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Cannes Film Festival 2010: Matt Versus the Volcano

This isn’t what I expected. A seven-hour layover?

The Tree of Life
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This isn’t what I expected. A seven-hour layover? I wasn’t prepared for that. But one Icelandic volcano explosion and a few thick ash clouds later, and that seven-hour wait turned into a 10-hour one. But that’s not really shocking; it’s just inconvenient. What’s really surprising—what still has me wondering if the universe isn’t just messing with me a little bit—is that I’m even here at all.

When I attended the 2008 Cannes Film Festival as part of a study-abroad program, I figured it was a literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; I even said as much in my coverage for The House Next Door. I wanted to make the most of the trip, because I knew I’d never be back. So then what, I ask myself, am I doing sitting in JFK Airport right now, praying that Icelandic volcano ash doesn’t further delay my flight into Nice?

No matter how unlikely it seems to me, the fact of the matter is: I’m going back. Because Slant Magazine, after nearly 10 years in existence, is going to Cannes for the first time, and our lovely editors have decided to send me. I know from experience that this will be exhausting, exciting, frustrating, thrilling, and really, really expensive. I also know how lucky I am. If the whole thing still doesn’t seem quite real, it’s because covering the Cannes Film Festival even now feels like a once-in-a-lifetime gig; it’s just a once-in-a-lifetime gig I get to do twice. I thought I pushed myself last time; carpe diem and all that. That was nothing. This time, I’m making the diem my bitch.

Or that’s the plan, at least. I’ve made up a tentative screening schedule for the fest, one that lets me see nearly everything that sounds interesting, or important, or simply fills an empty slot. It all looks pretty easy—just so long as I don’t need to eat, sleep, or write for the next 10 days. Since I do, though, something’s gotta give. A few screenings will undoubtedly get cut for practical reasons. I’ll probably make some last-minute changes based on buzz, whims, and my physical and mental condition. There’s a degree of uncertainty to anything like this. What is certain is that I will be seeing movies, and I will be writing daily about the movies I see for the length of the festival. So before the fest kicks off on Wednesday, here’s a brief overview of what to expect.


The meat of the festival, or its rich chewy center, the competition slate makes up the most significant set of films screening, the titles that have been selected to compete for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize. They tend to be the high-profile films, the ones by name auteurs and world-cinema favorites. But not this year. The festival has caught some slack for its lackluster competition lineup, and there’s no denying that it’s not a particularly inspiring bunch. Many of the most highly anticipated films, including Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, simply weren’t ready in time for the festival, so what’s left is a list of film by mostly unknowns and second-tier auteurs. Still, appearances can be deceiving; last year’s all-star competition, with new films by such big shots as Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, and Alain Resnais, was considered a disappointment by nearly all attendees. And it’s not like there’s nothing at all to look forward to this year. Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul is making his second appearance in competition with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, my—and many others’—most anticipated film of the fest. There are also new films from former Palme winners Mike Leigh (Another Year), Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy), and Ken Loach (Route Irish).

Other notable films include Im Sang-Soo’s remake of Kim Ki-young’s wacked-out 1960 thriller The Housemaid; Poetry, the new film from Lee Chang-dong, whose Secret Sunshine was well-received at Cannes in 2007; eccentric French actor Mathieu Amalric’s eccentric-seeming On Tour; and a number of other titles that at this point could turn out any number of ways. Then there are the films I’m genuinely dreading—things like arthouse wanker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful and Doug Liman’s Valerie Plame drama Fair Trade, pitifully the only American film competing. But I’ll watch ‘em all anyway, since it is my firm intention to see every film, good or bad, screening in Competition this year.

Un Certain Regard

Typically regarded as a Cannes’s minor league, where submitted films not quite strong enough for Competition end up, Un Certain Regard has recently turned into quite a respectable sidebar. Over the last few years, such outstanding directors as Kelly Reichardt, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Bong Joon-ho have had films premiere in UCR. This year is no exception. In fact, a number of commentators have suggested that UCR may be even more exciting than the Competition slate, and not without good reason. Over the next 10 days, UCR will premiere new films from Jia Zhang-ke (I Wish I Knew), Hong Sang-soo (Ha Ha Ha), Cristi Puiu (Aurora), Lodge Kerrigan (Rebecca H.), Manoel de Oliveira (The Strange Case of Angelica), and Jean-Luc Godard (Film Socialisme), among others. I will not be seeing every title in UCR (screening times can be awkward, and a few of the less-prestigious films frankly sound kind of terrible), but I’ll do what I can. Certainly I hope not to miss any of the titles listed above.

Out of Competition

These are the films that Cannes elects to give high-profile premieres but that are for whatever reason not in the running for awards. This year, titles include Ridley Scott’s opening-night film Robin Hood, Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Olivier Assayas’s five-and-a-half-hour miniseries Carlos, Stephen Frears’s Tamara Drewe, and Gregg Araki’s Kaboom. I will probably not be seeing Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, because its only press screening conflicts with the Puiu in Un Certain Regard, and I can’t say I think I’ll be missing very much. There is also a film called The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu by Andrei Ujic?, which appears to be an experimental documentary about the Romanian dictator.

Director’s Fortnight/Critic’s Week

These are sidebar festivals that are not affiliated with Cannes but run concurrently and are open to Cannes attendees. This year they are featuring mostly first-time directors and films with little to no pre-festival buzz, which unfortunately means that I will probably not see any of them; there are just too many other higher-priority screenings to get to.

So there you go. I really am absolutely thrilled to be returning to Cannes, and I want to thank Ed Gonzalez and Keith Uhlich for making it possible. I’m excited about seeing and writing about an absurd number of movies over a short period of time, and I’m excited in hearing from you readers in the comment section.

The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 12—23.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door.

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