As a gift to myself, I “sleep in,” which means I don’t force myself awake, bolt three cups of coffee, and rush out to an 8:30 or 9 a.m screening. Instead I wake up in a more leisurely fashion and write in my room. Then I bolt three cups of coffee and rush out to stand in the rush line for an 11:30 a.m. screening in the big Festival Hall of Matteo Garrone’s Cannes entry “Reality.”
Inside the theater I run into my old friend and alternative press colleague Dan Sallitt, who’s here with his third feature film, “The Unspeakable Act.” He’s already in love with Karlovy Vary, both the town (which my Indiewire colleague Jessica Kiang called “obscenely picturesque” in one of her posts) and the festival. He arrived late last night, and headed out at 11, in the vague hopes of finding some food, right into the amazing sideshow carnival atmosphere of bars and food stalls lining the promenade between the Thermal and the river. It’s the most festive festival he’s ever been to.
I saw his film on DVD, back in the Bay Area, before I knew it was playing here (it debuted at the Edinburgh Film Festival, which means that it can’t play at Karlovy Vary in competition, and also played at the BAMcinématek in Brooklyn). I liked the deadpan dramedy about the real love that “can’t speak its name,” incest, with an especially impressive performance from lead actress Tallie Medel, whose debut this is. I’d much rather have seen it on the big screen of course, especially here, where I’ve found the audiences among the best in the world, intensely directed towards the screen, quiet and focused. There’s only the occasional unwelcome glow of a cellphone. Dan, who also writes about film, understands the film geek’s compulsive need to see fresh celluloid. Feed me! We both hope I’ll get another chance to see “The Unspeakable Act” on the big screen.
“Reality” has an entirely different tone than “Gomorrah,” the modern-day crime film that considerably raised Garrone’s profile on the international film scene. It’s a comedy (with tears) about the reality-tv culture that’s deforming society. I love its bright colors, swift opening pace, crowded shots, assured acting (I’m reminded, again, of the strong Italian faces seen in yesterday’s Taviani brothers film, “Cesare deve morire,” not to mention the inevitable Fellini comparisons, that turn up in the program-book blurb.) I am myself something of a victim of reality-tv culture – just check the Season Passes on my TiVo. CBS takes its Big Brother franchise seriously enough to file a lawsuit against ABC’s Glass House, about to debut on ABC.
The film slows down and loses its way a bit in its second half, and its ending, such as it is (once again I want to say it doesn’t end so much as stop), is somewhat anticlimactic.
I walk right out and get right back in the rush line for “V’Tumaine” at 2:00 p.m. It’s a.k.a. “In the Fog,” by the Byelorussian Sergei Loznitsa, which won the FIPRESCI critic’s prize at this year’s Cannes festival. It’s a dark, serious, well-acted and compelling drama about collaboration and betrayal between Russians and Germans in a small Russian village occupied by the Germans during WW II. I tell the woman sitting next to me that I think it’s ironic that the film itself is a collaboration between German and Russian production companies (among others), but she doesn’t seem to agree. After all, 1942 was 70 years ago!
Waiting (again) in the rush line for the 5:30 screening of “Romanzo di uno strago” (aka “Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy,” by Marco Tullio Giordano), I’m given a hard ticket by a woman who has an extra, at the last minute. She gives me a brief tutorial on ticketing for the big Festival Hall, which I’ve yet to understand because the rush line is let in after all the remaining seats are opened up. It sees that advance tickets for this room have assigned seating, but if you’re not in place 5 minutes before the movie starts, all bets are off and not only can the rushees sit anywhere, hard-ticket holders who don’t like their seats can move. A fairly polite melee ensues. In virtually every screening I’ve been to, the room ends up full (even overfull, with people sitting on steps or along the walls) or very close to it.
“Piazza Fontana” is a relentless investigation of the events surrounding a politically-motivated explosion at a bank in Rome on December 12, 1969. It’s reminiscent of Hollywood docudramas such as “Call Northside 777,” but in a stylized fashion. I enjoy it so much that I feel a little guilty, as in this is a movie that actually has commercial prospects outside the art house and festival circuit. It’s the first movie in the dozen-film official competition that I’m seeing here (I saw the psychological drama “Nos Vemos Papa,” by Lucia Carreras of Mexico, in Morelia last October.)
As it turns out, I’m staying in the main hall all day, which is less of a failure of imagination on my part than an addiction to the huge screen, excellent audience, and impeccable projection. At 8 p.m., I see another film in the official competition, “Kamihate shoten” (“Kamihate Store,” byb Tatsuya Yamamoto of Japan). Before the movie, the director and some of his colleagues are introduced onstage. The lead actress, Keiko Takahashi, a glamorous woman of a certain age, comes out in the first full-on red carpet gown I’ve seen here, a long burgundy fishtail number with art-nouveau black embroidery and a low-cut back enhanced with layers of black-embroidered ruffles. She’s really working it, too, walking slowly, more like a Ziegfeld girl than a runway model.
I am not surprised when she turns out to be playing a thoroughly deglamorised, harshly-shot depressive in the movie, proprietor of a small shop where people intending to commit suicide off a spectacular nearby cliff stop to purchase a roll and a container of milk as a final ritual act. The film was introduced with an allusion to “The Shop on Main Street” (1965) the famous Oscar-winning Czech film from Jan Kadar, but I find it more like “The Little Shop of Horrors,” in that suicide is not my favorite subject (I note from the program book that it’s a topic that will crop up again in the ensuing days).
The final big screen epic of the day is “Lawless”, a big new American film from protean singer/songwriter/screenwriter Nick Cave and his fellow Australian, director John Hillcoat. I missed their previous collaboration, the well-reviewed 2005 Western “The Proposition” (hey, you can’t see everything!), but I did see Hillcoat’s grim Cormac McCarthy adaptation, the apocalyptical “The Road” (2009).
For almost an hour before the film, waiting in the inevitable rush line, I chatted with an enthusiastic film student from Prague, Jana, a real wild-eyed cinephile, who’s attending Karlovy Vary for the sixth time and tells me she either sleeps in a tent “or in a room with fifty other people,” surviving on a couple of hours’ sleep a night. She tells me that she’s a big fan of Shia LaBeouf. “Lawless,” a violent Prohibition tale set in backwoods Virginia (where somehow Chicago gangsters still turn up with machine guns) looks fabulous on the big screen. The lead actors, especially chunky Tom Hardy, Colin Clarke (an Australian familiar to me from the Irish-American TV series Brotherhood), and to a lesser extent LaBeouf, have made the brave decision, not unlike Benicio del Toro’s performance in “The Usual Suspects,” to talk in accents that are nearly unintelligible. (Hardy gets a number of laughs by merely grunting.) I find myself wishing I could read the Czech subtitles.
Guy Pearce has also decided to invent a (somewhat more intelligible) accent, along with a flamboyant dandyism that would serve him well in any production of Oscar Wilde’s or Noel Coward’s work. It’s a performance I watch with some open-mouthed amazement – calling it “over the top” doesn’t quite do it justice. The women glimpsed along the sidelines, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, both shot so they glow, give more naturalistic performances.
An improbably domestic coda sends me out into the night chuckling. I’ll be back in the same room in just about eight hours to see a Greek black comedy (with some suicide thrown in).