Readers Write In #41: A Commoner in Cannes

Posted on May 26, 2018

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I have been going to film festivals here and there over the past few years. Devouring movies in jam-packed schedules – three a day on average, eight my highest – while cramming in dark halls with droves of people, scavenging on cheap fast food, sleeping on questionable beds, and almost always falling ill after is a charm to me. It makes me feel like I am giving my passion for film its rightful due. The golden trio of Venice, Berlin and Cannes has always been the end goal; the latter a pipe dream as it has never really been open to the public. So far, my only options of getting in Cannes had been either making a damn fine movie or sleeping with someone in the industry… until they announced a special programme this year catering to young film buffs. All I had to do was (1) be between 18 and 28 (2) write a motivation letter, and I got selected to spend three days at the festival with a surprisingly good access.

First day went by in a blur. As I was walking from the station to my accommodation, I saw the lead actor from Dheepan sipping his coffee on a terrace. I was left a nervous wreck trying to hold a conversation with him, and it had only been five minutes since reaching Cannes. Rest of the day, I walked along the Croisette in a bid to learn the ropes of the festival. Some things were easy to grasp: The ‘Village International’ with pavilions from different countries is a great spot to grab free drinks and snacks. The ‘Marché du Film’ has so much junk that one would hope not see the light of day. The ‘Palais’, the main venue with all the screens, has free coffee. Then there was the ‘Plage’ with beach screenings that are open to the public. I spent my first night there watching Grease. John Travolta was present, clad in a tight denim jacket. A forty-something lady sitting next to me went nuts.

Learning how to attend the most of the screenings, on the other hand, took me as long as the festival lasted. The accreditation I received allowed me to go to every screening – except the ones in Lumière, which require an invitation. But what with the infamous caste system in queueing to my disadvantage, the only way I could get in a screening was if I had been at least two hours prior. Every time I missed getting in, I beat myself up with a dose of shoulda-woulda-coulda. (I should not have taken that long route, scenic as it was. I would have made it if not for that stop at the sandwich place.) I would later learn that the best way is not to be picky about the movies, get in and out of the same screen, and give up on three meals a day plus eight hours of sleep. I had a friend who would leave the house at 7am, get back at 2am the next day and load up on a whole day’s worth pasta. Rinse and repeat.

I ended up watching six of the movies in competition. I loved Burning, hated Capharnaüm, and slept through Three Faces. My favorite cinema moment of this festival was in Dogman, a fantastic small movie portraying a dog-loving man in a dog-eat-dog world. The titular dog-groomer Marcello (a star-making performance from Marcello Fonte) brings his wounded friend/bully Simone to his mother looking for aid. The mother, on discovering that her son is still doing cocaine, throws a tantrum and rips open the bag scattering all the cocaine. Simone pulls her into a bear hug, seemingly showing remorse. As the camera slowly zooms out, we see that this hug is just so that Marcello can scour the cocaine off the floor behind her back. This was tragicomedy at its finest.

I was lucky enough to get Lumière invites twice. While the first was from a chance encounter with a kind, slightly tipsy woman that had an extra ticket, the second involved a three hour wait at the last minute access line. The dress code is strict for the gala screenings; I ended up renting a tuxedo. Walking on the red carpet, half-blinded by the camera lights was a lifetime high for me. Another high was spotting the celebrities. Cate Blanchett was as gorgeous as she ought to be. Kristen Stewart looked comfortable in her flats. Sting and Shaggy seemed cocky and trash. Thierry FrémauxFrench-pff’dat my friend for standing in his way.My kindest encounter was with a National Award-winning film critic from India who offered to ferry me goodies from Chennai (go figure!).

As I am home now, reminiscing, I ask myself: Did I make the most of this incredible opportunity? Probably not! I wish I had seen more movies. I wish I rose to the occasion, made some contacts in the industry, and maybe even pitched some scripts-in-progress. But I am grateful. I am grateful for the wonderful people that I met, with whom I could discuss the movies of both Nuri Bilge Ceylanand Ron Howard in same detail. I am grateful for the great cinema that I got to watch. I am grateful for such a close peek at the film industry; watching its cogs turn was equal parts frustrating and fascinating. Something something, it’s Tinseltown!

Iniyavan Elumalai is a double minority snowflake of the nineties. He dabbles in film analysis, electronic circuit design, and Oxford comma snobbery. Born in India, he now lives in the Netherlands.