Sean Penn and his Causes
Yesterday was such a thrill, with two excellent films and a brush with Hollywood royalty (whatever your taste for Brett Ratner’s movies, there is no disputing he is a man of considerable influence). I then had a drink with two LA-based filmmakers (check out Coley’s film at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1822302/who I had met on the plane to Paris, had dinner at a Moroccan restaurant on the waterfront, then returned to my apartment. It turns out my studio is ideally situated for partying, if I were the sort to be invited to such parties, as the group Gossip, with charismatic lead singer Beth Ditto, performed well into the wee hours, right across the road from me. I did not try to blag my way in, but made a good go of sleeping through it. As I write on Friday evening, someone sounding suspiciously like Nick Cave is echoing across from the venue (he is in town as writer of John Hillcoat’s Lawless, so it could well be him).
Inspired by yesterday’s good fortune, I got up just after six this morning and made my way back to the Grand Theatre for Matteo Garrone’s (Gomorrah) latest film, a surprising comedy called Reality. Garrone has said he wanted to try his hand at something lighter following the very successful mafia tale that won him praise at previous festivals, and indeed Reality starts off with a great deal of whimsy and subtly-played humour. It concerns a family man from Naples whose children convince him to try out for Big Brother (“Grande Fratello”) and who becomes obsessed with the prospect of admission into the house and, by extension, a life of fame and fortune. Garrone has produced an incredibly clever fairy tale, stylistically gorgeous yet documentary-like in its naturalism, and the lead performances are so real you feel you are ensconced in true Neopolitan life. But clearly Garrone cannot help himself in terms of letting/making it descend into a tale of desperation that leaves you feeling sad. More about that later, but I definitely think it is one to watch.
Left the cinema, squinting into the bright light of day, and stood to queue (of course) outside a bathroom. The crowds were dispersing from the movie, and suddenly there was a resplendent Ewan McGregor striding by, being hopelessly charming to his minder as he headed for the jury room. Immediately following, Jean-Paul Gaultier, looking just like Stephen Baldwin but blonde and without the crazy, at which point I did a totally uncool sharp intake of breath and looked around wide-eyed. And THEN passed their fellow juror, Alexander Payne (director of Sideways and more recently the award-winning The Descendants). At least, because I am a New Zealander, I didn’t visibly pay attention to any of them or lunge for an autograph. After all, they are just people too, right?
And then for something completely different: for the first time in the history of the festival, it has lent its name, clout and support to a charitable endeavour unrelated to a movie. Sean Penn, model Petra Nemcova and director Paul Haggis (Crash) had an hour’s press conference to spread the word about the continued plight of Haiti and its people, following the devastating quake and floods in January 2010. As many will know, Penn is an activist (he rejects the term “humanitarian” and is insightful enough to acknowledge that his bad press over the years renders it slightly paradoxical) who was helping in New Orleans when the Haiti tragedy claimed a quarter of a million lives in a matter of seconds. He was on a plane within days, arranging aid in all its forms, and getting others on board, including Haggis. Nemcova was injured and her fiance killed in Thailand when the tsunami hit in December 2004, and she had already started up her own mission, the Happy Hearts Fund, following that experience, and had visited Haiti in 2007. The three make a good team of “Celebrities With Purpose” and spoke passionately about what needs to be done for Haiti, still and always, and how we should all go visit because it is “amazing”. I confess they opened my eyes to a place I had always considered beyond assistance/saving. Moreover, it was interesting to see how consistent Penn is with every impression, interview and even acting role I have seen him in. Earnest, thy name is Sean.
I decided against any more films for the day – too slow to make it down the Croisette to the screening of Shia LeBoeuf’s short film (as director) and a new British movie called Broken starring Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy. Shia et al were on-site for a Q&A so that was a missed opportunity, but I should be able to catch Broken before the festival is out. This evening I turned down Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s latest piece Beyond the Hills and opted for a quiet night in instead. His previous Cannes-winning film was about illegal abortions, and this new one concerns religion against the backdrop of an exorcism gone wrong (ie. ending in death). So sue me, but I felt like something considerably lighter! and you can’t get much lighter than French TV…
Tomorrow is Saturday, but no time for a sleep-in – I am looking forward to three films (starting at 8.30 with the Hillcoat film) plus a music lecture given by Alexandre Desplat, who has composed the soundtrack for no fewer than six of the films in competition this year! His work is just sublime, and I have high hopes for his talk. Film reviewing is awesome, but it would be a dream job to compose film music like Desplat or Glass or Elfman. So this better be good.
Best wishes from Cannes, where the crowds are increasing by the day, young people wander around in “ballgowns” in the hope of snaring a prized invitation to the red carpet screenings, and the coffee flows (for us press, anyway) for free, all day, every day. Bonne nuit.