May, the 15th at Cannes begins with joining Matt and Dave for breakfast on the Splendid Hotel veranda, as I desperately want to get in one more “nice” one in before being relegated to the croissant and OJ routine for the rest of the week. Then, the three of us make our way over to the Palais to get in line for THE LOBSTER. Early. I mean, like an hour and a half early. And, we don’t even attempt the main theater line. No, we go directly to the roll over theater line. Robert Koehler, Lane Kneedler and Michael Lerman had the same idea – because, you know, we’re all smart like that, right? But, wait. They’ve flipped the switch, changed the game on us and we are told we can’t line up there. We have to line up where I was yesterday for TALE OF TALES. No problem, I think. I’m in roughly same spot I was yesterday and I got in just fine. Then an hour and a half goes by and we see a line on the other side of the Palais file in. And then a second line from another location file in. And then a line that I’m pretty sure was Uber helicoptered in from Nice file in. And they tell our line, “No soup for you!” (I’m assuming because we’re really far from where that message was delivered.) People disperse and Matt, David, Bob, Lane, Michael, and I go back to the original entrance with that sad hope that a great wrong will be righted somehow, they’ll find those extra seats, they’ll say we can sit in the aisle, or they’ll send us home with the board game version of this show, something.
But no. Ain’t happening. So, improvising we decide to walk around at the market. Here are some random thoughts: Dolph Lundgren is a hard working guy. Dude’s on A LOT of posters, Steven Seagal is still in the mix..for somebody..in some country. Apparently, there is a threat from zombies in lederhosen that I was unaware of. And as wonderful as I think she is, Parker Posey may be the unlikeliest name to see above title in a knock-off action picture. But maybe that’s just me. Anyway, Matt and I decide we should actually see a movie so we go upstairs to try to get in to see ONE FLOOR BELOW. We get in line and it looks like we are in good shape even though the Cannes staff keeps pushing our line back, and then back again, and then they add a stanchion and rope line, and then they push back again. I’ve gotta think there are some issues with people they need to work out en masse. Like, maybe, there is an online course or a weekend class they could all take like when you need to “work off” a traffic ticket or something. The poster for ONE FLOOR BELOW is killing Matt and I. It’s just an overweight middle age Romanian guy, kinda beat up and sitting there taking a load off. It screams, “You must see this movie!”. One of the staff takes it off the board and we think that’s the smartest thing they’ve done since we’ve been in France. But no, he was just lining it up under the correct screening time. Yes. There. It’s all fixed now. As we continue to kill time, Matt and I find a big two-page ad in one of the trades for a film called DRAGON BLADE. Now, this looks exciting! Very colorful poster of some kind of martial arts epic with Adrien Brody and Jackie Chan and weirdly enough John Cusack in some kind of warrior gear. I say out loud, “The only thing that could make this better is if he had an ‘And’ credit, like ‘And John Cusack as the Centurion’!”
And with that thought, we’re in.
ONE FLOOR BELOW
Radu Muntean’s ONE FLOOR BELOW follows the moral quandary that Sandu Patrascu, a middle-aged father and middle class businessman finds himself in when he has great reason to suspect one of his neighbors is a murderer. After walking his beloved golden Lab, Patrascu overhears a loud and very angry argument behind the doors of a downstairs neighbor’s (a young woman’s) apartment. As he lingers, he also sees Vali, a married young man that also lives in the building, leave. And, just as importantly, Vali knows he has been seen as well. Later that day, Patrascu hears that the young woman is dead, with murder being suspected. However, Patrascu doesn’t reveal what he heard or saw to anyone – not even the police. As he begins to suffer under the weight of this knowledge, Vali asks him to take care of some business for him – seemingly pressing the issue of what Patrascu knows or thinks he knows – potentially pushing Patrascu to a breaking point.
ONE FLOOR BELOW introduces a premise that has great potential for ratcheting up the tension and placing a man under a cinematic microscope as the pressure of his situation reaches a thrilling boiling point. However, Muntean seems not to be interested in fulfilling that promise. Instead, there is a great focus on the mundane, the mulling over of one’s position, and the thoughtful consideration of another’s guilt. It is as if the film is satisfied to keep the car driving this drama in the gear of neutral without any ambition to ever move the story forward. I could see a festival or art house audience that prefers a very deliberate, slow burn approach, enjoying the film as they read into the societal and class dynamics weaved into the story, but I suspect that many beyond that niche will find the pacing and ultimate destination reached, not really worth the trip.
