We were admiring the view from the third-floor apartment on the Croisette — old Cannes on the right, crumbling fortifications, a clock tower glaring out over the harbour, and the broad sweep of the water itself, round to the concrete Palais des Festivals, the red carpet spilling out from it like an enormous, insatiable tongue — we were just, as I say, taking that all in, when the Legendary Director entered the room.
“Well, I guess I should sit here,” he said, indicating a modernist black and steel full-length sofa.
“It’s just like therapy,” someone remarked.
“Nah, not like my therapy,” said the LD, a stocky man in the standard uniform of black t-shirt and jeans, grey hair in a ponytail. He relaxed into the chair, as his youthful production staff scurried round cutting up prosciutto and kiwi fruit, and opening the Grey Goose. “I had to sit in a chair while my therapist sat on the couch. He used to fall asleep.”
“Did you get a refund for the minutes–”
“He charged double for those minutes.”
Across, on the opposite sofa, was a Belgian producer, trying to get back into directing. A young man in a weird beard and welding goggles flitted in and out. On the balcony, some gamine, grumpy actress who bore a distinct resemblance to the Actress was chain-smoking and listening to klezmer music. Radio Girl and I sat on the sofa and sipped our wine slowly as our eyes opened wide as saucers.
It had taken fifteen minutes after getting there to get a drink, and we didn’t know where the next one was coming from, and we damn sure knew we were going to need them. Fasten your seat belts, I thought, it’s going to be a bumpy night, while making a mental note to order a Preston Sturges box set.
OK, it wasn’t a yacht party, but we could see yachts from where we were. And the LD really was an LD, someone who made a couple of iconic films in the 80s and disappeared for long stretches, his name recognisable to every trenchcoat cineaste, and unable to be revealed because, contractually, he’s not even meant to be in Cannes.
We’d met him at a party in the Balkans tent, a tiny place perfumed with the smell of roasting meat and counterfeit euros. I gushed over one of his films and recited most of the last scene entire. That had put him off, but his assistant seemed to think I might be useful, so here we were. Beyond the competition, beyond even the concrete bowels of the marché, Cannes is this sort of gathering: in exorbitantly rented apartments across town, a dozen people gathered to watch a promo reel, a sampler, a rough cut on someone else’s plasma screen.
By now, Cannes is really winding down. In fact, about a third of the festival probably left this morning, the gare filled with kids scarfing around for unused passes. The passes have photos on, so the trick is to find someone who looks enough like you to get past the guards, should they decide to do a close check of your credentials. Since most of the women are high-cheekboned blondes, and most of the men ageing greyish beardos, the mix and match is not as difficult as it might sound. Demeaning? Yes, of course it’s demeaning. This is Cannes, where demeanour is organised on an industrial basis.
Mind you, the station thing is nothing compared to the dozens of young hopefuls standing outside the competition screening queues, hoping to get in, holding handwritten signs: “Je cherche une invitation à whatever the movie du moment is.” The girls dress in evening wear, changing in the toilets of the cafe opposite, and then totter across La Croisette in heels. The boys bring their evening suits in dry cleaning plastic wrap, their invite request stuck to the front.
“So I guess if you gave them an invite, they’d have to go out for a drink with you, at least,” I said, trying to work out the trade-off.
“Are you retarded?” Radio Girl said. “They’re offering a lot more than that. Jeez.”
It was true. One look in the eyes suggested that you could get a long way with a piece of paper getting you, and 1 other, into Turkmenistan’s latest masterpiece.
Actually, the film of the evening was Doug ‘Swingers’ Liman’s new work Fair Game, a rendering of the Valerie Plame/CIA outing scandal which — despite having guns, spies, hot blondes, etc — was widely judged to be a letdown, and nothing to compare to Ken Loach’s Route Irish, a sharp study of mercenaries in Iraq, through the thriller genre.
No matter. It was the only American film in competition, and the buzz was on. Meanwhile, up in the apartment, we were all trying to keep the conversation moving between six nationalities and as many ages of man and woman. All except the gamine actress, who stalked the balcony, waiting angrily for a phone call.
