“Où se trouve cela?” — where did you get this? In the bunker basement of the Palais des Festivals building in Cannes, the security guard, a small moustachioed man in beige, as if Franco had got a gig at Carpet Warehouse, was turning my pass over and over in his hand, like a small but neatly formed turd. Apparently it needed some official stamp on the back. Otherwise it was just some piece of plastic dodged up at a market somewhere.
Damn. Ten minutes behind the velvet rope-line in Cannes, and I was already in trouble. The pass was genuine — it had just been issued to me not 10 metres away from the sceptical guard — but alas it was genuine and issued by the French. Someone had put the wrong plastic slugs in the printer. When I took it back to the accreditations desk and showed them, the half-dozen impeccably turned out officials reacted as anyone would — they swooned with a look of almost unbearable ennui, as if this was just one capricious act by a resistant and contingent universe to human freedom. What to do.
Four people boffed and enfin’ed for a coupla minutes before someone, with an air of deep resignation, stuck the correct slugs in the machine and printed me a new pass, in four seconds flat. I strapped it round my neck, exchanged a laugh with my new friend Beige Franco (“bof enfin…enfin bof”), and bounded into the festival.
Fair suck, you couldn’t blame the staff for being overcome — not with overwork, this is France after all — but with a certain sens d’occasion. Day six of the Xxth Cannes film festival, and the whole town was groaning. Radio Girl and I had arrived the night before, after a gruelling eight-hour TGV trip; what was to be a four-hour sprint turned into a marathon, made bearable only by the fact that we spent the whole trip in the train bar, getting slaughtered on Merlot, as Provence slipped slowly by. So y’know, dry your tears.
As we walked towards the Croisette, the beachfront boulevard where all the action is, a surge of excitement overcame me — I mean one of those real once-a-decade things, eight-year-old-at-the-Royal-Show, third-base-behind-the-bike-sheds, etc. From the station on down — full of punk film boys ready to sleep on the beach and scrounge tickets to screenings, to the six foot girls in denim shorts, with a shrink-wrapped evening gown in the backpack, and fire in their eyes — the whole town was thrumming. Thrumming I tell you.
When they say the whole town comes alive, they’re not wrong. Cannes proper is really only about six blocks deep by eight blocks along, and every bar and tabac was overflowing with fat men in black with a three-day growth, and ageing chain-smoking blondes, all with the magic pass round their necks. My people.
Down close to the Croisette, the crowd thickened as the rope line came in view. On the left stood a crescent of stepladders, eight deep and ten long, for the papps. On the right, the Palais des Festivals, a concrete scar built smack across the waterfront as if to say “Screw that beach sh-t. You want beach? Go to Juan-les-Pins.” (When you go on your summer vacation/You go to Juan-les-Pins — Peter Sarstedt and his 1961 hit Where do you go to my lovely. Juan-les-Pins, just up the road, now looks like Mermaid Beach.)
The whole Cannes experience in one hit. But for me, with the stars coming out to play — Godard, Doug Liman, Kiorastami, Monte Hellman — for me there was only one person to see: Stephanie Bunbury. Star of innumerable festivals, the great Australian survivor.
Let’s face it, I don’t think there’s any kid, stars in his eyes and a cinametheque card in his pocket, who hasn’t at one time said: “Yes! I want to go to the leading film festivals of the world, and write mildly interpretive competent reportage, interspersed with occasional interviews!” Yes yes yes, Adrian Martin.
But we cant all be 19-year-old girls, and the last person who took the Martin path was Emma-Kate Groghan, and look what happened to her. No no, Bunburying is the go. David Stratton at a pinch. But really, it’s Bunbury or nothing.
The thing you have to understand about Cannes is that everything you’ve read about it is bullsh-t. All this stuff about the red carpet and so on, it’s the Chantilly on the dame blanche.
For the most part Cannes is a market, an enormous thing called the Marché, which goes in a bunker underneath the main cinemas, and out on the beach. Here, 200, 300, 400 film companies, national film bodies and the like all gather in the one place, selling and buying films to fill the enormous maw of global cable, the endless absence.
The 20 films or so in competition are impeccable art films in the grand style, pseudo-novels on celluloid. They will live and die here; half of them will get a release of sorts, but most of then will never be seen again. Yet they give the festival its imprimatur of art, so that the commerce can continue below.
Where was I? It’s 10pm, in the Grey Goose vodka tent at the grand hotel on the croisette. Radio Girl and I have just been to the Screen Australia party on the 8th floor of an apartment block overlooking the harbour; the boats canoodling on the water, everyone scheming about how to get to the Film Scotland party on the beach. People who know about these things tell me that it makes sense for Australia to have no marketing tent on the beach, and to instead rent this 8th floor apartment and hang out there WITH NO VISIBLE FLOOR PRESENCE IN THE ENTIRE MARCHÉ. Okay, call me crazy, but I do think it would benefit the cause just a little if Aussie marketers were out there hustling their fanny on the plage with everyone from the Paraguayans to the Chinese, rather than sitting in a borrowed apartment above the fray, waiting for someone to come to them.
At the Screen Australia party, one met many passionate filmmakers, not least among them Sue Taylor, who produced the French-directed film L’arbre (The Tree), which is closing the festival. Amazing, isn’t it? This film’s final form has been shaped by its Australian producer; had it been done otherwise it would have been a different film, yet have you heard of it? Of course not.
But in the faux marble surrounds of the apartment, it is impossible to believe that we have not created some ghastly late Whitlam-esque Frankenstein — 40 Australian filmmakers who, when gathered together, talk not of books, politics or ideas, but of funding models and co-pros, bridging gaps and offsets, the whole rigmarole lassoing the best of them in endless accounting, the grimmest of sciences.
Something went terribly wrong in Australian film funding decades ago, and it has never been corrected. It is worth remembering one grand Cannes, an occasion I am too drunk to even Google. It was then that Jean-Luc Godard sat at a cafe on the beach with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Wim Wenders? Antonioni? I don’t know who the the third guy was. But the important one was Fassbinder, the drunk and junkie, dead by 37, who nevertheless made 40 films, a dozen of them stone classics, and including the multi-part TV series Berlin Alexanderplatz.
Fassbinder could no more read a budget statement than he could read Sanskrit. Production managers, West German TV, made sure his directorial vision got to the screen, and we are the better for it. Had Fassbinder been subject to the Australian production system, he would have made The Merchant of Four Seasons and five years later Fear Eats The Soul, and that would have been it before sliding into junk and failure.
“How do you feel about the 8th floor apartment?” Radio Girl says to a french producer, while pitching a book, Kangaroo Babylon. “Pfft — nothing happens there,” he retorts, contemptuously.
“I find it hard to develop projects, because I don’t know what the funding model will be,” says Taylor, and she should know. What Australian film needs is a state-owned studio, even considered conceptually, in which talented filmmakers can make films in two years, not five, and get them out there. Genre films, art films and both, not this insane patchwork funding process. Ideally, at a Screen Australia party, funding should never be mentioned.
Instead, here we are at the Grand Hotel vodka bubble tent, trying to get TF1 funding for a movie about the French in Australia. All the men are ugly, and we’re all singing Thunder Road by Springsteen. The beautiful girls ask: “How old is this exactly?” “Seventy-five,” we say. “Before I was alive,” they all squeal, and another round of Mojitos comes around. Life is beautiful. As is Radio Girl, in plunging neckline, torn tights and Docs, holding her own with a Romanian film producer.
You’ll notice I haven’t seen a film yet. If you think that matters, you don’t know Cannes. No Stratton, no Bunbury. Godard never turned up. Monte Hellman tomorrow. Où se trouve cela?