Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges… Oh wait, we do.
A non-public festival, Cannes is an invite-only affair, catering to A-list actors, the press, media distributors, networkers and – the lowest scum of all – filmmakers. Mere fans of movies are left to humiliatingly beg for any tickets going spare outside the various theatres by holding up placards with film titles scrawled in felt tip (this year providing several amusing instances of glum young blokes holding signs reading “How To Talk To Girls At Parties“).
Not too far from the bottom of this Cannes totem pole, my free badge was acquired having secured a place for my film The Lick in the Short Film Corner – a not-so-exclusive club of 1,800 other student/indie efforts available for perusal on library Macs. It seems that as long as one can cobble together something that isn’t upside down or otherwise repugnant to the senses (and slap down an an 85-Euro submission fee – so yeah, free badge not so fee), Cannes are just about willing to grant you generous entry to its forbidden fortress of red carpets, secret parties and – if you don’t mind queuing for two hours each time – maybe a few movies.
I was joined by friends, colleagues and fellow Cannes virgins Mia Maxwell, Fraser Stephen and Lynsay Holmes – my Lick script supervisor, DOP and actor respectively. Mia literally broke bones (her own) for me on my shoot, having taken a nasty tumble on rain-soaked muddy grass, and is a supremely talented filmmaker – check out her stuff after you finish reading this (or before – hers is far more worthy of your net browsing). We all got an immense kick out of being there – the vigorous crowds, the incendiary sun, the unexpected sight of Agnès Varda casually strolling right passed us. And, despite relegating ourselves to cheap burger hangout Steak & Shake out of budget necessity (7 Euros for a bottle of water in Français Tinseltown), we soaked up all the atmosphere we could. Seeing cinetrash king Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma troupe stirring up a refreshing ruckus seemingly everywhere was a particularly surreal delight.
Mia caught the networking bug much more readily than moi and amassed a sizeable collection of business cards by the week’s end. Being the awkward lurker sort, I pretended to look comfortable at the various happy hour chinwags in the Short Film Corner in-between darting to the bar to grab handfuls of free Nestle Minis. By the second or third day, I was definitely ready to cease wandering all over the joint and start seeing some actual films.
And pretty great films they were too. A new 4K restoration of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (enthusiatically as ever introduced via video by funder Martin Scorsese) was a stunner. Short films impressed too – especially Salvatore Lista’s strange and sad Le Visage, where video game violence comes under interesting scrutiny in the midst of a language barrier romance. “Sad” could crop up more than once or a dozen times in the land of Cannes, as could other “s” adjectives like “sophisticated”, “slow” or “subdued”. After a few screenings, one can’t be oblivious to this festival’s singular taste in style and philosophy. Happy endings and crazy exuberance aren’t en vogue around here. When a burst of cinematic madness erupts, it’s a delightful shock – as was the case with Matthew Rankin’s frantically-edited Tesla: Lumière Mondiale, a gloriously bonkers tribute to inventor Nikola Tesla that recalls Švankmajer’s animations and the silent film allusions from Esteban Sapir’s La Antena.
Shorts brought the fun elsewhere with Straight 8, an amateur competition selection of unedited rolls of Super 8mm. With Chewin’ The Fat-esque slapstick, cardboard ‘n’ sellotape sets and naff attempts at arthouse (think Roberta Allsworth’s Mirror Father Mirror film from Ghost World), this was college-level nonsense. But after the sameyness of the “proper” film selections at the fest, seeing profoundly varied kinds of shite was weirdly refreshing (the shots of free whisky we were handed while queuing to thank us for waiting might’ve helped too). The shorts may have even overshadowed the features, after Yorgos Lanthimos’ Killing of a Sacred Deer disappointed me with its uninspired aping of Kubrick music design and jettisoning of Lanthimos’ dark surrealism in favour of a rather more ordinary (and overly nasty) slasher horror.
My fellow Short Film Corner comrades had plenty of good stuff on offer in our Mac library too. If I was ever at a loose end for an hour or two, the selection always provided a fun way to spend the time. One highlight I happened upon was Lithuanian drama 8 Minutes. A tired woman’s escape from a rainy drive to a soothing sunbed is magically transformed into a wondrous dream by director Dovilė Šarutytė. With a saturated rainbow colour scheme straight out of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas or Carine Adler’s Under The Skin, the film hypnotises in its vibrancy and calm simplicity.
And then… there was Episodes 1 and 2 of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks resurrection. This series has given me so much to think, feel and talk about (and as I type, we’re still only half-way through at Episode 9), but I’ll hold off until Showtime airs the final part before I altogether let loose my fangirling. I can say for now that witnessing the premiere on a giant screen with booming sound in the beautiful Soixantième Theatre was a mind-fuck to die for.
Our SFC passes only allowed access to the festival’s second week (the less exciting one after the curtain has closed on most of the premieres), however we crashed a day early without any raised eyebrows from the legion of security guards. Yes, as one might expect, the first Cannes since 2016’s Bastille Day attacks was awash with newly erected vehicle barriers and machine gun-wielding troops. The current terror climate never strayed far from thought and clouded the days following the Ariana Grande bombing back home, a mere two days after we landed. Even our flight back to Edinburgh looked dicey for a time as our plane delayed taking off for over an hour after we boarded when a pudgy bloke with non-white skin was reported to the cabin crew by overly sweaty passengers alarmed by his creepy habit of taking covert photos of nearby females – as well as his admittedly ill-conceived choice of t-shirt which read “BOMB THE WORLD”. Extremist he wasn’t, dickhead he was.
An affair to remember! Would I go back? Aside from the Star Trek fan gags in The Big Bang Theory, elitism has rarely been my cuppa and so the very exclusivity that awards Cannes its fame and allure also kind of rubs my school uniform-hating skin the wrong way. Should the fest change its ways and open its doors to the public? I don’t know. Maybe one uber-fancypants party a year doesn’t hurt the film world. And maybe one day I’ll return – if my films ever make it out of the Short Film Corner and my many showbiz servants can get me all 7 Euro bottles of water I desire.