With every film in the two official strands at Cannes being a world premiere, rarely has much been written about the selected films in advance – in many cases, even the cast and crew haven’t seen them yet – so most decisions on whether or not to go to see a film in the first place is based on the title, the director or cast. So, when lack of sleep was beginning to cause problems, and seeing a film by Benny and Josh Safdie as the early morning screening, i decided this was a day to set the alarm just a little later. Then, when the rare opportunity to mount the red carpet for the world premiere, in your finery, fell into my lap, it was a little disappointing for that to turn out to be for this same film. Then, I looked up Good Time to see what was in store, and seeing that it starred Twilight’s Robert Pattinson – last seen in Cannes delivering a barnstorming performance in the tense Australian crime drama The Rover – I started looking forward to the evening activity with a little more enthusiasm.
So having tickets to see this tonight meant I could indeed miss the 8.30am press showing and make it to the Palais by 11am for the first of two films, shown back to back at the rooftop Soixantieme – itself celebrating its tenth anniversary. Apart from when celebrities are being flown to and from the yachts by helicopter, which can be heard above the gentle flapping of the canvas walls, this is generally an impressive cinema, in terms of technical quality, capacity, comfort and convenience.
The first film of the day was Rodin, Jacques Doillon’s biopic of the nineteenth century French sculptor, depicting the period when he was working on The Gates of Hell. Vincent Lindon delivers a pensive and downbeat portrayal of a serious man who seemed to spend so much time sleeping with his muses, models and female pupils – often under the nose of his long-suffering wife – that it’s amazing that he ever got anything finished. As it turned out, he didn’t get The Gates of Hell finished.
Given that the next screening was in the very same cinema, it’s a shame we couldn’t just sit there and wait and instead had to go through the process of walking outside and queueing up again before going back inside. And yes, I said queueing; one of the changes this year is that whereas previously, press could walk straight into the tent on the roof, for “next day screenings,” the organisers now limit this privilege to the first 50 in the queue, which is tough when people start lining up when you’re still inside watching another film. I suppose it’s only fair, given that they’ve previously laid on other screenings for press, but it would’ve been frustrating, had I not got back in.
The film was the latest South Korean blood-fest, The Merciless, about a young cop who goes undercover with a ruthless drugs gang and then goes rogue – or does he? It’s a slick, violent crime thriller, with perhaps a twist or two too many, but it keeps you guessing until the end – although there’s possibly not much point guessing, as there’s always another twist around the corner ready to trip you up.
Next it was back to the apartment to prepare for my first evening Official Competition screening in nearly 20 years of coming to Cannes. I knew these events required formal wear and hadn’t brought a tux. I’d hoped that my navy suit would suffice, in the twilight. As it happened, I hadn’t even brought a white shirt, but I’d hoped that a smart, plain, blue Yves Saint Laurent shirt would looked smart enough with the navy. The owner of my Air BnB even offered to iron it for me, the dear. I tried to suggest it wasn’t necessary as it would be hidden under my blazer anyway, but she insisted – and then panicked me when she jumped back in shock, when the shirt I produced wasn’t white. The bigger problem, though, was neck-wear. My Kiwi friend James Partridge, who’s staying at the same house, had his tux and bow-tie on standby, but he also had an emergency black, formal, straight tie that he’d used for such occasions in the past. Fingers crossed.
