Film chat, live from Cannes

May 19, 2014

Ann Hornaday Monday hosted a live chat all the way from the Cannes Film Festival.

Hi everyone! It's Ann Hornaday taking shelter from a drizzly day here in Cannes, where I will happily take your questions for the next hour. Let the festivities begin! 

DC is 70 and sunny today. Are you jealous of us or should we be jealous of you?

Ha! Well, every day up until now we would have been even -- it's been sunny and in the 70s every single day -- but today it did get a bit chilly and rainy. Nothing compared to last year's wind and rain storms, though. I'll happily take it! Glad to know it's nice back home!

You had an excellent column on thus a few weeks ago. I'm not a total prude, but I have trouble finding artistic merit in films where raunchy language and activity carries the day. A long time friend who attends Cannes most years started a few years ago to bemoan the fact that raunch has started creeping into their films as well. (She says not so much at Toronto, though you can only see a snall percetage of the films and xshe tends to shy away from those.) Of course movies are not the only thing. This applies to books, music, TV ads and so much more. My 6 year old great niece goes around chantng lyrics that in my day would have made a sailor blush. I don't think she has any idea what they mean, but she's going to figure it out at a much younger age than I did.

Yes, the coarsening of movie culture does seem to be a perennial...But now that you mention it, the movies here in Cannes really don't strike me as being any more gratuitously vulgar than the usual multiplex fare. If anything, they've been more refined and carefully written. A couple of films -- like the post-apocalyptic thriller 'The Rover' and David Cronenberg's 'Maps to the Stars' are self-consciously edgy, and harsh language is part and parcel to their aesthetic universe. But they've  been outliers, really.

ms kidman seems to getting negative reviews for her portrayal of Grace using what were referred to as her "frigid features." Isn't that how she always looks?

Ah, that's interesting -- if anything, I thought she was the strongest thing about an otherwise terribly lame movie...Although I *do* think she's too old for the role. But she certainly does her best with material that really doesn't do her any favors. She basically spends the film looking very tired and tense in gorgeous clothes. 'Grace of Monaco' got the festival off to a strangely negative start, but things have started to look up by today, thank goodness!

Did this Atom Egoyan/Ryan Reynolds film deserve the booing it received from the Cannes audience?

As much as it breaks my heart to report this, yes, it did. An incredibly misguided, poorly executed misfire from Egyoan, whose work I've greatly admired in the past. This one, called 'The Captive,' just seemed to have been concocted out of screenwriting-class 'beats.' You could hear the machinery grinding. That said, Reynolds was fine in the movie. He has nothing to apologize for.

We run an art gallery in Dupont Circle and we're looking forward to Mike Leigh's Mr Turner. Initial buzz seems positive. did you see it/like it?? Main question: can a film like this get wide distro in the US? Are we going to have to stay alert for a 3-day run at E St Cinema? (BTW: We loved your essay on being a Christian, reviewing films.)

Hello, Dupont Circle! I'm happy to report that yes, I did see 'Mr. Turner,' and I liked it alot! It's not the most emotionally involving Mike Leigh film I've seen -- like 'Secrets and Lies' or 'Naked' or 'Another Year' -- but it possesses all the fine performances and thoughtfulness we've come to expect from his work. To me, 'Mr. Turner' isn't so much a great Mike Leigh film as a great Dick Pope film, Pope being his longtime cinematographer. Together they've created a visual design that virtually re-creates Turner's own style, all the more astonishing for being done digitally. The movie is just an unalloyed joy to watch and take in. 

And yes, 'Mr. Turner' will have strong distribution in the U.S., from the good people at Sony Pictures Classics. We'll probably see it this Fall.

Dear Anne: Please review the films at Cannes for us readers. But even more: Make it more personal like Jeff Wells of www.hollywood-elsewhere.com does, please. Everybody who is not in Cannes loves to read what is really happening :-)

I so admire Jeff Wells and what he does at Hollywood Elsewhere -- and I'm not just saying that because we happen to be roommates (long story, but suffice it to say I'm lucky he found the perfect flat and needed someone to split the rent at the precise moment I started covering the festival.)

Reviewing out of the festival is tricky. Generally I find it's more fair to review the film when readers can actually see it...But I will take your feedback under advisement as we try to improve and refine our coverage! Thank you! 

