Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #2: The Cannes Nots

by Karen Jaehne

May 11, 1996

To an anthropologist studying our customs, there is one that is truly mystifying. I call it the Cannes Not Get In the Movie Blues. It happened for the first time this year in front of the Peter Greenaway movie.

Now it must be understood that people don't like Peter Greenaway films, and yet he is such an idiosyncratic director, we feel we've got to see what he's up to - just in case a masterpiece slips by us. It happened in front of a theater pretentiously titled the Andre Bazin Auditorium, otherwise just another screening room in the big cineplex they call the Palais.

Hundreds of people were standing before the doors begging to be let in. Hundreds had been there for well over an hour, and some of them were about to miss the show. They begged the guards, who looked up in their inimitable impression of Napoleon, and dollar bills were flashed. The Palais guards looked us over and selected randomly and whimsically who would be allowed in. They pointed at me, so I slipped right in and, lo and behold, there were lots of seats! Well, not lots but enough to let in a good 20 folks.

I suspected something like this, and I had been sorely tempted to speak up, as I stood among the frenzied critics ready to sell small parcels of soul-real estate to get in. I wanted to say, "It's OK, folks. Stand here, and in 20 minutes, people will start coming out and you can take one of those seats. If it's a typical Greenaway movie, it'll repeat itself - several times." But I didn't say that. I was afraid of falling into disfavor with the almighty guards who were selecting viewers, so as not to say winners.

The movie started and - sure enuff - about 20 minutes into it, the first wave of critics fled toward the exit signs. I recognized someone on the lam with whom I needed to converse, so I put my coat on my seat to save it and followed. Yak-yak done, I returned. Now that turned a few heads. The second wave exited about 30 minutes later, and again, I hopped up to go speak to a friend, and returned in due course.

A man I didn't even know turned to me and whispered in the middle of a scene with naked bodies being covered with hieroglyphics, "Why did you come back?"

"I'm writing about it," I answered.

"Are you a critic?" he asked, just as the third wave of walk-outs began to flood the aisles.

Spotting yet another friend, I leaned over to tell him, "No, I'm a pedestrian," and went to chat with my friend. When I returned a few moments later the theater was half-empty. Or half-full from Peter Greenaway's point of view, I guess.

Why does this happen? To add to the mystique? Because the guards can't count or can't see in the dark? I don't know, but I'm sure it will occur again, and I just wish those who are so disappointed would hang tough and not mind missing a few minutes. Movies like this make us desperate to see them at festivals, because we know they won't play anywhere else. But we're not above walking out on boredom - not when there's that feminist psychodrama from Sierra Leone playing down the street, and the line's already forming....

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