As well as writing about films, I also write films, so for me, the Cannes market that runs alongside the festival very much comes into its own. One of the events put on at the UK Film Centre as part of the market is a “meet an expert” session, which pairs film-makers with industry insiders for free advice. I booked myself in for a meeting with Charles Leveque, a president at one of the leading media law firms, Harbottle & Lewis. Perhaps it was meeting him on the beach in Cannes that made me assume someone with a surname like Leveque would pronounce his name “Sharl” – but it turns out he’s every bit as English as the prince who shares his name. With a handful of legal issues on two of the scripts I was working on, he usefully put aside some of my concerns, while confirming others, but I left with the confidence to continue writing both of them. I’m running out of reasons to procrastinate. Another bonus about the event was that while I was waiting for Charlie’s previous meeting to end, I found myself chatting to the BFI’s head of certification – another useful contact. Business cards exchanged.
Next it was off to explore an as-yet unvisited area of the market, known as the Pantiero, consisting of more international pavilions, alongside the harbour. This was a particularly useful excursion, since one of the marquees on the site houses the French Film Commission, full of information about shooting in France – which one of my projects requires – including shooting on a motorway – which the First World War drama doesn’t.
With a little more time to kill before the first screening of the day, another thing on my to-do list was to keep up one of my ongoing photography projects, taking the same photos of the same hotels along the Croisette as I’ve been taking every year, adorned with a different set of billboards.
Finally, it was back to the festival for a screening of Carol, the highly-acclaimed drama from Todd Haynes, in which Cate Blanchett’s unhappily married 1950s mother, already preparing to separate, begins a relationship with Rooney Mara’s younger shop-girl, at a time when a judge is about to consider custody of daughter. The film effectively portrays a time long before society began to move towards accepting homosexuality. The necessarily restrained performances hide emotions forbidden by those around them until they are unable to contain themselves any longer, damaging Carol’s hopes of retaining custody of her daughter and jeopardising her paramour’s similarly unsatisfying relationship. But while it’s the latest in a long line of films that highlight the injustice of previous generations refusing to allow everyone to love whomever they wanted, the narrative was disappointingly linear and opportunities for real drama and intrigue were wasted. Worst of all, it committed the crime of starting with a scene from later in the story, with no clear need or purpose. The new Culture Secretary should legislate against this most frequent of cinematic crimes.
The Cannes Film Festival is very specific about what it recognises – the market is a little more flexible. With the computer firm HP sponsoring both, it puts on its own events to promote whatever it likes and one of those events was promoting its latest special effects technology, used on the BBC1 fantasy series Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. A day after episode one was broadcast back in the UK, HP screened the first two episodes at the Majestic hotel, opposite the Palais, followed by a question and answer session with British producer Nick Hirschkorn, director Toby Haynes and special effects chief Will Cohen. Hirschkorn was pleased to be back in Cannes, having missed the past two years because he was working on the TV series. Having launched his film career by bringing a copy of Enid Blyton’s Five Children and It to the Croisette and returning to London with a deal, he still finds that having the whole industry together in one place is useful. People need to see you are here, he insists.
Then it was back to cinema again for another of the competition entries. Marguerite et Julien was among the more surreal of this year’s Cannes offerings. Based, we’re told, on a story that happened “very long ago,” we are told – in the form of a bedtime story for a group of excitable young girls at a French orphanage – the tale of the eponymous sister and brother, whose feelings for each other develop in a way deemed unacceptable by society, although unlike today’s earlier film, society has not yet changed its mind about incest – some love is indeed still forbidden, although the cost of loving the “wrong” person nowadays is nothing like what the characters in this peculiarly timeless piece might face; the various elements of the story-telling – such as costumes, technology, modes of transport and society’s attitudes – are pulled, apparently randomly, from various points between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, making this a particularly odd confection that is tough to know how to take. The style is completely unique but it is hard fully to identify with protagonists whose behaviour has not yet been endorsed by society. Imagine if Carol had been made in the 1950s – would people have remarked at how outrageously its protagonist was being treated? Similarly, while modern attitudes are generally more compassionate, society won’t view this film as a rallying cry for the legalisation of incest.
After a couple of fairly heavy films – interesting companion pieces, in a sense – separated by some British TV magic, it was time for the requisite Cannes partying, tonight provided by Japan. Promoting its upcoming films and technology in the gardens of the Grand Hotel, the Japan Day Project was one of those rare Cannes delights – a reception that has some relevance to what it’s trying to promote. With so many parties being mirror images of each other – a bar at one end, a DJ at the other and some canapes in between, it was refreshing to find fresh sushi and noodles being prepared in one corner, served with chopsticks, naturally, with traditional Japanese desserts available and various types of sake being served in take-home-and-keep individually designed and handmade sake cups, fashioned from china or wood – oh, and there was a regular bar in the corner, loud music – and a gift bag containing a hachimaki, or Japanese bandana, retaining the authentic feel. The hospitality and appropriateness of that hospitality could not be faulted, but whether or not such an event truly helps to promote Japanese film is another question. But it can’t do the country any harm to spread its culture generously among the world’s press, as well as existing supporters who are rewarded for their contribution to their country’s international reputation.
As this party wound up, there came an unexpected and welcome invite to another, on the pier outside the Carlton Hotel, just a few hundred metres up the Croisette. Disney had laid on a lavish Hollywood party to promote the new Pixar film Inside Out, which had just received its world premiere. With a full buffet, featuring everything from sliders to vegetarian ravioli, all the drink the guests might need and search-lights sweeping the sky, this was a typical party that could have been promoting anything, were it not for the billboard at the end of the pier. The billboard featured the film’s characters, but the party lacked character. While Inside Out was screening out of competition, when it comes to the awarding of the Palme d’Or, it’s the films, not the parties that are being judged.