Cannes-Don't: Ten Days Nowhere Near The Croisette
Each May, as the New Zealand weather either turns to shit (most years) or deepens its embrace of shittiness (this year), my mind casts itself to sunnier shores: namely, the Cannes Film Festival.
It’s the perfect time to implement an idea I’d oft-considered - Cannes at home! While you obviously can’t watch the same films, the competition’s full of established auteurs with rich filmographies. It’s a great way to get primed for the films that will inevitably show up on our shores at the NZIFF. Why not put together a watch-along plan?
The fly in the ointment is the death of the video store. There are alternatives - from Fatso and Aro Video’s mail-based services and the stray still-thriving store (I can only speak for Auckland, but Video Ezy Grey Lynn and Videon are great) to your local library - but for concurrent viewing by the thousands of home viewers that would immediately think this is a good idea - okay, dozens? - streaming is the only practical solution. And while there are a few choices in this arena (from major local players like Neon and Lightbox to niche cinephile services like MUBI), Netflix is the most prevalent.
So I got onto Netflix, thinking that certainly it would be easy to put together an appropriate to-watch list from their offerings.
DAY 1 (18 May): Screening at competition in Cannes: Wonderstruck (dir. Todd Haynes), Loveless (dir Andrei Zygvanitsev)
Cannes gets off to a fantastic start this year. Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There, Far From Heaven) most recently delivered us Carol, the best film of 2015 (or 2016, depending on if you count local or international release dates), and his latest promises “the interconnected stories of two deaf women over 50 years”. This will be easy: certainly Netflix has something by Haynes.
Nope. Not a thing. Out of duty, I try Zygvanitsev, already knowing that if none of Haynes’s films are there, chances are that dour yet transcendent films like The Return, Elena and Leviathan aren’t going to turn up. We could go with actors - but Cannes is, for all its pomp and red carpet, a director’s festival.
There is a semi-decent compromise: The Tribe. It’s a very loose connection - it features deaf actors, and it premiered in Critic’s Week (one of the myriad sidebars) at Cannes in 2014 - and even though tonally it’s a bleak, rough, ride, it still gets a bit of Cannes flavour into the mix. This is bound to get easier, right?
DAY 2: Okja (Bong Joon-Ho), Jupiter’s Moon (Kornél Mundruczó)
Okja is one of two Netflix films in competition this year, which has caused a bit of controversy, as France has strict laws about how soon a film can premiere online after its theatrical screening. (For more pulse-pounding details about said laws and how they’re resulting in rule changes at Cannes, flip over here.) One thing that Netflix is often good about is pumping up its product. For instance, director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room occurs unusually high in its algorithms, and I strongly suspect the fact that they’ve funded his new film, Hold The Dark, is why. So surely there’s something there by director Bong Joon-Ho to get us primed for his upcoming monster movie?
Nope. Bong’s directed four stone-cold masterpieces in a row: Memories of Murder, The Host, Mother and Snowpiercer, but none of them are to be had. A search for Snowpiercer recommends Netflix’s Black Mirror TV series, because of course it does. Memories of Murder? Why don’t you try the Kevin James-starring True Memoirs of an International Assassin (currently sitting at 0% on Rotten Tomatoes)?
It won’t surprise you to know there’s nothing by Mundruczo (he did White God, a dogs-run-amok film from 2014 that you probably missed at NZIFF). I could maybe find a refugee film (the subject of Jupiter’s Moon), but instead let’s go for an actor connection. Tilda Swinton’s in Okja, and she’s in everything! Except on Netflix. She’s on three films. One of them is Adaptation. Ok. That’s a good film. Watch that.
DAY 3: Screening: The Square (Ruben Ostlund), 120 Beats Per Minute (Robin Campillo)
In an ideal world, recommendation-wise this would be a no-brainer: watch Force Majeure, Ostlund’s breakout hit from Cannes 2014, a scathing yet hysterical portrayal of masculinity under siege in the wake of an avalanche. It’s the sort of art film that people who don’t like art films can get into, and people who do like art films respect as well. Is it on Netflix? Of course it’s not. In its place Netflix recommends much-derided Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie vehicle The Tourist.
