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Cannes Diary: The Punchy Pleasures of the Fest, Or, 'Cannes: Urine for a Great Time …'

Great Movies, Bad Movies, and why the phrase "Nicole Kidman's Next Release' will be funny for another six months

By James Rocchi May 24, 2012 10:16AM

It's at this point in Cannes -- heading towards the second weekend, as the films thin out and the crowds dwindle a little and there's just a few films left -- when you get punchy. And thank God for Lee Daniels, the director of "Precious," who delivered this morning's film "The Paperboy," an over-ripe slice of trash that was made to be mocked. I mean, what can you say about a film where a sexually frustrated Zac Efron goes for a swim on the Florida shore, gets stung by jellyfish, and has to be saved by being urinated on? Even better, when a group of bystanders try to do the good-samaritan deed, Nicole Kidman shoves them away with the immediate catch-phrase of the Festival: "If anyone's going to pee on him, it's going to be me." (Kidman, at the film's press conference noted she hadn't seen the film, and I thought Wow, another way in which Nicole Kidman's life is waaaaay better than mine.) 

But I seriously want to thank "The Paperboy," with all of its spurious sex scenes and moments where Zac Efron is shot and lit like one of those creepy Calvin Klein wood-paneling ads from the '90s and John Cusack as the world's worst homicidal hillbilly swamp-dweller, because it lets you relax, breathe, laugh, and recognize that when a film with Kidman, Efron, Cusack and Matthew McConaughey, directed by an Oscar-nominee is one of the worst things here, you're seeing some great movies. 

A friend, last night, staggered out of a screening, groaning but happy, smiling but dizzy; "I feel like I'm drunk on movies," they said, and they won the award for the that-about-sums-it-up phrase of the night.  You do feel like you're drunk on movies here, and there's no end to it -- every choice you make to see a specific film means you're choosing not to see five, eight, ten other films. Never mind all the ancillary stuff going on around Cannes -- tonight, for but one example, you can choose between seeing "Jaws" in a restored print, on a big-screen that's been erected in the shallows of the surf so you sit on the beach and enjoy, the legendary, and free, Cinema du Plage … or a seven-screen immersive experience directed by Kanye West. It's an embarrassment of riches.

There's also the fact that, like any film festival, you get to see far-flung friends; every film festival's press corps is like a high school reunion, but only for the A.V. Club. And it's not just that you know these people; it's that you respect them, and their opinions, and you respect them so much you're willing to argue with them, and that's better juice than five shots of French espresso. Or they lean over and share some unprintable joke or improbably funny aside that only makes sense because you're here. I mean, I can't tell you why simple phrases like "Elijah's Dead!" or "Pants!" are amusing to me right now -- but later on in the year, when you see these films, you'll understand.

You also, here, get to see people come into their own -- last night, Ben Wheatley, a film maker I've met once or twice (I moderated a panel with him and "Gimme the Loot"'s  Adam Leon and "Room 237" director Rodney Ascher earlier in the week) got a standing ovation for his film 'Sightseers," a bleak comedy that's a very different but very appropriate follow-up to his film "Kill List." And, while here, Wheatley was apparently able to meet with financiers and, based on the reception for "Sightseers," which has already been picked up for U.S. distribution for IFC films,  line up the money for another film. People talk about the red carpet at Cannes, but the real color that matters here is the green of money -- that's why film makers come, not just for the possibility of glory or, at the least, a warm-ish reception.

And when you run into people, 99 times out of a hundred, their first question after the pleasantries is the same: "What have you loved?" I mean, sure, now and then there's some film people love to mock, but most of the time people will tell you what they loved and why, and why you have to run to see it. I watched a noted critic for a big-city daily, hearing of a screening of the lauded "No," starring Gael Garcia Bernal in 30 minutes a few blocks away, wing it out of the Palais and towards that screening like a his feet were aflame. And that's what Cannes is about -- not the exhaustion or the schadenfreude, not the joy of the flops or the crazed promotional events carried out by low-budget horror films; it's the movies, and the people, and the idea that finding joy in art is a big part of finding joy in life, and a joy you can't wait to feel so you can share it. So yeah, we're a little bit punchy over here; the happy news is that's just because the truly great films here are all knockouts

(Tomorrow: Quiet on the Rivera ...)

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