If the Cannes Film Festival is the cinephile’s version of the Olympics, the media critics covering the event are its long-distance runners. Traversing two weeks of nonstop screenings, panels, conferences, and other festivities can be intimidating by any standard, and don’t forget there’s writing to be done. This is my first year on the Croisette, so I made sure to speak with a few veterans who’ve already survived the madness. One golden rule emerged from their collective wisdom: pace yourself. Easier said than done, I’d imagine. Even though my preplanned screening schedule includes 53 features, interviews, and a red carpet or two, this dude plans to abide. Or at least try not to go crazy with excitement and stress.
As I sit here on a cramped plane to Nice by way of Zurich by way of Philadelphia by way of Los Angles (don’t ask), the mere thought of attending Cannes, much less covering the spectacle for a respected media outlet, makes my head spin. Twelve months ago, I was teaching film studies and screenwriting and fruitlessly screaming into the vast film blogosphere trying to be heard, anticipating Cannes reports by writers I admired from the cold vantage point of a computer screen. Well, what a difference a year makes. Thanks to the endless support of Slant’s co-founder and film editor, Ed Gonzalez, I’m one of the lucky few who get to battle first-world problems like “pace yourself” and “make sure to sleep.” Consider me humbled.
Being a rookie, I couldn’t wait for the Cannes lineup to be unveiled in early April. During the months leading up to the announcement, many felt 2011 would be one of the best in recent years. Alas, the absence of new films by Wong Kar-wai, David Cronenberg, Aleksandr Sokurov, and Michael Haneke drained some of the enthusiasm from the cinephile water cooler. Unfortunately, this is where the double-edged hype machine erodes the simple joy of an experience like Cannes. The more dismissive mentalities (and I’ve heard many) reek of a special lethargy only reserved for a privileged bunch used to a great thing.
Location and experience aside, how can you honestly argue with a deep Competition lineup that includes Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodóvar, Lynne Ramsay, Takeshi Miike, Nanni Moretti, Aki Kaurismäki, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan? The Un Certain Regard program is equally dynamic, sporting new work from Hong Sang-soo, Bruno Dumont, and Na Hong Jin. There will undoubtedly be a myriad of discoveries made in the Director’s Fortnight and Critic’s Choice sidebars (I can’t wait for the new Sion Sono and Jeff Nichols), not to mention the Cannes Classics program showcasing new prints of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist and Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer, among others. It sounds like an embarrassment of riches to me.
My nimble excitement and enthusiasm might sound slightly naïve, or even blind considering the realities of film festival politics and practices. Frankly, I really don’t care. This is the experience of a lifetime, and I’m going to treat it as such. No matter if it’s your first or 20th time at Cannes, it should be treasured. If I do have the privilege of coming back next year, hopefully my exuberance at the possibilities Cannes affords me, as both a film lover and critic, will stay intact. Cannes might be a rigorous gauntlet, but it’ll be a glorious one, now and forever.
Here we go…