Harry’s Festival Experience

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After running a film review competition with film students at Anglia Ruskin University at the end of 2016, two third-year students, Darius Azadeh (pictured above, with Takashi Miike) and Harry Jones, were picked to join our team at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where they helped to contribute to our coverage of the 70th Edition of this iconic film festival. Read Harry’s festival diary below!

The half way point: Days One to Five

The start of May brought nothing but long weeks trapped in the university library, toiling over seemingly endless dissertation and essay work, by the end of the month I was taking selfies with Takashi Miike. It’s been quite the crazy journey.

You can imagine my excitement when I was told that the end of my studies at Anglia Ruskin University would be met with a trip to the Mecca of international cinema: the Cannes Film Festival. Myself and fellow film studies graduate Darius Azadeh would be accompanying the Take One team to Cannes for the duration of the festival, contributing to reviews and content and hopefully soaking up as much sun and cinema as possible.

The opening day of the festival did not disappoint with regards to the weather and brought scorching sun and clear blue skies. Our first day began in a relaxed mood as we strolled along the beautiful Cannes beaches gaining our bearings of the city and taking in the striking scenery including the countless market tents from different nations, the numerous fancy restaurants and the imposing Palais building at the heart of the Croisette.

However my first cinematic introduction to Cannes was less idyllic as we ventured into an early screening of an Icelandic horror film called I REMEMBER YOU. Our initial excitement for the film was soon dampened when it became apparent the film was comprised of a number of annoying jump scares, clunky exposition and a non-sensical plot. However I quickly recovered from this disappointing first viewing, consoling myself with an Oreo and white chocolate flavoured ice cream cone from a parlour opposite the cinema, a place actress Elle Fanning would later be known to frequent.

We then joined up with Jack and John, two other members of the Take One team who had a slightly better opening film experience in the form of the indie drama MY FRIEND DAHMER. Eager to begin our second film of the festival we all queued up in the baking hot sun for the new Steven Soderbergh movie LOGAN LUCKY, a film that had received surprisingly little buzz despite the director’s supposed retirement and the involvement of marquee actors Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. We managed to get a place fairly near the front of the queue and waited for over an hour for a smartly dressed Cannes official to beckon us into the cinema. However just as the film was scheduled to begin a parade of press and buyers marched into the screening and took all of the seats. This was an early introduction to the elitist nature of the festival, in which the colour of your badge means everything. However we soon dusted ourselves off and headed back to our apartment, ending the evening with a relaxing dip in the complex’s large infinity pool.

Our second day was far more successful and we managed to obtain tickets to the premier of WONDERSTRUCK, the competition entry from Todd Haynes, a screening of THE PARTY by director Sally Potter and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, the violent samurai film from prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike. The packed Cannes schedule was now fully underway. Both of the two premieres took place in the prestigious Lumiere theatre, an enormous screen that holds an audience of up to 2,294 people. The atmosphere in these screenings was electric, resembling more of a concert than a traditional cinema screening with the crowd clapping, cheering and whooping intermittently.

The night premiere of Miike’s BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL offered us the exciting opportunity to get suited up in our tuxedos, complete with traditional (and compulsory) bow tie and stroll down the famed Cannes red carpet, snapping as many selfies as possible before being ushered hurriedly into the building by one of the numerous Cannes security guards. This late night screening finished at one in the morning and meant that by the time we got back to the apartment we had just enough time to catch a few hours’ sleep before a 6am wake up call to get down to the Croisette and into the queue for the highly anticipated Netflix film OKJA.

Sat once again in the packed Lumiere screening the anticipation was wrought in the air, everybody excited to see the result of Netflix’s contribution to the Cannes stage. The film got off to a rocky start with the projection of an incorrect aspect ratio initially cutting off most of Tilda Swinton’s regal features. This brought jeers and boos from the crowd, which of course I joined in with, after all it’s not every day you get to boo in a cinema and not be kicked out.

Once this technical fault (which some people suggest could be an example of sabotage by opposers to Netflix) was rectified however the screening continued successfully. The film was fantastic and combined humour and exciting action sequences with moments of nail biting suspense and sadness that drew more than a few sniffles from the packed crowd. OKJA is my film of the festival and though it was never going to win any of the major awards it should definitely be remembered as one of the stand outs of the festival. Already pumped leaving the cinema Darius and I decided to elevate our heart rates further with a strong coffee from the complimentary Nespresso bar. Sitting on the red carpeted steps of the Palais sipping our coffees we caught a glimpse of a man that looked suspiciously like the BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL director. Unsure whether our caffeine addled brains were deceiving us we hurriedly followed him as he left the building and entered the Cannes street. As he paused to cross the road I excitedly blurted out: “Excuse me are you Takashi Miike!?” With a look of slight surprise to be questioned while crossing the road he stopped and confirmed that indeed he was. Graciously he agreed to take photos with us and then disappeared into the sea of people like an elusive ghost, far more shy and unimposing than his violent and controversial films might suggest.

That evening we continued our Japanese interactions as we ventured into a screening of one of the many annual Cannes Classics. The film was the notorious 1976 film IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES by Nagisa Oshima (imagine if Ozu had directed a hardcore porn film involving genital mutilation and you’re on the right lines). Sexual content was surprisingly prevalent through many of the films at this year’s festival and included moments such as a bizarre fight over a used condom in Palme D’Or winner THE SQUARE, an awkward hospital hand job in French drama 120 BEATS PER MINUTE and aliens dressed in skin tight spandex anally probing 1970’s punks in John Cameron Mitchell’s HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES (which also includes none other than a cockney Nicole Kidman). This gives a sense of the diverse range of films present at Cannes, far more varied than the propagated notion of stuffy arthouse cinema that many people associate with the festival.

Though the first five days of the festival, and indeed all of it, were extremely hectic, involving as many as four screenings a day, hours of queuing and a little sunburn, the experience has been highly rewarding. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Cannes and though the time flew by I have definitely gained a taste for the exciting international cinema circuit.


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