This morning, I granted myself a well-earned lie in, eschewing the Japanese Palme d’Or competition entry screening at 8.30am and instead, ensuring that I made it to the Palais in time to see Jeune Femme, a low budget drama from first time French director Léonor Serraille, screening as part of the Un Certain Regard strand. Introducing her team ahead of the screening, she pointed out that it had been a first film for many women. Another member of the team suggested hopefully, “Soon, we won’t even have to mention it.”
Many of the films screened at Cannes, in the various strands, are obviously destined for a wide theatrical release – giving delegates a preview of what the general audience can look forward to. But many others are destined to remain unseen on British cinema screens. That’s not a reflection on the quality of a film, but its commercial prospects. I stand to be corrected, of course, but Jeune Femme, while a brisk and entertaining story of a young woman trying to get over being dumped by her boyfriend, doesn’t have any particular original streak that makes it a must-see for UK audiences. As she finds somewhere new to live, looks for a new job, slowing switching her youthful naivety for the relative maturity of a more responsible adult, we never really feel that we learn anything about humanity – or even just about her – beyond the obvious. Perhaps the story here is more off-screen, about how a group of enthusiastic young women put their own experiences on screen.
During a little downtime after the screening, I popped to the UK Film Centre, where I spoke to a London-based Scot who was having trouble financing his feature, Stef & Zef, and he believed discrimination was at play. Michael Normand is pitching the film, in which Alan Cumming plays an illegal immigrant from Albania who strikes a deal with an immigration lawyer, played by Breaking Bad’s Laura Fraser, and ends up falling in love with her. Normand said he was coming up against producers in Cannes expressing concern about an openly gay actor playing a necessarily straight character. He listed examples such as Colin Firth in A Single Man, Sean Penn in Milk and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia as indications that producers are perfectly comfortable to have straight actors playing gay characters, but they’re more reluctant to cast the other way around.
Then it was back into a darkened room for another Un Certain Regard film, After the War, by Annarita Zambrano. It follows the aftermath of the assassination of an Italian professor in Bologna by a radical gang using the name of a left-wing militant group that killed a judge twenty years earlier. The film follows the assassin from twenty years earlier, who’s now forced to run away from the new life he’s set up in France, with his sixteen year old daughter – and his family back in Italy, who haven’t spoken to him since he fled Italy. It’s an interesting story, well told, but anyone unfamiliar with the political background, might be left a little cold and – more significantly from a cinematic point of view – wonder why they’re being asked to sympathise with a ruthless killer.
It was only after I emerged from this screening that I released that the Cannes Film Festival had held a formal one minutes silence in memory of those killed in the Manchester bombing. It’s shocking how removed from real life you can feel in Cannes, flitting around between screenings, press conferences and meetings – only occasionally checking your phone for news. Many of the pavilions in the Village International, including the UK Film Centre, lowered their flags to half mast as a mark of respect.
The next meeting of the day was with British producer Nick Hirschkorn, for our annual Cannes catch-up – although we live and work a 10 minute walk from each other in London – before heading to the Creative Scotland reception in a beach club. The food and drink weren’t particularly Scottish – no whisky or haggis – but the accents were, as was the enthusiasm for Scotland’s input into the British – and global – film business. The speeches were short, to allow more time for drinking – erm, networking – but the Glasgow Film Festival’s Allison Gardner didn’t miss an opportunity to remind any film-makers present that submissions had opened for this year’s event.
After dinner at a local pizza place with a film financier, a production assistant and a film student I met at the Scotland reception, we headed off to try to find a party to end the night. We’d heard that there was an event at the American Pavilion. Arriving to find a lengthy queue outside and security not even allowing people to join it, for the first time, I witnessed the mythical magic that attractive women can work to sneak into Cannes parties. But as the three of them got inside, I was trapped at the door and it took me half an hour, being crushed half to death outside, before I got in. It turned out to be Queer Night, with drinks costing up to 10 euros a pop, which left me wondering why dozens of people were waiting desperately to get into a party which didn’t require a ticket and where you had to pay for drinks – I thought people only queued up for parties where you did need a ticket and the drinks were free. An American magazine editor moaned to me that although it was Queer Night, the party was “only about a third queer.” I felt like apologising and sloping away, but it had taken me half an hour to get in – I had to spend at least half an hour there to make it worthwhile.
Walking back pat the beach, it was nice to see one of the more inclusive events of the festival; the nightly screenings of classic films at the Cinema de la Plage. Tonight, hundreds of people filled deck chairs and the neighbouring promenade to watch Missing, by Costa Gavras.
My group then ended up the night at the Grand hotel, where it’s almost impossible for any Cannes delegate to go without seeing someone they know. Cannes is about networking, after all.