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Monday, June 11, 2012

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May 26 is a big day. Jeff Nichols, the 33-year-old director who won so much acclaim for his last film Take Shelter, is the man of the moment. His film Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan of Tree of Life fame, and newcomer Jacob Lofland, and with a cast that includes Reese Witherspoon and Sam Shepard, premieres today.
It turns out to be quite wonderful, a wistful story about love and life in the South. The action happens in a lovely riverside setting in Arkansas, and centres on two boys who live in houseboats, and a man who will become their friend and mentor.
Jeff Nichols laughs about finding Tye and Jacob – “boys who could ride dirt bikes and run boats” – for the film. There’s no way he could have shot it with kids from LA, he says.  He adds that the film is mostly about love. “I mean, we all get banged up and bruised up, and yet we somehow pick ourselves up and go for it again!” he says.
Matthew McConaughey, whom a member of the press christens, “The revelation of the festival”, seems to have cemented his transition from romantic comedies to serious films that push his strengths.
After the conference, we get ready for the multiple award ceremonies scheduled for the day. One of these is the prize awarded by the FIPRESCI – The International Federation of Film Critics – and that awarded by the Ecumenical Jury. The FIPRESCI chooses Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin for the Un Certain Regard section, and In the Fog by Sergei Loznitsa for the Competition section.
It’s an informal gathering, and most of us run up to Benh Zeitlin when the champagne fountain dries up.
“Why did you screen it at the Sundance instead of here?” I ask him. The film won an award at the Sundance Film Festival, thus making it ineligible for the Competition section here, since the rules at Cannes require Competition films to premiere here.
“Oh, we just never thought we could get in here,” he replies, to ‘awww’s from eavesdroppers, “I mean, it was a whole Sundance thing. We worked at the Sundance Labs and stuff, and this just feels surreal, you know.”
The Ecumenical Jury selects the film for a special mention, and gives the prize to Jagten by Thomas Vinterberg, a powerful film that deals with the outcome of a teacher being accused of child sexual abuse.
Next up is the awards ceremony for Un Certain Regard, the jury of which is chaired by British actor and director Tim Roth, who’s made us fall over with laughter every time he’s taken the stage. This time is no different. He runs up, and zooms around stage so often that photographers take to mirroring his actions in order to capture some of it. I have several blurred images for my pains.
Roth speaks of all the fighting that happened during deliberations, and then says he was kidding. Well, no, he wasn’t. Yes, he was. “I dedicate this to my wife,” he says, bizarrely, to top things off.
The first announcement is the Prize for Distinction, and the winner is Aida Begic for Djeca. As she’s about to leave stage, the organisers ask her to pose with the jury, and then wait for the other members.
There’s some confusion about arranging the line-up for the photo, and Tim Roth jumps in, pushing people all over the place, and marching around them himself. Finally, he pops out of the frame to announce, “We’re very organised here!”
They then announce that they’ve decided to do away with the Best Actor award, and choose two actresses instead. The winners are Suzanne Clement for her performance in Laurence Anyways, and Emilie Dequenne for her role in A Perdre La Raison.
The special jury prize goes to Le Grand Soir by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern. After thanking the organisers for including comedy in the lineup, Tim Roth decides to spoof all the air kissing on stage by running up to Gustave Kervern, who has marched up on stage in sunglasses. He hugs him multiple times, kisses him and doesn’t let go. Kervern lifts him off his feet, whereupon Roth straddles him, making for the perfect photo finish.
There’s one prize left, though, for the best film. This goes to Despues de Lucia, a Mexican movie about an MMS scandal that is startlingly similar to the DPS incident that rocked India a few years ago.
We then leave to see if we can make it to the red carpet screenings. Reese Witherspoon has arrived at Cannes with a baby bump, which her outfits have been customised to enhance. For the premiere of Mud, she wears a spangly purple gown and heels that can’t be good for her back.
The other film at the premiere is Do Nui-Mat, or The Taste of Money, by Korean director Im Sang-soo. Most of us loved the film, but we were to find out that was because we thought it was a parody. The director tells everyone he had the impression he was making a perfectly serious film. Now you tell us!
I want to go to the midnight screening of Maniac, starring Elijah Wood. The problem with these screenings is that whether you get in or not depends on what badge or invitation you have. The other problem is that all the men are dressed alike – that scene from The Matrixwould have been so easy to shoot here – and you never know whom to ask which doorway you can get in through.
So, instead of security guards, I end up speaking to a couple of hustlers in bow ties, who tell me they can sell me tickets to the performance for between 40 and 50 euros.
“I have a badge,” I say.
“But yes, look at the crowds of people,” one of them replies, “See, it’s impossible to get in. But my friend has an invitation, if you want.”
“I don’t think I need one. But what exactly are you offering?”
“For 40 euros, you can have a balcony seat.”
“Umm, I don’t think so.”
“I will give it to my girlfriend for free,” the friend says, “Do you want to be my girlfriend?”
“Umm, I don’t think so,” I say, now fairly sure they’re not security guards. I do finally make it to the right entrance for the press, but I’m so tired for all the running around, I end up dozing through part of the film. It wasn’t the film’s fault.


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