Is it as glamorous as it looks in pictures? Is it like one big party or are people working really hard? Are there tons of movie stars just milling around wherever you look?

It's really people working very hard, with a few minutes every day of movie stars looking effortlessly ethereal as they climb the 22 red-carpeted steps of the Grand Theatre Lumiere. Otherwise, it's like a huge, over-crowded trade show dominated by people who spend way too much time sitting on their tushies in darkened rooms.

Here's my routine: Up around 7 a.m., quick breakfast, then out the door to make an 8:30 press screening; once out of that, it's a non-stop dash for more screenings (most of them held in the Grand Palais, aka our convention center), with *maybe* time for a quick espresso or sandwich in between, or a press conference, interview or impromptu conversation with a colleague that will often result in deciding to see  a film that hasn't been on my radar, which will then throw that entire day's schedule into turmoil. In bed by 12:30 if I'm lucky. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat...

The movie stars tend to keep to their hotels up and away from the great unwashed press people. But they do walk among us once in a while, it isn't unheard of!

This might be slightly off topic, but I wonder if you have a sense of any European vs American tension in Cannes, related to the Ukraine crisis? I remember hearing ten years ago that European anger at the Iraq invasion created discomfort for Americans attending the CFF.

That's a fascinating question, and one I was actually just asking myself with a Polish publicist who's working with the Odessa Film Festival. No, there is no tension to speak of here; if anything film is the ideal forum for bringing cultures together. There's a documentary screening here on Wednesday called 'Maidan,' about the demonstrations in Kiev, that I'll be very eager to see and hear more about. 

Since we're on that topic, I also haven't heard much about the upcoming EU Parliamentary elections, which I thought might be more newsy. I guess we're in the movie bubble. Thank you for a very good question!

"Reviewing out of the festival is tricky." <-- Why is that? Is it tricky as in difficult to do or tricky as in not necessarily a good idea?

Tricky in terms of how to be most useful to readers. Is it un-helpful to review something people can't see right away? Or does it give them a sense of 'added value' in being first?  

How do you decide which films to go watch and which ones to skip? How many would typically be showing in one time slot (like, are you always sacrificing one to see another)?

Generally I try to see what's in competition, and I go by provenance -- the director, writer, cast, etc. And yes, there's almost always a trade-off, and the madder people are about missing great things, the better the festival has been programmed!

I learned long ago never to get too stressed out about missing things. I will most likely get another chance -- maybe at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, maybe if/when the film comes out in theaters -- and the best part of a festival is always that film you didn't plan on seeing that just blows you away. One of those for me this year was a Swedish movie called 'Force Majeur,' about a family's ski vacation that goes awry. I just wandered in with no expectations and came away quite impressed.

What's the best film you've seen since you've been there (and do you think it will come to theatres so the rest of us can see it!)

I've seen lots of good films here: Today's screening of 'Foxcatcher' with Steve Carell (he's going to blow you away); Mathieu Amalric's erotic thriller 'The Blue Room'; the aforementioned 'Mr. Turner'; a film from Mali called 'Timbuktu.' 'Wild Tales,' an omnibus of antic vignettes of Argentinian life in the tradition of Pedro Almodovar.

But the great film I've seen here is 'Winter Sleep,' by the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It's a 3-hour-plus deep dive into the life of a prosperous hotelier in Anatolia, based on a Chekhov story, that just takes viewers to another place. So far, it's made the biggest impact on me.

I don't think 'Winter Sleep' has been picked up for US distribution yet, but I'm sure that it will. 

Some of the best films my family has watched over the last few years are ones we learned about through the "Foreign Language Film" academy award category. The Great Beauty, from Italy last year, for example. Are you seeing films at Cannes from "new" countries, ie countries that have not necessarily submitted in the past? Any to look out for?

That is so fantastic that you've been using the Oscars for that purpose -- that's exactly why the foreign language category is so important! All the films I just mentioned would definitely go into that category (although I'm not sure they're from 'new' territories, exactly). Also not 'new,' but there have been some interesting films from Israel this year -- one called 'Self Made,' by Shira Geffen, and 'The Kindergarten Teacher,' which I'm hoping to see tomorrow.

RIP, cinematographer Gordon Willis. Your thoughts on his film legacy?