No Robin Campillo either, quelle surprise. He did Eastern Boys and wrote The Class. And, it turns out, a film I enjoyed once and forgot: They Came Back, a zombie film that trades gut-munching for town meetings. It was remade as a series for French TV called Les Revenants, and then Americans remade it as The Returned.
So watch an episode of that, I guess? I mean, it’s as distant to Campillo’s current movie as getting an autograph from Nicole Kidman on the red carpet is to having Colin Mathura-Jeffree cut in front of you at an Auckland multiplex. So, in a perverse way, it seems wildly appropriate. And on the bright side, at least you’re in your pyjamas instead of a tuxedo.
DAY 4: The Meyerwitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach), Redoubtable (Michel Hazanavicius)
I’m not even going to fuck around and check if The Artist (Hazanavicius’s previous film) is on Netflix, and certainly not if there’s any Godard (the subject of his new film), because I’ve spotted Frances Ha on the site before, and sure enough, it’s still there. Whoo-hoo! Watch that. It’s probably what I’d pick given free reign! (Although, if I were dipping into sidebar programming, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest film also unspools today, and Cure and Kairo (Pulse) are both masterful works of horror. But of course they’re not on Netflix.)
DAY 5: The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos), The Day After (Hong Sang-Soo), Happy End (Michael Haneke)
This is the day that I would be levitating with glee in expectation, were I sipping a coffee near the Croisette. Greek surrealist Lanthimos busted my brain open in the best way with Dogtooth, and knocked me for six with his English-language debut The Lobster. Hong Sang-Soo is one of my favourite directors, reliably providing wry intimate tales of male fecklessness through parallel, sometimes magical, storytelling devices. Happy End is ultra-grim Michael Haneke, and I have a special fondness for him after seeing Hidden tear apart an opening night audience at my first NZIFF ever: this latest film sees him dissecting a bourgeoisie family who happens to live near the refugee camp at Calais.
So what does Netflix have to offer among these vaunted auteurs? One film: Amour. I suspect it’s far from the most apposite choice in Haneke’s filmography - I’d rather suggest Code Unknown - but, in the streaming age, beggars can’t be choosers.
DAY 6: Radiance (dir: Naomi Kawase)
This is when I audibly made a sound, something between a gasp and a sigh, which clearly articulated one thought: no fucking way can I make this work. Kawase is a Cannes regular whose films rarely travel (An (Sweet Bean) being the recent exception that proves the rule, because distributors think they can sell anything to old people as long as it has food in it) and whose popularity generally mystifies anyone apart from the Cannes selection committee. (I actually kind of liked the one film I saw, Shara, though good luck tracking it down.)
I checked the sidebars to see if there was anything useful. The last film by the late Abbas Kiarostami (The Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us, Close-Up, Like Someone In Love) is playing. He’s a personal hero, and Certified Copy is a masterpiece in my books. It’s not of Netflix, but they do have a film that’s set in Iran. Maybe you’d like that? I went on: Top of the Lake: China Girl is premiering. Surely they have some Jane Campion?
Surely not. I dunno. Watch an episode of Broadchurch or The Fall or some other murder procedural? Or maybe watch The Birth of Sake, because it’s about something Japanese? Or maybe catch up on your laundry. Or track down Certified Copy … but not on Netflix.
DAY 7: The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola), Rodin (Jacques Doillon)
Seeing Sofia Coppola’s name brought a rush of relief. The Virgin Suicides, Somewhere, The Bling Ring, Marie Antoinette … surely, surely, one of those is on Netflix. I type Coppola’s name into the search bar, and there’s one match: A Very Murray Christmas.
