After spending the late evening/early morning hours battling the online screener for MEDITERRANEA to prep for my Daily Buzz interview, I decide to sleep in an extra hour and skip my first planned screening of the day. Sorry, EMILIE, but someone else will need to critique your tale of a nefarious babysitter, I need a little more shut-eye.
Of course, that happy thought is quickly laid waste to as I get an urgent text from Rose. She needs help with a guest list and outreach for a dinner and stat – so I’m off to the Splendid. Upon arrival, I see Columbia University’s Richard Pena with Italian journalist and film guru Antonio Monda, who just happened to be breakfasting. Quickly enough, I’m off with Rose and Dave to see the head of Cannes’ PR department to say hello, introduce ourselves, bring gifts and hopefully lay lots of positive groundwork so I can get a press badge next year, among other things. Wait just a minute! There’s going to be a next year?! I suddenly officially wake up upon discovering that Rose buried the lede. And then, naturally, PR lady is not there, so we have to table the meet-and-greet. This means that I am now off to my first screening, which is the first of two films I had missed at Sundance earlier in the year and I’m catching up to now courtesy of Cannes’ market screenings.
Corin Hardy’s THE HALLOW focuses on Adam, a conservationist, who has brought his wife and newborn son with him to a cabin in the remote Irish woods so he can study the health of the trees there. Of course nothing is ever that simple or easy, and we soon learn that the locals are hostile to them being there believing that Adam is going to rile up the dangerous spirits that they claim live in those woods. At the same time, Adam has discovered a deer carcass that has a black goo and branch like fungus coming out of it. Soon, we learn that the black goo has a connection to those spirits or creatures and Adam and his wife will be forced to fight for their lives as they try to escape and protect their son from the creatures Adam has disturbed.
THE HALLOW follows note for note some of the most familiar horror thriller tropes with its tale of a man encroaching on forbidden territory in the name of science, then being forced to defend his home and those he loves from the evil he has unwittingly stirred up in the process as exemplified by the film’s quote to live (or die) by: “Trespass on them, they’ll trespass in you.” There is a clever use of science in appropriating the zombie fungus that actually exists in the real world for the purposes of the story here. And the film’s creatures are frightening – effective both in appearance and execution. So, while the scenario is quite familiar, those that hunger for a horror film that doesn’t lean on the well-worn vampire or zombie or slasher templates should really enjoy this scare fest. And those that would like to scratch their scary movie itch without being doused by untold amounts of blood and gore should also find safe haven here, which is more than can be said for Adam and his wife and child.
Following the screening, I’m off to the Croisette to do a couple interviews for The Daily Buzz. On my way, I pass by the French ice cream cart that sells bow ties instead of frosty treats. There are also a lot of businesses that have mini red carpets in front of their entryways. Because they get it. I think back to the frustration of trying to get L.A. to do similar stuff to embrace having AFI FEST there in Hollywood, or the Upper West Side to do the same for NYFF. But they don’t have a clue compared to the businesses on the French Riviera. Embrace your film festivals, people! It’s good for your businesses!
Anyway, first up is Trey Edward Shults, the director, writer, producer, actor, and I’m pretty sure he helped move some lights and did craft services as well for the SXSW hit KRISHA. He’s with his aunt Krisha Fairchild, the star of the film, and his mother, Robyn Fairchild, who also appears in the film. It’s a remarkable first feature effort, accomplished in every way imaginable, and I’m pretty sure Trey is like, 12 years old. Okay, I’m kidding. He’s in his 20s and it would help my assessment of what is right and wrong in this world if he could maybe be an entitled, “I deserve all this” asshole. But, he insists on being nice, and humble about everything and Robyn and Krisha are equally as nice and fun as can be and I want them to adopt me so I can make a movie with my family in 9 freakin’ days and then go and promote it at Cannes and still feel like I need to take my turn doing the dishes or cleaning the plates off the dinner table or some other kind of family chore. Seriously, they are clearly just happy to be here – and Trey flat out DESERVES to be here.
Next up on the Daily Buzz interview hit parade is MEDITERRANEA director and screenwriter Jonas Carpignano. Another child. Damn these young guys! And, again, just as nice and getting it as far as the accomplishment and what it took to get there. And his film involved shooting in Morocco and Southern Italy, so you think you got problems negotiating your location deals? Shut up. You don’t know. He’s been to Cannes before with a short, but that’s nothing compared to doing it with a feature and you can tell he’s braced for what’s in front of him. Smart film, politically on time with its treatment of immigration issues, and he’s a smart guy who easily has got more films in him.
The interviews took longer than anticipated so I have to scrap my next planned screening, which was the Amy Winehouse documentary, and instead do some quick shopping for my wife, Justina, so I can show up with something beyond the obligatory film fest t-shirt. I find a lovely and very French button down, as well as a very cool tie for her. Yes, a tie, because that’s how my fashion plate wife rolls. I drop off the goods in my hotel room and check online to see that I’ve received my daily “No more invitations (tickets)” email from the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a reassuring little dollop of rejection I get each afternoon from Cannes responding to the premiere tickets I’ve requested. Back to the theater for the next screening, I’m way too early so it’s back to more shopping to kill an hour. I find a cool-ass Brigitte Bardot framed photo looking about as 60s Godard-a-rific as she possibly could that will be my Cannes souvenir and my challenge to get back to the states. But well worth it. Back to the screening, my second of the Sundance catch up screenings – this one is TANGERINE. While in line, a Magnolia rep introduces himself to everyone, trying to connect with buyers before they head into the theater. Not me, dude. Keep moving along. He does so, doing a quick scan of everyone’s face like he’s a sales terminator assessing if they possess a checkbook on their person, ready to be signed over to him. I’m pretty sure my face says I’ve got just enough on me to pay for French Steak and Shake.