“You’re a filmmaker–?”
“Yes! Well, I’m a medical secretary. But I have a couple of projects in development…”
“I’m an actress, a model, but these days I’m mainly working in the directing field…”
“Oh, what have you done?”
“Well, I’ve got a couple of projects in development.”
Ah, development. Sweet, sweet development. What is it, this strange twilight world where the film industry spends half its life? What art form elongates the process of making a ninety-minute movie — the length of a short novella, really — into a five year process? What artform has such an iceberg ratio of abandonment and failure to success?
We look back on the Gothic cathedrals, with their two-hundred-year timelines, and try to get into the mindset of people who could devote themselves to such monstrous, endless schemes that they would never see the end of? Even the Gothic cathedral makers saw the bizarre side of their projects. “Brothers,” said the bishops of Seville before making their surreal arab/gothic/lsd-flashback cathedral in the 1300s, “let us create something that convinces future generations that we had gone mad.”
So it goes. Walk the streets of Cannes, and you hear the conversations fade in and out, like radio in the desert. “Yeah, I just need matching post-production…” “The script is dynamite, so we’ll get two new writers in to…” “Iceland is in, if Azerbaijan will guarantee the bond…” “It’s about this c-nt who’s a real c-nt…” and on and on, these tiny confections of desire and obsession lifted into great edifices by the power of money and drive.
I was thinking this as I watched the LD fiddle with the laptop feeding into the plasma TV to get the best sound quality. He was a perfectionist. You could see how he’d teased out a couple of truly great movies and why he’d missed out on many more. He wouldnt let it go. It delayed the screening by forty minutes. I looked out at the gamine actress on the patio. Was it the Actress? Had she donned a henna wig, and a new identity, and was waiting even now to plunge the corkscrew between my shoulder blades? Impossible. The Actress is currently on a pilgrimage in northern Spain, to take soundings of her life, walking barefoot the last three miles to Santiago de Compostela, I would imagine. Not here. Not here.
“Hey, we got it,”‘ said the LD, as pleased with a sound level as with an actual completed movie. The film began. It was a gothic horror Chinese box movie, stylish as f-ck, relying on nineteenth century techniques of pre-photographic cinema (the kinemascope etc) to establish a relationship between reality and illusion. There was an actress, mysterious and alluring, who was simultaneously shadow, ghost and person, who looked familiar, who looked… I looked back out at the balcony. At the screen. At the balcony. It was the gamine actress, still smoking, not wanting to see herself on screen. She floated into the room briefly, then out again. Life seemed to be issuing out of the screen, flowing from it. The lights on the bay twinkled on the balcony glass doors, a smear of brightness against the dark on dark.
“So what did you think?” asked the LD after.
“I liked it,” said the Belgian. “But I think those weird musical notes at key moments may be a little too avant-garde. But I agree with the attempt to interrupt the diagesis…”
“Ah no actually, that was just the laptop telling me I’ve got email. I couldn’t switch that function off.”
After, Radio Girl and I hashed it all out at a cafe.
“It was very David Lynch…”
“Yeah, but no one said it was David Lynch…”
“Well, you obviously can’t say it was David Lynch…”
Six-foot women, the waitresses, anorexiraptors all, stalked the tables, in black and bottle-blonde. A table of men asked for a photo of them together, then made joking suggestions that they kiss. They kissed. I turned to Radio Girl.
“I never thought I’d say this about anywhere, but this town is too pornographic for me.”
I thought of the LD’s new film, which still had his trademark mise en scène. It reminded me of seeing his most famous film at RMIT Cinematheque in ’85, and being blown away, amazed you could do something so pure and raw. Here we were, shooting the shit about Bresson. Ee, ain’t it cool.
Then tomorrow there is jean Luc Godard’s Film Socialism, the master’s return with a 110 minute visual essay made mostly on his laptop. It’s at 10 am in some fleapit on the outskirts. And the fact I am looking forward to this more than anything reminds me that I am not yet a ghost on the balcony, reflected in the sheen of porn, that films can still lift high the temple roof, and move the stones closer to God.
But man, for a few spare invitations…..