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Nick Roddick’s ‘must read’ columns in the daily editions of Moving Pictures at the Cannes film festival & market are renowned for being irreverent, insightful, stimulating, sometimes cynical and always entertaining. Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll present the 10 columns published at the 2002 festival, to take you inside Cannes (the event, not the municipality), as only Nick sees it. These columns will get you in the right (edgy) mindset for this year’s event. (May 14 – 25, 2003).

Day 1: Cannes is like ….. er, Cannes
I really, really wanted to start this first column with a snappy simile. I wanted to go 'Cannes is like…' and then hit you with something that would make you exclaim 'Yes! That's just what Cannes is like!' Or maybe, for readers who recall earlier columns, provoke a (to me, at least) reassuring 'Oh God, there he goes again!'

I tried 'Cannes is like an oyster': it sounded profound and I'd just read Anthony Bourdain's lyrical description of the first oyster he ever ate. But then I thought you'd all be trying to work out the sexual connotations which tend to go with oysters (and have been known to appear in these columns). And actually there weren't any, even if I was talking about Cannes. Besides, Cannes isn't really like an oyster, is it? Or like any of the other things I worked through, which included ocean liners, bad sex, a strikebound airport and bowel movements.

"Cannes is a yardstick"

That last was promising for a while but I finally abandoned it. If I started in on Day One with bowel movements, how could I possibly keep the promise I've made myself this year: to lower the tone a little each day. I probably won't keep it, but it seems like a good resolve. Hitting rock bottom (or anyone's bottom) by Day Ten seems the way to go. But, no, the reason the similes wouldn't work is because Cannes - I refer, of course, to the Festival, not the Municipality - isn't like anything, however often British broadsheet editors and radio arts-programme editors ask us hacks to churn out 1000 words or 5 minutes of airtime on the subject. And, yes, we all oblige. As Linda Lovelace was wont to remark before she got religion, it's a living.

No, the truth is, Cannes is a yardstick, a standard, something against which other things are measured, a Platonic absolute (that's better: shouldn't be too hard to lower the tone if we kick off with Plato). It's sui generis (Now we're cookin').

It's also a very personal event - the exact opposite (an anti-simile, at least) of one of those customised Formula One racing car cockpits which fit the driver so perfectly no one else can get in (I don't mean at the same time, I mean at all). It's an organism that settles itself around each and every festivalier like an aura. That goes for the director of a competition film and the guy peddling porn downstairs in the echoing emptiness of the bunker; the star pretending to be bored at the Cap and the hopeful kipping on the Plage Publique; the seasoned hack boring younger colleagues with stories about Fellini and Buñuel and the first-time cinephile so excited he neither eats nor sleeps. Actually, it's not excitement that does that, it's the drugs, but let's save the down and dirty for a little later when we're all more tired, broker, older and about to go home.

"it's not this place that changes, it's the world"

But, for all this mutability, there's a kernel of Cannes that remains eternally the same. The fact is, it's not this place that changes, it's the world. And, with the latter going to hell in a basket (or a ballot box), there's something vaguely reassuring about the ability of Cannes to graphically redesign, relabel, organisationally restructure and culturally reorient itself and re-emerge obstinately, magnificently unchanged.

That, after all, is how we cope with change in a world which demands change be constant: find a new name, a new slogan and pretend that the thing itself is new. The National Lottery becomes Lotto, Windscale becomes Sellafield, Arnie becomes The Rock. Only Barry Manilow never changes.

Thus there will probably be the same plethora of 'Has Cannes lost its edge?' opening editorials; the same inaugural administrative chaos (which, you may have noticed, has now spread to the rejigged Nice Airport car rental operation, which used to run quite efficiently and clearly could not be allowed to continue to do so). Gird yourself for the same comments of 'A bit slow this year, isn't it?' on Day Three; the same mid-Festival rumours that this or that director is going to show a surprise film, or that some improbably major Hollywood movie (last year it was Shrek, this year there aren't any) is going to win the Palme d'Or; the same expressions of outrage at the commercial sell-out/excessive artiness/complete nullity of the final winner; the same minimal impact on the world market of that same winner, in almost inverse proportion to the fuss over its winning. Even when there isn't a fuss, what seemed obvious in Cannes doesn't seem even probable north of the rue d'Antibes.

In fact, the ideals to which film festivals in general - and Cannes, with its unique pole position, in particular - still theoretically subscribe are also Platonic absolutes these days: ideals of a septième art which can take its place alongside the other six and yet cost millions to create and simultaneously pass the box-office-returns test which those millions dictate. Excellence and profitability dance to different beats, unless you redefine the former to fit the latter. Or redefine the latter in transcendent terms: Godard's in his heaven, and to hell with this world.

"what makes Cannes unique"

Actually, though, that's what first drew - and still draws - me to this business: the fact that money and art, entertainment and creativity, Hollywood and Carl Theodor Dreyer, all co-exist within the same continuum. And that, too, is what makes Cannes unique: it is the place (maybe even the last place) where both film worlds - the auteur's and the accountant's - simultaneously coexist, cohabit and sometimes consort in barely decent joy.

That, surely, is worth two weeks of anybody's time.

Published February 27, 2003
First published in Moving Pictures, May 15, 2002

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Cannes - photo by Andrew L. Urban


Nick Roddick taught film and theatre at Trinity College, Dublin; the University of Manchester; and California State University, Long Beach, before becoming a journalist in the early eighties. He was Films Editor of Stills Magazine in London from 1983-4 and Editor of Cinema Papers in Australia from 1985-6. From 1987-88, he was Editor of weekly trade paper Screen International and, in 1990, founding Editor of Moving Pictures International. Since 1993, he has been Editor of Preview, a bi-monthly magazine on films in production. He is author of several books on the British and American cinema, and currently runs Split Screen, a Brighton-based publishing and consultancy company specialising in the international film and television business.


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