Sean S. Baker’s TANGERINE follows two transgender prostitutes, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, during an eventful Christmas Eve in the dirtier parts of Hollywood as they attempt to get to the bottom of a rumor that Sin-Dee’s pimp boyfriend, Chester, cheated on her while she was in jail. While Sin-Dee is laser beam focused on finding the “fish” or woman he cheated with so she can confront them both with her discovery of this betrayal, Alexandra is distracted by her desire to promote her singing appearance at a club that night. Meanwhile, an Armenian cab driver, Razmik, who has always had a thing for Sin-Dee, is on a hunt for her upon learning she’s back on the streets.
TANGERINE combines a matter-of-fact approach to its characters and their world with a beyond intimate and up-close shooting style to effectively give the audience about as immersive an experience walking the streets of Hollywood as they could possibly hope to ever have. Normally, the next statement would be a cautionary “be careful what you wish for.” However, the characters across the board are so charismatic and dramatic (and the “drama” here is underlined often to hilarious effect and not in a terrible sit-com queen kind of way either) and nearly every moment of the film pops with an organic energy rarely seen on film today that the result is both joyful and thrilling. It’s a very adult playground and is frank to a fault about the realities of that world, but if you have no issues along those lines then TANGERINE would bear a couple viewings at least – that’s how much fun it is.
Energized and excited by the film, I make a beeline to my hotel room so I can send an email to Sean Baker, who is a Facebook “friend” (though we’ve never met), to tell him how much I liked it. He actually responds immediately, thanking me, and letting me know that he’s stressing over the market prospects. I reassure him, telling him the Magnolia dude was clearly on the case and also saying that I have to imagine the film would translate very well regardless of the language therefore I would think the prospects would be very good for more than a few territories to pick it up. I mean, you could turn the sound completely off and you would still have a pretty clear idea what was going on which to me always seems like a primary test for getting over the different language hump to work or not. Well, that and movie stars and guns – apparently they translate as well. Right, Dolph Lundgren?
Anyway, it’s now time to do the party thing. First up is the Korean party. Irene Cho scored the invite for me so I’m off to join her, Anderson Le, Emily Lu and Ryland Aldrich. Once I arrive, I immediately find Aaron Hillis and his fashion photographer wife Jennifer Loeber. They, and everyone else chow down on cups of ramen that apparently is the big draw for this party. I’m not into it, so I focus on helping Irene and Emily try to score some more party passes for Rose Kuo and her Cannes posse as they are due to be on their way soon. However, my help isn’t needed because Emily has already sweet-talked a half dozen higher ups before I can make even half a lap around the party tent. With that accomplished, we leave the passes with Irene and follow Aaron’s lead to the Panama party. None of us, other than Aaron, are on that list and I’m not party crasher inclined so I am dubious about the prospects. Then, just as two standard issue hot blonde Cannes girls get turned away because they weren’t on the list, Aaron returns with an important Panamanian Official woman (and for all I know, maybe she is the Official Woman of Panama) and Jennifer, myself, Emily and Ryland are ushered into partyland with an intro and double air cheek kisses. Aaron Hillis, ladies and gentlemen – don’t leave for the party without him. Once we’re in, it’s free drinks and dessert cup treats and mucho entertainment watching Aaron dance with everyone not nailed down on the dance floor. So, with that, let’s wrap this report up with another Korean film I caught via a screener link…
Shin Su-won’s MADONNA focuses on Moon Hye-rim, a woman under pressure of overdue bills and debt who takes a job as a caregiver in a hospital’s VIP ward. One of the patients placed under her care is a wealthy chairman and benefactor of the hospital who has been kept alive with heart transplants for some time by his son in order to keep the money supply coming. When a Jane Doe patient is found for the next heart transplant, the son enlists Moon to research the identity of the woman and find her relatives to get them to sign off on the surgery. However, when Moon discovers the woman is pregnant, her research takes a personal turn and she delves deeper into the woman’s past than either she or the son had intended (and he wanted). Soon, Moon discovers the woman’s life was one bad situation followed by a worse one as she was routinely victimized by the men in her life and treated as a faceless nuisance by the companies she worked for. Ultimately, Moon realizes that she is likely the woman’s last chance to have anyone stand up for her and her unborn child and therefore she may have to face off against the chairman’s son and the hospital itself in order to do the right thing.
MADONNA is at turns grim in its depiction of the heartlessness of class politics and sexism, lurid and creepy in the atmospherics of the hospital and its staff of secretive nurses and doctors, and finally, more than a little depressing at its base with the treatment that the young woman receives at every turn. That being said, there is a compelling element to the escalation of Moon’s curiosity and investigation that effectively skirts what could have easily been a ham-handed approach with her amateur sleuthing by another filmmaker. Whether that is enough to satisfy someone looking for a thriller versus a human interest drama is a tough call as the film straddles that fence to such an extent that it doesn’t fall solidly in either camp. However, those happy to not have their films so easily categorized, will find this one is done with quite a bit of style.