith.

I won’t prattle on too much longer because I understand that what people really want from this blog is comedy graphs (my ‘abuse checklist’ proved far more popular than anything else I did during the festival, and was picked up by both Variety and Screen International) not endless wordy dissertations on world cinema *snoooore* but one final mention should go to the charming man who sells the 7.2% Kronenbourgs opposite the Cinéma de la Plage.

Couldn’t have done it without you, pal.

So that’s the last you’ll hear from me on Cannes 2011, apart from maybe a few catch-up reviews over the next couple of weeks. I hope my evident excitement over the past fourteen days hasn’t been too intolerable and I promise to resume normal service on Ultra Culture as soon as possible. I’m loading up Photoshop now, I swear.