It’s not unusual for a film reviewer to spend the day in darkened rooms, watching film after film after film, but most of this day was spent in the same darkened room, watching three films back to back, the only inconvenience being that at the end of each film, everyone had to leave, walk around the block and queue up again.
First was the modest French social drama La Loi du Marché, whose English title is The Measure of a Man. Knowing little about it before attending the screening, as is often the case for a festival that screens, almost without exception, only world premieres, the first port of call was IMDB, where only one actor was listed. Watching the film, it’s clear to see why – Vincent Lindon is in almost every frame and almost every other character is little more than an extra. He plays Thierry, recently made redundant by his firm after the bosses made swinging cuts that the workforce are hoping to challenge in court. He just wants to move on, but has difficulty finding another job, being sent on training courses that are no more than cul-de-sacs of hope. Having a disabled son only piles on the pressure, until he secures a job working in security at a local supermarket. His conscience is challenged when he catches fellow supermarket staff, similarly struggling financially, cheating the company, and has to toss up between keeping himself in work and standing with his fellow workers. The film is slow and at times incoherent, but Lindon’s sympathetic underplayed protagonist keeps the audience on side.
Next was a much higher profile English-language drama from Danish director Joachim Trier, Louder than Bombs. A slow burning family drama, starring Jesse Eisenberg as a young professor who’s just become a father, returning to visit his younger brother and widowed father, played by Gabriel Byrne. A friend of his late mother is about to write an article about her death, exposing secrets that his younger brother doesn’t know, thrusting already difficult family relationships close to collapse. The film has rather too many cliches, from kids having trouble getting over the death of a parent, to family difficulties forcing people to reassess their whole lives, to old loves popping up at inopportune moments and even stylistic choices, such as flashbacks, imaginings and the over-used “following the character down the corridor” shot. By trying a little too hard to be subtle, the film risks leaving its audience leaving the cinema in as much doubt about what really happened to the mother as some of the characters in the film.
Lighter relief came with the latest Disney/Pixar film Inside Out, an animated confection examining what’s going on inside the head of Riley, a young girl who’s finding it tough to adjust to the family moving to a new city. On one level, it’s another warm-hearted, laughter factory, with almost sickeningly sympathetic humans and delightfully surreal characters inside her head, voiced by the usual array of comedy talent – including Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Richard Kind, Lewis Black and Phyllis Smith. On another level, it’s an astonishingly complex narrative, which takes about twenty minutes to set up a world in which each emotion is represented by a different character inside your head and each memory is stored in an appropriately-coloured marble and the most influential recollections become “core memories” which each become associated with an island representing an area of personality. It’s an unnecessarily complicated pre-amble to a story about a couple of the emotions getting stranded, trying to restore the core memories to Riley’s head, as she becomes depressed about being in her new home. It’ll go over the heads of young children and confuse older ones, who’ll think they’re being told how the brain works. It’s one thing to let children be imaginative by playing with known truths, but creating a world that potentially equates a cartoon adventure with neuroscience makes it superficially entertaining but ultimately less satisfying than some previous Pixar films – until, of course, they manage to tug on those heart-strings as the denouement approaches, and then pull out all the punches with the end-credit gags.
After three films in the same cinema, it was time to stretch the legs with the first of two parties. After covering the possible effect of a yes-vote in the Scottish referendum on the film industry north of the border at last year’s festival, I was invited to this year’s Film In Scotland bash on the beach, promoting the growing success of the sector. The cultural body’s press spokeswoman Wendy Grannon excitedly told me that production spend in Scotland rose from nearly £34m in 2013 to a record of more than £40m last year. The TV series Outlander is one of Scotland’s proudest current exports. But this was a party, so with the serious stuff out of the way – my fault not hers – it was time to mill around to catch up with other guests. As is so often the case, Cannes is a perfect example of how, year after year, you see all the same faces in all the same places; the Jonathan Strange producer Nick Hirschkorn was there, as was sales agent Gary Phillips – who was optimistic about a new Julien Temple film he’d just screened in the market. The most surreal moment came when chatting to a Canadian producer – yes, at the Scottish party – who was such close friends with a Vancouver-based director friend of mine, Christian Betley, that she demanded a selfie with me to send straight to him. Luckily, I don’t think the Cannes selfie-ban extends to the parties. Drinking rosé on the beach as a kilted man played the bagpipes is not the way you might expect to spend an evening on the Riviera. The nibbles, too, were welcome, although without instructions, a producer I was chatting to reached for what she thought was a creme dessert topped with strawberry sauce – it was goat’s cheese and tomato.
A long and busy day drew to a close with another piece of Hollywood on the beach – tonight it was the turn of Sicario, the drug-cartel thriller from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. The stars of the film, Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro were there, chatting, laughing and doing robot dancing with each other and others, as if they were normal people, while other normal people were enjoying three different types of pasta, Swedish meatballs, Thai prawn noodles, chili-con-carne (quite tasty but very average, according to the New Zealand film – er, food – critic James Partridge), as much champagne and Grey Goose vodka as they could manage and a plentiful variety of finger desserts – I tried to intersperse macaroons with items with berries on top, to help me reach my five-a-day – or is it seven, these days? Frustratingly, as is often the case at such events, because I travel with a larger camera than many people, security always try to take it away from me – at many of the festival screenings and at parties where “talent” are pretending to be normal people. I wouldn’t mind, were it not for the fact that in both cases, everyone else in attendance, with phones whose cameras have more megapixels than my five year old Nikon SLR, is constantly approaching the stars for selfies, or struggling to sneak fuzzy photos from a distance – apparently the publicists would rather have blurry photos of their talent milling around social media that make them look remote from their fans, than crisp, flattering images that show them at their best.
And even the walk back to the apartment was suitably Cannes, as Louder Than Bombs star Gabriel Byrne brushed past us outside the Marriott hotel.