Thank you so much for giving us all a chance to honor Gordon Willis's memory here. Lots of people are understandably recalling the extraordinary work he did for Woody Allen, but for me his masterpiece will always been 'All the President's Men,' of course. That de-saturated palette that also let the set design pop in just the right way, forever defined the way we think of 'newsroom,' and the 1970s in general. He literally created a visual language for an entire era. A true great.

I hate to be the idiot here, but how does Cannes work? I mean, how does a film end up showing there? Is it all independent movies or is there studio stuff there too? Is the point of showing there for the publicity or for the cred or what?

You're not an idiot at all, those are outstanding questions! Thousands of films are submitted to Cannes every year, and they *say* that the screening committee sees all of them. Ultimately, the program is selected by festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux, with the imprimatur of the festival president (the outgoing president is Gilles Jacob).

As was quite evident this year, the program can often be a parade of festival favorites whose films seem to be programmed because they're "friends of the festival" (op cit 'Grace of Monaco' and 'The Captive'). But, especially in sidebars like Un Certain Regard, Critics Week and Directors Fortnight, there's lots of room for new and emerging talents.

And yes, big Hollywood films have been increasingly visible here in recent years, expressly at the behest of festival leadership. For those big mainstream productions (like 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' this year), it's all about publicity. For smaller films, it's both publicity and credibility that can start off a strong festival circuit and maybe even awards nominations -- all of which, ultimately, feeds box office.  

What movie are you most looking forward to or most recommending for the summer?

'Boyhood,' by Rick Linklater. It's the culmination of a 12-year process in which he filmed an ongoing story using the same main character, played by a boy who ages in 'real time' along with the production. I'm a huge fan of Linklater's, and this seems to be in his wheelhouse, having to do with time, family, identity, memory...all of it. Can't wait.

Is it true that people laughed when it was shown? Has that kind of reaction ever happened before at Cannes? You'd think people would only take a film there if they knew it was good - or at least passable...

Ah, your words to the movie gods' ears...If only.

Yes, people did laugh, and whistle and boo. And no, that's not uncommon at all at Cannes, which is known for its tough audiences (and not just the ink-stained wretches of the press!). I never enjoy those moments. You just want to move along quickly, and hope for a better one around the next bend. Ouf.

Every year during the Oscars, we hear the details regarding how the AMPAS nomination and voting process works. The Cannes process seems much less regimented, yet I have no idea how films are selected for the festival, how winners are determined, and even whether it is required that voters see the films they are voting for (against). Can you unpack how this process works? Thanks!

After the festival director selects what films will compete, a jury is appointed and they are obligated to see all the films, which they take very seriously. They really do see all of them, then they meet -- I believe the festival president attends the meeting but does not take part -- they vote, and the winner is determined by a majority. This year the jury president is Jane Campion. Her fellow jurors include Sofia Coppola, Willem Dafoe, the Iranian actress Leila Hatami and Nicolas Winding Refn. 

Ann: I'm interested in the ability of the movie on Dominque Strauss Kahn not to rehabilitate DSK himself but my lookalike Gerard Depardieu, who's had a lot of tragedy in his life, including the loss of his son Guillaume. How was Jackie Bisset as the long suffering wife Anne Sinclair? Have a nice time, Ann.

Unfortunately I had to miss the 'secret screening' of 'Welcome to America,' inspired by the story of Dominique Straus Kahn. From what I've heard, it won't do much to rehabilitate his reputation; in  fact, it was reported today that he intends to sue filmmaker Abel Ferrara for defamation! So make of that what you will!

I mean in the non-pornographic sense, of course. I loved your column on this topic a few months ago and like you are saddened by their greatly diinishing numbers.

Hi there -- certainly films like 'Mr. Turner' and 'Foxcatcher' would qualify as terrific adult-oriented movies that will show up in theaters this year...As well as lots of great foreign-language films that I've seen here that may not pop up until next year. Still, festivals like Cannes help create an economy for these movies, which is why I'm grateful for it, even when the hoopla goes a little bit crazy!

Everyone -- I hate to jump off but I need to rush to yet another screening! It's been terrific chatting with all of you; please visit washingtonpost.com for my wrap-up of the festival. I'll try to see as many movies as I can between now and then! Au revoir!

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