Our Festiville correspondent Brian Formo dismisses ‘screener vs in-person’ criticisms, as a Letterboxd review of a Cannes film sends him on an unexpected journey.
As I mentioned in my first Cannes diary entry for Festiville, my trip here provided me the opportunity to visit Paris for the first time. I spent the Fourth of July, the independence day of my homeland, at Versailles. This was a conscious decision on my part because the history of the United States’ revolution and the French Revolution are linked in a domino chain of events. France’s financial support of the American revolution, as an attempt to weaken Britain, raised taxes further on an already impoverished class in France. This was but one domino in a series of tumbling tiles for the country.
The immense wealth and distance from average people that Versailles afforded the monarchy kept the plight of the citizens out of sight and out of mind. Bastille Day commemorates one of the first major wins of the citizens in the French Revolution, which eventually ended with the toppling of Versailles and the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Visiting Versailles was a two-fold experience for me. First, as a very vocal defender of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, it gave me goose pimples to walk the halls and enter the bedroom quarters of scenes that I knew so well from the movie (as it was shot on the grounds). Second, and more importantly, the immense and excessive pleasure grounds, which started as a location for the King’s hunting retreat and grew to be the massive living quarters for the king, queen, and their servants due to their increasing unpopularity in Paris, is a decadent reminder of why revolutions are necessary. I think that Coppola’s film does this as well, by showing the disconnect between the throne and its populace and denies even showing their overthrowing of the monarchy but instead the aftermath of the destruction of all their things.
Not only was I in France for my country’s independence day, but also for France’s Fête nationale. For the press at Cannes, the Mayor invited all to a lunch of local fish and vegetables, and the supremely fashionable head of the jury, Spike Lee, donned a red-white-and-blue beret for le 14 juillet. I far preferred the festivities in Cannes to those of my hometown of Los Angeles on Independence Day, which turns into a cloud of smoke and firework bursts visible for miles.
Annually, Twitter always compares aerial footage from the real Fourth of July in LA to that of the imagined aerial view depicted in Blade Runner. From my Cannes residence, the only fireworks were put on by the city, in two shows both tasteful and varied in artistry. Massive French flags were flown and all told, it was pleasant and orderly and did not teeter into excess, which feels fitting to me to represent Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité.
There are three colors on the French flag, and there were three films that I saw on July 14 at Cannes. One from France, one from Iran, and one from Portugal, but all produced, in part, via French production companies.
Paris, 13th District
The Cannes fireworks display ended at 10:30pm, the exact starting time of Jacques Audiard’s new film, Paris, 13th District. Audiard has previously won the Palme d’Or (for Dheepan) and the Grand Prix (for A Prophet). Paris, 13th District follows three characters who are avoiding love (Makita Samba, Lucie Zhang, and Noémie Merlant). Samba and Zhang are roomates and fuckbuddies, but Merlant has the best arc as an older law student who is confused for a porn star (played by musician Jehnny Beth), who then connects with that sex worker over video chat. The film is based on separate graphic novels by Adrian Tomine and was adapted by Audiard, Léa Mysius (Ava) and Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).
Because I’m in diary mode, and in the spirit of the day, I will share a little story from Paris concerning Audiard and your Letterboxd watchlist. On the night of July 3, I was walking back to my rooftop loft in the 9th Arrondissement of Paris when a few items in a shop window caught my eye. There were people drinking Scotch and champagne out front and I waltzed into the store, which happened to be having a soft opening. Friends of the owners had gathered to celebrate, but it was I who became the first customer at Au Bon Chic.
While Emmanuelle, the collector of vintage items, explained the picture that I was buying (her “favorite item in the shop”), her partner Alexandre—who had learned I was here for the Cannes Film Festival—tore a page from a 1920s shop ledger to write down two Jacques Audiard movies. Audiard is his favorite director, and in his opinion not enough people, including the French, have seen A Self-Made Hero and Read My Lips. As I exited the shop, the sidewalk champagne and Scotch drinkers gave me a round of applause. I blushed.
Audiences might also blush at the movie in question. Paris, 13th District, filmed primarily in black and white, is très horny, with picturesque photography and a stirring nightlife score. It’s a smaller film for Audiard, exploring meaningful connections that start by taking a chance, not a swipe right. The Letterboxd reviews are still coming in but Lola describes it as “so charming and easy to fall in love with; definitely going to become a comfort favourite.”
Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman) is, in my opinion, one of the most consistent filmmakers working today. His films exist in a nuanced, moral grey area in a world that desires clean black and white, clear right and wrong. He might not ever meet the perfection of A Separation again, but every film of his is so well thought-out in regards to truth mixed with lies. Farhadi is one of the great moralists, approaching fractures in trust and memory from a vantage point where the audience can view multitudes. A Hero, his newest film, is another exceptional film in this fashion.
A Hero follows a prisoner (Mohsen Tanabande) who is locked up for his inability to pay a substantial debt. He is on leave for two days and attempts to first sell 17 gold coins from a purse found by his fiancée (Rana Azadivar) at a bus stop. When the amount for the coins won't settle his debt and his creditor refuses to accept partial payment, he tries to win goodwill through the press by returning it to its rightful owner. The narrative arc follows your typical modern feel-good story for a few days, until the inevitable, skeptical takedown part of the news cycle. Throughout, Farhadi juggles honor versus money and how intrinsically linked yet opposite they are in valuation of personhood.
The struggle to prove what is true to someone else is a theme throughout Farhadi's work and A Hero is special because our hero’s need for self preservation is fighting with his moral compass. Tanabande is perfectly shifty, with delicacy but also a short fuse; we are aware that he is good, but he can make selfish decisions. The resulting film is constantly involving, tense, and revealing of how difficult it is to navigate personal interest stories when too many people want the purest examples.
Farhadi hasn't strayed much from his formula but it works, and there were many whispers today that this might be the favorite for the Palme d’Or. Farhadi won a screenplay award for The Salesman but has never won the top prize. In fact, he was supposed to be on the jury last year with Spike Lee and was asked to be a juror this year (with Lee again) but he turned down the offer because he had a completed film he hoped to place in competition.
On Letterboxd, Adam Solomons name drops another popular movie of rising stakes against a well laid plan gone awry, saying “this could be Farhadi’s Uncut Gems.” Jack Morningstar calls it “amazing.” Roee Myzel singles out Tanabande, writing “this actor, and his stupid little smile, is the best casting decision of the year.” While some reviews mention the Palme, Sarachi sees the potential for it to become the “Second International film to win [Oscar] Best Picture” after the last Palme d’Or winner, Parasite.
The Tsugua Diaries
While the main activity on Film Twitter on Wednesday was a reaction to a disgruntled Cannes critic who decried people getting streaming links to festival films without being in attendance, I had bussed myself up to the most northern part of Cannes based on a review by someone who is not at the festival, but had hustled for many streaming links and written a nice review of The Tsugua Diaries on Letterboxd.
Diaries was made by director duo Miguel Gomes and Maureen Fazendeiro. Fazendeiro is new to me but Gomes has made a few peculiar and lively films I’ve really been taken by: Tabu (set in Africa, partially a silent film, with rock and roll songs and river sounds, but no dialogue) and his Arabian Nights trilogy (set, primarily, in a contemporary Portugal).
The theater listed on the program had moved from the location on Google Maps, so a handful of us coming off of the bus had to locate the spot named after Raimu (Marius), whom Orson Welles called “the greatest actor who ever lived.” We all spoke different languages, so the only woman who spoke French called someone and we received directions to go around the Karate and Judo dojos to the new location. Inside, the only subtitles were in French. I stayed for half of the runtime because the images were that beautiful—bright neon giallo colors applied to slow summer days—but then I decided to reach out for a streaming link myself.
From what I gathered, the film moves backward, following a team of people who build a plant and butterfly garden together. I’m glad I stayed for an hour and soaked in the slow beauty of the visuals. When I emerged, I was attuned to the sounds of the birds around me and noted how different the trees were in this part of Cannes. Incredibly diverse, from a monkey puzzle to a eucalyptus, much different from the palm trees of the Croisette. There were even cicadas humming in the greens, a sound I had not heard in many years.
I look forward to watching the rest of The Tsugua Diaries with subtitles I can understand. Here is the review that Letterboxd member Sarah had written that sent me to the wrong theater. She wrote, “I want to live in this. A movie about life on all scales, that creates and then eats itself as a snake in the garden, sparkling sun-baked gardening projects fade into an easy, exuberant nightlife, an ouroboros of life and the beauty of the world.”
Let it be known that all types of reviewers, whether present at a festival or viewing from afar, have the power to send anyone here onto a new cinematic journey. Bonne nuit. And vive la France!