7:45 a.m Hotel check-out takes longer than hoped for, and I end up arriving at the Grand Théâtre Lumière just late enough to be denied entry to a press screening, but too early to be let into the Palais, where the press lounge is located. I wait on a bench near the red carpet. Across from me is a bearded man in a full tuxedo with a big Jake Gittes bandage over his nose, half-soaked with blood. He is hungrily eating a panini. I consider this my one and only glimpse at the Felliniesque element of Cannes.
11:31 a.m. Jacques Audiard’s Main Competition entry Dheepan (Grade: C) is one of those bad Taxi Driver interpretations that takes Travis Bickle at face value, except it’s disguised—at first, anyway—as a drama about three Sri Lankan Tamils who get refugee status in France by pretending to be husband, wife, and daughter. Moved to a gang-run housing project outside Paris, they get jobs, go to school, and go about keeping up the appearance of family in front of their neighbors, most of whom are on more or less friendly terms with the drug dealers who spend all day hanging out in the building doorways or keeping lookout from the roof.
Dheepan has its fine qualities, namely Jesuthasan Antonythasan and Kalieaswari Srinivasan’s performances as total strangers playing parents to a 9-year-old orphan, and Audiard’s more or less sincere early attempts at depicting the tricky circumnavigation of legal boundaries that comes with entering a society from the bottom. But an ending is more than a final stop; ideally, it’s the place where a movie is taking its viewer. Here, that place is a reactionary fantasy of improvised weapons and bad drug dealers getting what’s coming to them, as seen through Éponine Momenceau’s inexpressive and impersonal handheld camera. (Audiard’s regular cinematographer, Stéphane Fontaine, is sorely missed here.)
The end result is the implosion of the movie’s more interesting values and of everything that makes it makeshift family interesting. Instead, the viewer gets Audiard’s vision of France as a place so bad that refugees would want to escape from it. “How strange, like being at the movies,” says the title character (Antonythasan) one night, while staring out his first-floor window at the gang members arriving for a party across the street in tricked-out cars. If only the viewer knew then what kind of movies he meant…
3:30 p.m. Corneliu Porumboiu’s brand of deliberated deadpan takes apart ideas with the diligence of a no-rush watch repair job. In the Romanian writer-director’s latest, The Treasure (Grade: B+), two Bucharest neighbors who barely know each other hire a professional metal detector to help find them a treasure rumored to be buried in the backyard of a country house. Of course, it takes Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest, Police, Adjective) almost half the movie to cover this premise, as he gets into the ins and outs of borrowing money, skipping work, visiting a metal detector service, and trying to convince your boss that you’re not having an affair with a co-worker. And once the men get to the property—itself a cross-section of recent Romanian history, having been an electronics factory, a steelworks, a strip club, and a kindergarten, in very rapid succession—it’s the tedium of treasure hunting that gets most of the laughs.
Throughout, Porumboiu’s style stays tightly controlled and orderly; he works in long takes with sets and costumes designed in an intentionally reduced palette of powdery blues. The most celebrated moments in his work have been extended arguments, mostly about culture: the cop going through the inane lyrics of his wife’s favorite song in Police, Adjective; the semi-notorious climax of the same film, in which a discussion of police work is settled with a dictionary; the second half of 12:08 East Of Bucharest, in which an alcoholic, a part-time Santa Claus, and a smug TV host go on a call-in show to debate whether their town actually participated in the Romanian Revolution. Here, there’s no comparable central topic of debate, or at least not one that’s laid out in specific terms. Instead, it’s 89 minutes of people saying yes and things going as—or sometimes better than—expected. (Let’s say Porumboiu’s isn’t the kind of glib ironist who’d have his heroes dig up an empty box.) But, of course, there is a pervasive sense of disappointment. A dream fulfilled, however wild, still can’t live up to a dream—not in Porumboiu’s Romania, anyway.
6:05 p.m. I return my bike for the second time and head over to the first-come, first-served line for Dope, which played Sundance earlier this year. I spend the next two hours in this line and don’t get in, though I end up befriending the people directly behind and ahead of me. We go out to dinner, exchange e-mails, and do that thing where you promise to meet up again if you should find yourself in the same place next year.
By this point, the last train to Juan-Les-Pins has left, and I decide to walk the six or so miles back to my hotel. The Croisette glows purple, red, and electric blue with the light of badge-invite parties. It is a busy Friday night. The hookers who normally stand on every corner of the Boulevard Alexandre III are mostly gone. There is about a half-mile stretch between Golfe Juan and Juan-Les-Pins where the streetlights haven’t been coming on the last few days. The Mediterranean looks pitch-black except for small glints of reflected light, blending almost perfectly with the night sky at the horizon line. Big cruise ships float far from shore, lit up brighter than the townscapes or Cannes itself, which is actually quite small and looks that way from a distance.