Graham Corrigan usually writes for Pigeons and Planes, but he magically scored access to the Cannes Film Festival this year and has been sending in unsolicited, nonsensical updates from his trip. These are his stories.
Each day has been as cloudless as the last, but I keep getting paler. I’m spending 5-8 hours a day in these plush red movie theaters, emerging only to feed on coffee, beer, and cheese. When I do go outside, the sun overwhelms my nocturnal vision. Palm trees offer little in the way of shade, and the sea is a mirror of sunlight, sending diamond daggers of light through my eyelids. But it’s worth it—the theater’s pull is irresistible. There are 35 screens in all, and every day brings a fresh crop of films from all over the world, most of them making their world premieres at the Cannes Film Festival.
My pink press pass has proved invaluable, but not infallible. There are certain screens that expressly forbid the press from attending, a fact I learned in a moment of public shame on Wednesday. The ticket taker seemed to take a certain amount of pleasure from sticking a hand in my chest when I flippantly flashed my card at a screening of Personal Shopper. “Pas de press,” she growled, and flashed some triangular teeth. “It is forbidden.”
I ended up seeing Shopper later, but probably shouldn’t have. I wanted to like it—Kristen Stewart is a hero of our time, and her previous collaboration with director Oliver Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria) was fantastic. But Shopper was two hours of mopey bullshit—Stewart pouts her way through some pseudo supernatural relationships, and meets misty ghosts who like to drop glasses of water. Spare me.
But for every brick, there have been multiple magnificents. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey made me regret every time I’ve made fun of Shia LaBeouf—he’s incredible as Jake, a twitchy, eye-rubbing traveling salesman who leads a team of disparate youths around middle America selling magazine subscriptions. It’s heartbreakingly raw, dancing on the edge of disaster through North Dakota’s oil fields and shitty Kansas motels. And full disclosure—when this movie hits wide release, a few misguided fashion bros will undoubtedly start rocking braided rat tails.
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson was similarly impressive—both films find substance in mundanity, but Jarmusch’s film is much lighter on plot and teen drama. Adam Driver plays the titular character, a New Jersey bus driver who is pretty much the exact opposite of his Star Wars villain role, Kylo Ren. Driver goes through his daily motions with an elegant precision, and Jarmusch zooms in on these seemingly insignificant rituals—walking the dog, waking up on time—until they hit as hard as any jumped shark.
Paterson was the sixth film I had seen in 24 hours, and I needed to decompress, so I walked it off through the many cozy cobblestone alleys of Cannes. The sun had set, and dinner was being served throughout the city. The smells of escargot, fried food, and sea salt baked in the street, and bits of Japanese, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Arabic floated out onto the sidewalk. I made plans to guzzle brews with a friend at an open-air pub near the main drag—I had my first red carpet later that night, and tuxedos never fit me sober.
I got to the bar first, and struck up a conversation with a glum looking director/actor from Kurdistan. He’s shopping a script about his homeland, but wasn’t having much luck. “People think it’s too soon,” he said. “It’s like they want something even worse to happen before helping.” It snapped me out of my reverie, and was a sharp reminder of the reason behind Cannes’ success—people are here to buy and sell, and for every American Honey (bought by Focus Features early on in the festival), there are plenty of failed launches.
My friend eventually showed up, and the conversation moved away from Kurdistan. The last drink of the night was calvados, a fiery apple brandy that left my shoes stained with puke when I first tried it on my 21st birthday. Back then I understood sipping liquor to be a damning sign of femininity, but these were new shoes and did not need a baptism by vomit their first night out. I sipped, and the calvados stayed down. I left the bar and stumbled towards the red carpet alone.
I had gotten the ticket through the good grace of another—not even a press pass, let alone a pink one, gets you on the red carpet. It’s invitation only, and the invitations are hard to come by—hence the culture of ticket-begging Cannes cultivates. I had procured mine through a family friend who had hooked it up—he’s been coming to the festival for years, and possesses the mysterious Italian skill of favors and access.
But for all the tuxedos and gowns, I still arrived to find another line—we were still pigs in a pen. The film in question was The Wailing, a horror thriller by legendary Korean director Na Hong-Jin. Even here the hierarchy reigned—balcony seats like mine were held off to the side until the paparazzi had jostled into their places. They opened the gates and we streamed up the red steps. Those wearing the most extravagant gowns were asked to stop and pose for an onslaught of flashes. Outrageously, I was not asked to do so.
The main Lumière theater can seat over 2,000 people, and I settled into a seat high in the balcony to watch the film’s stars and directors make their approach via the theater’s screen. I wondered if anyone had ever had an epileptic fit on the red carpet—the paparazzi flashes are spastic and relentless, and I got anxious just watching it onscreen.
The film itself was horrifying—Na Hong-Jin is a real sick fuck, and three hours and several child murders later I was ready for another calvados. It was late, and my friends had disappeared into the night. I headed for the beach, kicking off my still-unstained shoes to feel some sand and shake off the eviscerations I had just witnessed.
Offshore, the faint bump of yacht parties drifted over the water. I considered swimming out to a boat—would they really turn away someone who had shown that much effort? Probably.
So I kept walking, down the beach and towards a cluster of high-end hotels. The beach is mostly empty, though there’ll be a massive party sponsored by Nespresso in the same place I’m standing. For now, however, everything is quiet. I turn towards home, leaving any hopes of a hotel penthouse with the rapidly evaporating night. I’m leaving this Disneyland in less than two days, and there are many more movies to see. For just one week, the worlds onscreen seem more important than anything outside.