After the screening, I head off to the Korean Film Tent to talk to director Oh Seung-Uk and Kim Nam-Gil, the star of THE SHAMELESS for my first interview for The Daily Buzz and KUT 90.5FM. During the interview, I have the challenge of translating into Korean what I mean when I tell Kim his character had a great “swagger” in the noir homage. Afterwards, Daily Buzz producer Irene Cho introduces me to Busan Film Festival’s Jeon Chanil and Harvard University’s Professor of Korean Studies, Hyangjin Lee. The Korean Film luminaries hit parade continues over drinks as the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Fest’s Danny Sangho Rhee joins us. Later he asks to see THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE and I think maybe my film’s fest tour may continue a little longer with a foreign tour…
After that, it’s back to my room to put on a jacket for the GHOULS party and head over early after getting a text from Rose that she may need me to “work the door” and man the guest list. Sure, why not – always happy to pitch in. However, after I arrive and watch people set up and discover they’ve got half a dozen people already assigned to work the guest lists, I receive another text from Rose saying she has a ticket for THE LOBSTER premiere at The Lumiére and wants to give it to me so I can experience the Cannes red carpet. However, I also need a bow tie to be allowed on the red carpet so I need to get to the Splendid quickly (because you also have to be early to the red carpet to be allowed in/and on, as well). I make it over to the Splendid, find Dave, get the tie, take the one I have off and switch them out and make it back to the carpet on time.
With some very cold winds suddenly whipping around us we watch the film’s stars (Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, etc) go through an awkward looking process of being paraded and posed for the cameramen in some half-choreographed looking line dance designed to let the photographers flanking each side of the carpet get their shots and then watch the whole thing duplicated once they reach the steps. (Although, just prior – I have to say that Farrell pulled a celebrity champ of a move by pretending he was done signing autographs and taking selfies with the crowd behind the limo drop off, and then – like James Brown pulling off the cape that had just been draped over him on stage to sing one final chorus of a song, Farrell ditches his publicist as they were making their way to the carpet because “he just had to sign a few more autographs and take a couple more pictures.” Because he’s about the fans, man. (Seriously, the move was executed to perfection and my esteem for Farrell instantly doubled.) But back to me and my red carpet moment…which came up short. Yes, two people away from being passed through to the carpet, we were told there was no more room, no more seats, no movie for you! No kidding, I was shut out of the same movie twice in one day. That was a first.
Thwarted, I made my way back to the GHOULS party to find Rose, Dave, Matt and Bob, but they are nowhere to be found. My phone dies so I can’t reach out to anyone and do another lap. I try the VIP area, but can’t get past the security dude. I try again. Nope, not happening. Fine. Back to my room, where I’ll do some writing instead. As I’m doing so, my phone charges back up and I get a text from Matt: “We’re at the party. Rose is wondering where you are.” I text back that I couldn’t find them. “We’re in the VIP area.” Of course, they are and they were. Damn THE LOBSTER and damn security guys. An evening of frustration courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival. But when fest life refuses to give you access to screenings and parties, then watch online screeners in your sweats. And here are a couple of cool Korean films I watched that way…
Oh Seung-Uk’s THE SHAMELESS focuses on the relationship between an undercover cop, played by Kim Nam-Gil and the world-weary madam (Jeon Do-Yeon), whose murder suspect boyfriend he is trying to catch. It’s a classic noir set up with the familiar trappings of the detective trying to find his man while fending off his corrupt supervisors and being at the service himself to the syndicate bosses that want the suspect not brought in for justice but given some street justice instead. Naturally, a relationship develops between the detective and the madam as he stays close to her looking for clues and trying to figure out a way to locate the target of his investigation. Loyalties and priorities begin to shift and a real question develops as to whether these two characters, so far gone in the underworld they operate in as well as in the emotional boxes they’ve closed themselves within, could break free of it all and create a life together.
Rather than be hampered by the many, many films in the detective genre that obviously inform THE SHAMELESS, the film both plays within the conventions and tropes and underlines the characters and their motivations that take us on this familiar journey. The chemistry between Kim and Jeon is properly hot and cold and then hot again, and Jeon, in particular, finds detail and nuance within her madam character that deepens the sense of melancholy that their relationship marinates in. Oh clearly has a sincere love for the genre and even when there are confusing or soft turns in the story, the journey is an enjoyable one.
Hong Won-Chan’s OFFICE begins with a healthy serving of the banality of horror meets a toolbox as a salesman returns home from work and after a moment to take a load off, kills his wife, her mother and his young son, bludgeoning them to death with a hammer. The next day, his office mates are shocked to receive the news, with each one testifying as to the unlikelihood he could be responsible to the cops investigating the murder-spree, even as they try to locate him. The company’s higher ups are concerned with the truth getting out about how cutthroat their company is. However, more concerning to everyone else is the news that he was last seen heading back into the building, so he may just be among them – waiting to strike again. Meanwhile, a lowly intern that the salesman had befriended, even as the rest of the staff bullied her, just may hold the key to what inspired him to kill as well as what his next plans are for everyone in the office.
THE OFFICE effectively sets up the office environment as an effective killing grounds – both in the literal setting atmosphere-wise, as well as the seething competiveness which takes characters from figurative back-stabbing to literal stabbings. Ko A-Sung, as the intern Lee Mirae, delivers a solid performance as a mousy character placed under the kind of scrutiny and pressure between the torturous treatment she receives in the office and the eminent danger from the lurking salesman that either creates a diamond or…something else. The gore-quotient is as restrained as the host of reprehensible office staff are not, and all of it adds up to a very solid horror-thriller.