Cannes Film Festival

Like no other cinema experience on earth.

Feature by Paul Greenwood | 10 Jul 2007

The 60th edition of the most famous film shindig in the world, the Festival De Cannes, is now but a distant memory, one for which I, alongside forty thousand other maniacs, bravely sacrificed the last two weeks in May so that you, gentle reader, could share in the experience and some of the highlights.

The starting point and main hangout is the Palais des Festivals, a truly bewildering eight level complex modelled somewhere between the Pentagon, the Crystal Maze and the Birmingham NEC, only not quite as straightforwardly navigable as any of those. Just getting into the building is job number one, as you're shunted along to not one, not two, not three but four different entrances along the Croisette, each guarded by beige-suited Oompa-Loompas who look alternately like Guy Ritchie rejects or Djimon Hounsou. Go there, queue there, open that, don't go there, sign that, turn and cough. Many hours and much, much confusion later, I was still none the wiser about the whole extravaganza.

Mere verbs sometimes have a way of transmuting themselves into actual emotions on the Croisette, where I in fact discovered two new states of consciousness: queuing and sweating. Queuing and sweating, sweating and queuing. It transpires that if you actually want to see a film, you need to stand in the baking sun for an hour in a queue like an execution, with two thousand other mugs, on the off-chance that they're not going to lock the doors before you manage to get your arse parked. I always seemed to get in with ten seats to spare.

Fortunately, every day is a school day in Cannes, where it turns out that some press passes are more equal than others. Standing in the queue for No Country For Old Men, the latest from the Coen brothers, I happened to notice that I was in line with folk with yellow passes, while mine was blue. Turns out blues get in before yellows, so a casual slip through the fence later and I was with my people. Just as well, as all of the yellows (including your friendly neighbourhood DVD editor) and even a good deal of the blues didn't get in, and missed one of the best films of the festival.

It's a rare and joyous thing to take a walk through the Marche area of the Palais. This is where film companies from all over the world come to try and sell their nefarious wares to unsuspecting or possibly insane distributors, where you'll find films starring actors you thought died years ago, alongside titles like Cadaverella, or Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. And those look like some of the good ones.

A combination of exhaustion, heatstroke, dehydration, malnutrition and quite possibly scurvy begins to set in after about the first week. It just isn't natural to watch so many films over so many days, with only bread, cheese and alcohol to sustain you, especially when you're going to bed at 0230 and getting up at 0600 to make sure of a seat at the first morning screening. Fortunately the first morning screenings had a tendency to be very good, such as Michael Moore's Sicko, probably the best film of the whole festival. The man may have his detractors, but he sure knows how to craft a potent piece of cinema - just a shame it wasn't in competition.

We Own the Night, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, somehow was competing for the top prize. It's a decent if hardly outstanding crime thriller pitting cops against the Russian mob and brother against brother that was, surprisingly, greeted with a smattering of boos amongst the applause from the notoriously fickle Frenchies. It's no masterpiece, but booing is difficult to understand.

No such vitriol greeted Bloodrayne: Deliverance, directed by the wonderfully infamous Uwe Boll, the German genius/madman behind some supposedly awful video game adaptations. He didn't disappoint, delivering a truly shambolic effort that would have looked unfortunate on an episode of Tales From The Crypt. For some reason, the pain of seeing this wasn't enough to dissuade me from going along to another one of his films. It's called Postal, and it's a riot. As ever, it's based on a video game, wherein a mailman goes on a killing spree, but Boll has managed to turn it into probably the first 9/11 comedy, and damned if it isn't bloody funny. Stunningly offensive, but bloody funny. The man himself introduced it then stood at the back of the cinema, laughing at his own jokes.

John Waters: This Filthy World, which looked on the surface like a documentary, but was in fact a live recording of Waters performing his one-man show, was as funny and tasteless as you might imagine, while my newfound love affair with Uwe Boll continued with In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, a reasonably enjoyable Lord of the Rings rip-off with a relatively big budget and a terrific cast (Jason Statham, Burt Reynolds, Ray Liotta, John Rhys Davies).

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is based on the experiences of a French journalist who suffered a massive stroke that left him able to communicate only with his left eyelid, using which, he managed to dictate the book on which this moving film is based. Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely on the other hand, is just too quirky and bizarre to ever really engage in its tale of celebrity impersonators. Most bizarre of all was when the film would randomly cut to completely unrelated scenes featuring Werner Herzog and some skydiving nuns. Nutty.

Since we're not going to get a proper release of Grindhouse any time soon, seeing the films separately as Planet Terror and Death Proof will be our only option, and I for one am quite glad. The early, tatty scenes of Death Proof soon became quite wearisome but, once it left its Grindhouse trappings behind, it became a thundering juggernaut of a film that never let up the fun for a second. I doubt Planet Terror will come anywhere close. A little controversy was provided at the press conference which turned into a difference of opinion and a battle of wills, with Quentin Tarantino and Kurt Russell on one side and Harvey Weinstein on the other. Snake and QT were busy bemoaning the splitting up of Grindhouse, focusing on how the audience would be missing out on the full intended experience. Weinstein however, was clearly of a mind that, while Grindhouse may have been a lemon in the States, there was still a big world out there in which he could go and make some lemonade, and that they were here to promote Death Proof and not argue about release schedules. Robert Rodriguez wisely stayed quiet on the whole issue.

Congratulations must go to whichever genius chose to schedule the Ocean's Thirteen press conference at the same time as Martin Scorsese was delivering his masterclass on cinema. Faced with the choice of seeing Clooney, Pitt and Damon or spending an hour and a half in the company of the most famous eyebrows in Hollywood, Scorsese was the clear winner and he didn't disappoint. He would have gone on for twice as long if he'd been allowed, and it was a privilege to be there - even Tarantino took his seat in the audience. And that's what epitomises Cannes, buying a £5 pint one minute and standing next to Brad and Angelina the next. It's thoroughly insane, thoroughly exhausting and thoroughly brilliant, and like no other cinema experience on earth.