The Cannes Film Festival - you’ve guessed by now - is a kind of circus. It’s a place to see and be seen and everyone wants a part of the action. In between screenings and interviews, RFI is also keeping an eye on the street, a dizzy spectacle in itself.
It is very amusing to wander around Cannes and see at any time of day or night, people either dressed for the beach (because it is in the 30°C range every day) or dressed to the nines in elegant evening wear and sometimes a cross between the two.
On the tickets, it says “tenue correcte exigée” which translates as “proper attire required". But what does this mean exactly?
On the first night, I showed up in a low cut evening dress with sparkles and heeled sandals and velvet handbag. I found myself in the queue next to sweaty journos in T-shirts and sneakers with camera bags bumping into me … huh …
So the next night, I dressed down a tiny bit to see if anyone would notice. I get the feeling the security guards and ushers have other things on their mind.
Your most important accessories besides the badge and the e-ticket (scanned at least five times before you get to your seat!) are the Covid ones: either a green pass showing your vaccination status or negative PCR test for some venues and your face mask throughout the screenings but also in crowded outdoor places too.
This does not seem to be happening with much rigour, although on several occasions organisers have made announcements on stage before the screenings to remind people.
The celebrities who climb the red carpet are exempt from this mask obligation as it does not look good during the photocall.
Savour the moment
I will admit I did get dressed back up again (with mask) when I got a ticket to the Grand Theatre Lumière on Thursday for the Premiere of Lingui, the Sacred Bonds by Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.
It was 4pm and I found myself walking up those famous red stairs – such an exciting feeling. I tried to take a picture but the security people intervened very quickly to stop me. I think it went all too fast, I probably should have slowed down to savour the moment.
I realized afterwards that everyone going into the theatre gets filmed on the big public screen out the front, which is also shown on the screen inside. One might be tempted to stop and wave regally just for a second, and see what if anyone notices … but most 'normal' spectators (ie non celebs) like myself don't bother to lift their heads as they go up.
Dream lives on
Speaking of Lingui, on Saturday afternoon, I was able to meet Mahamat-Saleh Haroun for an interview. Despite being tired from three days of speaking French and English to international journalists, he showed enthusiasm when talking about his motivation for making films and the future generation.
We spoke about his love of cinema which has never diminished in all the years he’s been coming to Cannes, with a dream.
“I’m like a little kid when I get behind the camera,” he said.
I asked him about his role models in life, the men and women who have shaped his “feminist” vision which is evident in this film, a touching portrait of society which manages to address a range of subjects such as abortion, circumcision, sexual abuse and religion.
He cites his parents, but mainly his grandmother. A smile lit up his face as he recounted a woman who divorced in 1947 and was known for sticking to her guns. As a child, he was physically punished one day at Koranic school and when his grandmother heard about it she made sure no-one ever bothered Haroun again.
Swim between the Flags
It was also the world premiere of Flag Day on Saturday evening – a film in competition directed by Sean Penn starring his real-life daughter Dylan.
What happens to a father (played by Sean Penn) and daughter relationship when it becomes apparent that it has been built on lies? Does it cancel out all the good, happy times? This is what the film spends two hours doing. It meanders through daughter Jennifer's past memories, much of the time accompanied by sad, country ballad-style music and not a lot of dialogue.
It’s always a gamble, but are films based on true stories like this one (Flim-Flam Man: The True Story Of My Father's Counterfeit Life by Jennifer Vogel) somehow more convincing? More weighty? Only time will tell.
I found it slightly disappointing, in that although very well made, it was a little too slick, too polished and the emotions felt somewhat staged.
As far a portrait of "messed up families" goes, I much preferred Stillwater (Cannes selection, Out of Competition) which for me captured more depth and grit of a father/daughter relationship.
Flag Day, celebrated on 14 June, marks the adoption of the United States flag in the 18th century. For John Vogel, it's his day, time to go a bit crazy, and Jennifer is always left behind in his wake, yearning for his attention while pushing him away.
Best face foward
Penn's rendition of Vogel is a solid role. He is all encompassing, he steals the show. With lots of close-ups of his boyish, weathered face, much consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, we get a clear picture of this pathological liar and con-man who just can't stay out of trouble.
Eventually Jennifer untangles herself from his powerful influence, thanks to a desire to study and become a journalist, but not without a certain regret, which leads us to the conclusion of the film.
I walked away having enjoyed the film but not as much as I could have. There was something missing. It was extremely well received, with standing ovations after the main screening.
French media, as with many of the mainstream critiques, have heralded Penn's chances of walking away with a prize.
This would be a welcome gift to wash away the disaster that was Penn's previous Cannes effort The Last Face, in 2016.