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My first day at Cannes begins with breakfast on the Splendid Hotel veranda. Because, of course it does. Rose and Dave confirm their plans for China business meetings and events ahead of them with Rose figuring out how she will be doling out the various gifts she has brought from Beijing for the assorted executives and important Cannes people and dignitaries. I focus on the eggs, bacon, mini-chicken legs and orange juice….and the fact I’m actually on a freakin’ veranda…and it’s located on the freakin’ French Riviera (which would make this moment freakin’ squared). Later, Austrian Film Commission director Martin Schweighofer stops by and he and Rose joke about how she had to massage him like a bum shoulder before he would let any of his films come to AFI FEST prior to her getting there. Because these stories are always hilarious many years later, well after the fact. Truth. Next up is NYFF and NDNF programmer Marian Masone to hang for a moment. And we promise to get together in the future to trade updated Lincoln Center war stories (especially after my recent exit). And then we’re off, but not before running into Chaz Ebert in the hallway. Rose introduces Chaz to Dave and myself and already my Cannes experience is made. I just think she is one of the neatest people (yes, I just said “neat” un-ironically) for a lot of reasons and she’s forcing me to set that opinion in stone as she convinces me briefly that we’re just all having an awesome movie lovers sleepover here (because the Splendid clearly is a home away from home for her) and we’re going to all hang out and talk movies and stuff. Meeting people in general is routinely not that big a deal to me. This one is.

Next, we’re off to the Palais so I can pick up my badge and Hawk Koch’s badge (because when you’re someone like Hawk Koch, a random guy that just met you the night before is naturally going to accept the assignment to get your stuff – that’s just the way it works). Rose and Dave head off to give away tea sets and other goodies to people and I get the badges and my festival bag and then wander over to one of the market floors, wandering around trying to get my bearings and take everything in. After a little bit, Dave and Rose find me, we take a moment to navigate the online ticketing request site to try our luck at seeing something that requires walking on a red carpet and then Rose shows Dave and me around the market. The major stop on the “tour” is IM Global’s booth/office/real estate. I’m trying to get across the idea that it’s one of the nicer and larger ones where they’ll let you know if you can make it past the pretty posters to talk to some people about buying a movie off their roster, etc. We talk with Bonnie Voland, a PR veteran who has done work at film fests around the world and she gives us some lowdown on the party happening the next night and the premiere of the film GHOULS. There is a massive project being undertaken in China both by building a state-of-the-art film studio and launching a film festival (the one Rose and Dave are working on) that will be (by design) comparable to the one we are currently enjoying. Right now, I’m very happy that by comparison, my responsibilities are limited to writing about all the random thoughts this fest and the movies I see here inspire and talking about it on the radio on this go round.

Later in the afternoon, we meet up with Movie City News’s Dave Poland, add Bob Koehler and a few Team Wanda members and set off for dinner. However, on our way, we stumble upon a film fest programmers cocktail thing (because Rose is crafty that way). I talk to filmmaker Gustavo Beck for a little bit and then we spy AFI FEST’s Jacqueline Lyanga and Lane Kneedler and suddenly we’ve got a full-on AFI FEST reunion with Rose, Dave, Bob, Jacqueline, Lane and myself. It’s a like a basketball squad of film geeks AND the sixth man off the bench. Soon, Dave Poland bails on the schmoozing and eventual dinner because he apparently has a need to see films at this film festival. I’m not convinced that’s how the French do it, but then again I am the new guy on this particular block. Finally, we find a place for dinner located up some little winding street going impossibly up a hill to adorable village land. More awesome seafood and wine and limoncello later and it’s time to call it a night. Oh wait, no – there’s a screener to be watched first before any shut eye, with tonight’s viewing being Hong Won-Chan’s OFFICE. Unfortunately, that review is embargoed so I’ll include it in a post a couple days from now.

The next morning, breakfast is at my actual place of residence while I’m at Cannes – the Hotel Esterel. Nice enough, but breakfast in this case is all about the croissant and the OJ. I say all about because that’s about all they have. No matter, because soon we’re off to my first Cannes Film Festival screening. Upon arriving, I see my film festival nemesis Michael Lerman standing in line. I walk up to him and offer sincere congratulations on this year’s Stanley Film Festival, which he co-programmed with Landon Zakheim. He is my nemesis, and I’m sure he is still plotting to target me with some elaborate film fest death-by-karaoke scheme, but you have to give credit where credit is due and the Stanley Film Fest knocked it out of the park this year by every account I heard. Once inside, I find the Denver Alamo Drafthouse’s Karla Rodriguez, who is in the middle of a European backpacking trip that has me developing an envy rash as she describes it in loving detail. Damn that, Karla, being way too cool for her age (she’s a youngster). Thankfully, before I go too in depth assessing my life choices to this point, the film begins…

