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Cannes Virgin Diary #1: Berkeley Grad Hits Critics Week

Cannes Virgin Diary #1: Berkeley Grad Hits Critics Week

Cannes is a crazy place for a first-timer. There’s the dicey wi-fi to contend with. The 7 AM queues of pushy cinephiles waiting outside the Grand Theatre. The possibility of not getting into a screening because you don’t have the clout. The nagging urge to nod off during a film at the behest of jet-lag. And, of course, there’s the secondhand smoke, which seems to take the place of oxygen. But I’m loving all of it.

Just a few days ago, I graduated from Berkeley and jumped on a red-eye mere hours later. Three days in, and I already feel like I belong in Cannes, that I’ve always been here, that perhaps Cannes, too, has always wanted me to be here. Thanks to the San Francisco Film Society — in my hometown of the Bay Area — the French Consulate in SF, the French American Cultural Society and Semaine de la Critique, I was sent to the festival as a jury member and critic. And thanks to all of them, I’ve had no time to let the existential malaise of the post-undergrad sink in.

Since my arrival, I’ve managed to catch five films. I’ve seen three of the entries in Semaine de la Critique, for which I am a juror, and two from the main competition. My night on the 16th kicked off with Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.” I went in expecting to hate it, because I’ve never been much of an Anderson nut, and I suppose I did for the first hour. I slogged through it: the mannered milieu of Anderson’s kitschy fantasia, the stilted dialogue and characters flatter than paper. But then, Anderson knocked it out of the park. I was astonished by the final sequence, certainly the director’s biggest set piece yet, when a wild storm — as playfully augured by Bob Balaban’s narration — brings all the characters together and doles out their fates. It might have been my contact lenses, dry from hours of sleeping on the plane, but I left the theater teary-eyed. I’m ready to say that, in spite of my initial reservations, this is his best film since “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

The next day I crawled out of my jet-lag stupor for the 8:30 AM screening of Jacques Autiard’s “Rust and Bone.” Again, not a film I loved at first. It smacks of a bad compilation of Darren Aronofsky (the visceral, almost body-horrific obsession with the human form) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (the contrived, incident-packed melodrama and navel-gazing broad strokes about “human connection”) at their worst. But I haven’t stopped thinking about the film since. Marion Cotillard is a wonder, and never have I loved Katy Perry’s pop song “Firework” so much.Later that day, I attended La Semaine’s Opening Night ceremony, a screening of Rufus Norris’ “Broken.” (I agree with Kevin Jagernauth’s review.) I may or may not have nodded off during one of the films so far, and this may or may not be the one.

Today, after a wholesome breakfast of three chocolate croissants (which I will never eat again as long as I live) and four shots of Nespresso (c’est complimentaire! pour-quoi pas?) on the beach, I vibrated over to the Miramar for two more Semaine screenings. First-time director Alejandro Fadel’s confidently rendered, mystical “Los Salvajes” is a film about five wayward youths who flee society and take to the wilderness — it’s “Moonrise Kingdom”‘s dark doppelganger — in Argentina, “Los Salvajes” demonstrates Fadel’s preternatural command for mise-en-scene.

He captures nature in such strange and defamiliarizing ways that I can only compare him to Apichatpong Weerasethakul (I’m still amazed I can write that without name-checking) or perhaps a younger Terrence Malick. Moments of sublime beauty are perforated by intense violence, animal killings and the bleat of wild boars. This is the most promising debut in La Semaine so far.

Following Los Salvajes was “Au Galop” by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (had to name-check that one). He starred in 2009’s “Father of My Children,” as he does in this film. A French comedy about grief and infidelity, “Au Galop” plays like a modern-day Anton Chekhov, with sharp dialogue and astute observations about the life of a writer.

That’s all for now. Another night of back-to-back screenings and jerry-rigging wi-fi connections in public places awaits me.

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