Two Weeks: Going Crazy on Day 9 of Cannes - It's What We All Do
by Alex Billington
May 22, 2014
The days are starting to blur, our conversations are starting to sound like poorly-written SNL sketches. It's Day 9, I think, at Cannes 2014 and we're still here - most of us. Droves of critics who have been going to sleep at 1AM, and waking up at 7AM for the last 8 days straight. We're all exhausted, delirious, starting to forget which films we saw only a few days ago. This is what it's like at film festivals, especially if you stick it out for all 12 days, from the beginning to the end. We all start to burn out after the midway point, but then we see a film that blows us away, reminding us why we travel all the way over here - all for the love of film.
Film festival fatigue is something that is impossible to escape, unless you're skipping films and relaxing all day, and/or sleeping in late while the rest of us are up at the crack of dawn. For the last week I've been splashing water on my face at 7:30AM every morning, so I can make it to the 8:30 morning press screenings and not fall asleep. But it got the best of me this morning - I slept in until 11. Yesterday I was starting to feel delirious, making a big mistake in my review of Michel Hazanavicius' The Search (I said his film won Palme d'Or - it didn't), which I wrote and published at 2AM moments before passing out in my pull-out couch bed.
It's hard to make the excuse of "but I'm so tired I can't think straight" for mistakes in reviews when most people are sitting in the comfort of their own home reading our thoughts, but it's just the reality. And many critics hide this reality, covering themselves up with editors who check and double-check their work while they catch a few hours of sleep on the Croisette. Not-so-surprisingly, I found an excerpt in Ebert's Cannes notes about how exhausting it is to be here, pretty much taking the exact same thoughts right of my mind, only he wrote this nearly 30 years ago. From Ebert's Two Weeks in the Midday Sun on Page 142, he says:
"Now things were beginning to slide together into a blur. I would run into people who would mention films I had seen a week ago, and I was sometimes not even sure I had viewed them at this festival. I was beginning to go a little crazy, as everyone does who attends the entire festival. The directors and the actors stay only for a day or two, to promote their pictures. The buyers and sellers go home after they've made a deal. But the press, increasingly dazed, stays for the whole time, processing screenings, interviews, luncheons, and dinners until the festival seems like some kind of bizarre lifestyle, like traveling with the carnival."
So true. But that "traveling with the carnival" feeling is something I'm used to, as this is my sixth year back at Cannes and I always stay to the end. I've actually written about it a few times before, mostly at Sundance (see Surviving Seeing 30 Films in 10 Days at a Festival), which is just as grueling and exhausting for two weeks. I consider it an incredible achievement, and I respect those who do stay until the very end. Many of my friends and colleagues are here for the long haul, catching 3 or 4 films (or more) every single day, still happy to discuss and argue the merits of cinema all night long. To top it off, it's not as if we're staying in a 5-star hotel, it's just 3 of us packed into a little flat only a few blocks from the Palais. Here's our workspace:
This is just a glimpse into the life of three film critic nerds who save up every penny they can all year long just to fly across the Atlantic and watch movies for two weeks. I can say for certain that there is nowhere else in the world we would rather be right now, and we make that commitment by spending two full weeks here. By the end we've gone cinema crazy, but I love it, and it makes for some hilarious conversations (and laughter is the best medicine, right?). I tweeted yesterday about a fun deliriously-tired game to play while we are waiting for movies to start: "wondering if that person is a famous filmmaker, or just a critic who likes exactly like him." I even made a typo in that tweet - it should be "looks", not "likes", wow. Damn, I'm tired.
The most recent film that re-energized me was Xavier Dolan's Mommy, which I think is a masterpiece (read my 10/10 review here), and was the film I was waiting to discover at Cannes 2014. I've been watching Xavier Dolan films at Cannes for the past few years, and have found them to get better and better every year. He knocked this one out of the park and I was so happy to sit through it. The other day I realized, there's nothing like film festivals out there, even most conventions like Comic-Con last a few days. But coming here, going crazy, living in cinema heaven, reveling in the joys of film, that's what I really live for, and that's what makes me come back to Cannes every year. No matter the cost. No matter how exhausted I get. I'll be back.
Onward to my next screening at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, the Wim Wenders doc, then a Russian film called Leviathan. We are currently on Day 9 with the fest beginning to wrap up soon, so stick around for the last few reviews, blog posts, and Ebert quotes from Two Weeks in the Midday Sun as we reach the end.