I will confess to not having seen A Very Murray Christmas, but I suspect it has as much to do with The Beguiled as Martin Scorsese’s Amex commercials have to do with The Last Temptation of Christ. But c’mon: like Netflix is going to have any Jacques Doillon? He’s only got 44 directorial credits on IMDb. I search his last film, Love Battles, and after some absurd crappy looking films both Blue Is The Warmest Color and Nymphomaniac appear. Because explicit sexuality, says the algorithm. Sure, watch one of those. Or watch Escape From Alcatraz because Don Siegel directed it as well as the original The Beguiled (which Coppola’s film may not resemble in any way). Or bake a cake. Or read a book. Have you read HHhH, by Laurent Binet? It’s really good.
DAY 8: Good Time (the Safdie brothers), A Gentle Creature (Sergei Loznitsa)
By now I can spot a no-hoper a mile away. The Safdie brothers made the discomfiting, powerful NYC drug-abuse film Heaven Knows What, so their new film is undoubtedly as ironically titled as Happy End. No Safdies on Netflix, though if you’re in the unexpected mood for feel-good Christian movies, you can find several of them by entering ‘Heaven’ into the Netflix search bar. Ukrainian Loznitsa, who ping-pongs between documentary and drama (Maidan, in the former camp, and My Joy and In The Fog in the latter, have played NZIFF), is representing with a drama based on Dostoyevsky. Searching for ‘Russian movies’ (as ‘Loznitsa’ and ‘Dostoyevsky’ were no-hopers) brings up Under the Sun, which I saw last NZIFF, and which is a really good idiosyncratic documentary! Almost entirely irrelevant to the notion that I started off with, but finding a good under-the-radar movie I can recommend wholeheartedly feels like a triumph at this point.
The other option is to venture into side-bars, and today, David Lynch’s first two episodes of the new season of Twin Peaks premiere. It’s frankly bizarre that Cannes is playing all this television, but Television Is So Good Right Now! Netflix have precisely one David Lynch title. I love The Straight Story, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive, and think that Eraserhead is an incredible film I may never be able to sit through again. Netflix has none of those - but, hey! They have his famously misbegotten, disowned remake of Dune! If you’re masochistic enough to still be playing along, you’re masochistic enough to watch this.
DAY 9: In The Fade (Fatih Akin), L’Amant Double (Francois Ozon)
Fatih Akin burst onto the international scene with Head-On in 2004 - an astonishing punk-rock/Turkish migrant to German drama that I highly recommend - but he never quite found his footing in the complicated business of establishing himself as an international auteur. Francois Ozon has been cranking out movie after movie over the last twenty years, most of which don’t reach these shores (I think his last to get theatrical distribution in NZ was In the House a few years back). He’s most famous for Swimming Pool and 8 Women. Their presence in competition signals potential returns to form and/or prominence.
Netflix has never heard of either director. Akin’s film stars Diane Kruger, though, and she’s in Inglourious Basterds, and that played at Cannes, and it’s a good time. And there’s a movie theatre in a lot of it, so you can imagine yourself being at a theatre in France, watching a movie you’re excited about, rather than a movie that was your fourteenth choice because Netflix didn’t have any of the others.
DAY 10: You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
Lynne Ramsay’s last film, We Need To Talk About Kevin, is a stunner. While I’m not as fond of her previous films, Morvern Callar and Ratcatcher, there’s plenty who highly esteem them. She’s a key name in contemporary cinema, and any movie service worth its salt should represent her films.
So, anyway. I went looking to the sidebars, to see if there was anything there that might be connected - and Roman Polanski’s newest film is playing. Obviously, Polanski’s a controversial and troubling figure, but at this point all I care about is my near-certitude that Netflix must have a Polanski film. Right?
Nope. It suggests The Ghost Writer as a possible search, and so I look there, hoping for a gossamer connection that can close this whole tortured affair on a high note. The first suggested match for a late-era thriller from one of the most talented directors alive? As pure of an undiluted expression of pure algorithmic disdain towards cinephiles that can possibly exist: True Memoirs of an International Assassin.