Embattled, tired and bittersweet, the final days at Cannes slow down to a mild jog, allowing those who've watched the films and interviewed the filmmakers to take stock in all that's just happened. In short, it's a time to play it all back and reflect on what was seen and what was done.
One trend that will have surely become hard to break by fest's end is the line cutting, which is taken to a new level here. Not necessarily an advanced level, per se. In fact, it is quite the opposite. A sort of devolution in social standards, line cutting is the norm here in a very basic, accepted way. Anyone and everyone simply slides into the place they choose at any point in the winding beast that becomes nearly every line at the festival. Like vultures, these devious maestros wait on the fringes, whether it be at a café adjacent to the theater or a local shop hidden close by. They wait for the moment to strike.
But then, this kind of line-cutting happens outside (and, in this case of this year, in the pouring rain) so frequently and is so quick and ruthless in its execution (once the lines start moving here, chaos officially begins) that it becomes relatively easy to ignore. Where it all gets personal is inside the Palais (where the majority of the festival screening take place) in the lines for the smaller screening rooms. Most everyone is required to get to their chosen screening close to an hour early, in hopes of being given the privilege to enter. These are where the true masters work their magic. Slowly and steadily they step forward, inch-by-inch, making the most of the space between those in front of them and the barriers that form the shape of the line. As the festival began to wind down, I observed a fellow critic of mine nearly implode as he watched another not-so-sneaky sneak find himself a better position. What resulted was what can be expected: my friend and I and those with us began to play the same tricks, cutting where convenient, no doubt ruining perfectly pleasant people's days, only feeding the terrible cycle we hated ourselves.
This is the world we live in for two weeks. A world where booing and cat-calling is a litmus test for the fate of each and every film shown. This loud-and-clear method of immediate criticism holds some considerable weight, whether it be boo or cheer. Consider Jeff Nichols' late-fest competitor Mud. After two lackluster buyer screenings in the weeks prior to its premiere, buzz on the picture had been cold. Cue the big day, and critics and movie fans alike were cheering up a storm for what many had already wrote off as dead in the water. That said, these reactions can and have also be misleading. Last year, reports of vast booing at The Tree of Life press screening were severely overblown, the high volume of a precious few being taken as a larger consensus. The film went on to take the Palme d'Or. This year, Lee Daniels' unexpectedly (or was it?) lowbrow The Paperboy elicited more than a few groans and boos from the press, but also an apparently lively and lengthy applause at the premiere screening later in the day. Furthermore, those press boos were then met with many reviews calling it trash, but trash that needs to be seen. The "needs to be seen" part must have distributor Millennium Films relieved.
As has been studied by many already, this year's Cannes was a festival heavy with American films in competition. Still more common was the setting for most all of these films: the Deep South. Whether it be the swampy, Florida-set soap opera The Paperboy, the meandering, coffee-table book beautiful On The Road, the backwater Virginia liquor town of Lawless or the mystical Mud set on the Mississippi River, the French seemed to be intrigued by Southern drawls and Southern sinning this year. There was even Andrew Dominik's Brad Pitt-starrer Killing Them Softly, based on a novel set in Boston but very clearly shot in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, there was one more common through-line with the very American back half of the festival: a general lack of critical praise. While Killing Them Softly and Mud were both received marginally well, both were noticeably absent from the festival's awards, while the rest were dismissed as little more than forgettable (save The Paperboy's memorable cheese factor). What does it say, then, about American cinema and the Cannes Film Festival that nearly a quarter of the films in competition this year were from our country, and for the most part those films left us wanting?
Hey, at least we provide movie stars on that glorious Cannes red carpet. But how long will that be enough? And should it be enough in the first place?