Elie Wajeman’s THE ANARCHISTS stars Tahar Rahim as ‘Jean’, a policeman sent undercover to infiltrate and report on a group of anarchists who have begun to organize in Paris in 1899. He has no family ties or relationships to potentially conflict with the assignment and his dead father had been suspected of some rebellious activity prior to his death, which provides some convenient credibility. Of course, once he is “in” and becomes more and more trusted within the group, he begins to fall in love with ‘Judith’, played by Adele Exarchopoulos. That growing love affair leads him to question the assignment as well as to some delayed self-discovery as well. As the group formulates a plan to move from small time thefts to fund their activities and feed themselves to a more ambitious and (they hope) attention-getting bank robbery and attack on the authorities, Jean is caught between the responsibility to do his job and his concern for Judith and the anarchists’ safety.

With its sepia-toned and period-drenched setting and approach to the material, as well as the casting of two prominent international up-and-coming stars, THE ANARCHISTS should satisfy pretty much everyone for which this type of film sits in their wheelhouse. The focus is predictably on Exarchopoulos and Rahim’s romance as opposed to the history lesson, which is a no brainer. However, the film struggles to provide much in terms of a build in tension for the final climactic scenes so those looking for some taut action to go with the bodice ripping (which is also done respectfully as opposed to exploitatively) will likely come away a little underwhelmed. But those happy to enjoy those two very charismatic young stars in a very well-crafted period piece/love story without any demands beyond that would find their movie dollar well-spent here.

Following the screening, I made my way over to the Palais to see if I could successfully navigate the fest’s rollover screening system so I could get in to see TALE OF TALES. And what do you know? Not only did it work the first time I tried it, but I also got to witness a classic starlet wannabe get her photo taken by an also appropriately cliché European photographer-type without much update from someone Fellini would’ve conceived of more than 50 years ago, right in front of me and a lot of other bored tourists and film goers in line with me.

Matteo Garrone’s TALE OF TALES is a wildly fanciful adaptation of Giambattista Basile’s Neapolitan stories, overlapping four stories centered on three kings within a single kingdom. One king (John C. Reilly) seeks to kill a sea monster so he can feed its heart to his queen (Salma Hayek) for they are told in doing so it will magically make her pregnant. A second king (Vincent Cassel) pursues one of two elderly sisters after hearing one of them singing and believing she is a mysterious beauty. Following his shocked discovery of the truth after spending an evening in the darkness with one of them, he has her literally thrown from his castle window where a witch discovers her and transforms her into the beauty both he and she desire her to be. Finally, the third king (Toby Jones) develops a bizarre nurturing relationship with a flea that grows to the size of a large dog by feeding on his blood. Afterwards, events lead to the king marrying his daughter off to a large ogre, who imprisons her in his lair high in the cliffs above the kingdom.

Suffice it to say, TALE OF TALES has a lot going on. There is an impressive and joyful (though plenty gory and with some nudity – so these are fairy tales for the grown ups) unleashing of creativity on all fronts with the film. The familiar faces in the cast are all game to play up to the outrageousness of the scenarios, yet live comfortably within it without succumbing to the temptation to wink at the audience. The difficulty inherent in this kind of film is wrapping everything up satisfactorily under the same roof (or kingdom, in this case). In that effort, TALE OF TALES falls a little short of the delightful euphoria or absolute relief in regards to how each of the stories conclude that one would hope for. However, a strong case could easily be made that with this film the journey is the thing, as opposed to the result at the end. There is a lot to enjoy and even love with this film; therefore it is also easy to forgive what one could perceive as imperfections.

Following the screening, I was off to the Locarno Film Festival party with Rose, Dave, and the latest addition to our group – Matt Kaszanek, another former AFIer and Lincoln Center film programmer guy now penning a book on some of the key history of independent film. Upon arriving there, we immediately see my former boss and while Rose and then Matt says hello, I find something on my cell phone very interesting to look at, followed by the beach front scenery, and then some fascinating railing and décor. Oh! And look, there’s the bar! More hobnobbery ensues as we find Aaron Hillis and drinks before we decide to exit, but not before Matt further cements his good guy credentials by saying hello to his former boss as well. He is clearly a better man than I, that Matt Kaszanek.