As we arrived at the queue, the first set of security guards let us through. I breathed a sigh of relief. “There, you’re in!” cried James, enthusiastically. The second set of security guards let us through too, but soon afterwards, a young man in a very smart tux and bow-tie stopped me to say I wouldn’t be allowed onto the red-carpet with a straight tie, formal or not, but I could buy a bow-tie for “5 to 10 euros” at the front of the queue. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker. Arriving early, which is most unlike me, meant I was unable to hide behind the crowd, so for a while, I turned my back on the next set of security guards, at the mouth of the red carpet. If I turned towards the red carpet, I held my ticket in front of my neck in the hope of obscuring my smart, formal, straight tie. But it wasn’t to be. The Fashion Police struck with a fashion taser – my heart almost stopped when I was told I would have to buy a bow-tie – for 15 euros. That was not going to happen. Some quick thinking was in order. Who else did I know in Cannes who had a bow-tie but wasn’t using it? BBC Arabic’s Sm Asi. I called him. He was with some Hollywood Foreign Press Association colleagues at the Majestic Hotel, so I weaved my way back through the queue and ran to meet him. One of his colleagues recognised me from my previous Golden Globes trips – the other looked confused, so Sam introduced me. “This is Trouble,” he said. He was referring to an article on this website in which we revealed the suspension from the HFPA of a Russian member for extortion, an article which ruffled a few feather’s within the organisation behind the Golden Globes. “I thought he’d be much bigger!” offered one of them. Sam and I paced purposefully up to his 6th floor apartment, happily only a 10 minute walk away from the Majestic. Once there, he helped me get the bow-tie straight before I headed back, running in 25 celsius heat, for fear of missing the deadline for entry. As I joined the back of the queue, of which I’d been at the front a half an hour earlier, I heard an American lady next to me laugh with a friend, “I love that they make men wear bow-ties.” “I don’t,” I remarked.
Once onto the red carpet, it was pretty much like any other red carpet I’ve been on – except with stairs. Press photographers lined each side, waiting for the stars to arrive, but they make sure we’re all inside before anyone important arrives. All first-timers stop for the obligatory red-carpet-selfie, even though festival staff are constantly encouraging everyone to the end of the carpet. For the whole length of my walk up the carpet, I noticed a woman, posing for photographers with her leg poking out of a slit in her floor-length dress – but no matter how much leg she showed, they just weren’t interested. After breathing in a bit of red-carpet air, I headed in to my seat – close enough to the front for any frustration at being a bit too close to be counterbalanced by the possibility of being close to the stage if the directors or stars went up to introduce it. But they didn’t. Which seemed odd. The Official Competition screenings seem to be less of an event than those at Un Certain Regard, at the Debussy next door, which are generally introduced by the film-makers and in the Directors’ Fortnight, where they tend to be followed by questions from the audience. All we got for our added effort of running half way across Cannes in the searing heat to borrow a bow-tie were live pictures of the stars posing on the red carpet beamed onto the big screen, and the honour of clapping them into the auditorium as they march down the aisle to their seats. Then, for about five minutes at the start of the film – and nearer ten at the end – the stars are applauded by a standing audience, craning to see them over the heads of everyone else, while they pat each other on the back. With modern smartphones now the norm, it’s almost impossible to see anything, even if you’re only a few feet away, because everyone in between will have their phones – and arms – above their heads – most of which are already higher than mine. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to dress up from time to time, to make it feel like a bit of an occasion, but to say that a formal straight tie isn’t smart enough to attend a reception with the Queen might be one thing. To say it’s not smart enough to walk down some red carpet is another. I’d have happily gone in the “entree des artistes” underneath the Palais and forgone the “red carpet selfie” to have avoided the “bow-tie dash.” And I expect the woman sitting next to me – in her black jeans – might have thought the same. And that’s the other thing – while a man isn’t allowed onto the red carpet without a bow-tie, the Fashion Police seem to be less prescriptive about women. As well as the jeans next to me, others were in trousers, there were short daytime dresses as well as floor-length gowns. There were also a couple of men in dresses. They clearly hadn’t been asked to buy a dickie-bow.
But this is the Cannes Film Festival, not the Cannes Fashion Festival, so what of the film? One that I had originally, flippantly, based on nothing by the surname of the directors, dismissed as not worthy of an early alarm call turned out to be perhaps the best film I’ve seen so far on the Croisette. Good Time is a low budget crime thriller with a simple plot, set against a pounding eighties-style electronic soundtrack, that acts almost like a throbbing heartbeat throughout. An almost unrecognisable Robert Pattinson stars as the brother of a man with learning difficulties, played by one of the directors; the pair carry out a bank robbery but getting the money is only the start of their woes as the getaway doesn’t go to plan and they encounter a range of obstacles in their efforts to escape. There were a number of times where a seasoned critic might argue that plot points feel arch, but it’s such an exhilarating ride that such complaints can be excused. Coming out of a film that impressive, that surprisingly impressive, I’d almost forgotten about the difficulties I had getting in. Next time, just in case, I’ll make sure I take a bow-tie. Or a dress.