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Cannes #9: "I got in!" and other tales, and some great beauties of the festival

barker copy.jpgMichael Barker is not only a prime moving force in indie film distribution, but one of the funniest raconteurs alive. He and Tom Bernard, also a funny man, have been the co-presidents of Sony Pictures Classics since 1992, which qualifies them as the Methuselahs among studio heads. Their films have won 24 Academy Awards and 101 nominations. He knows everybody and takes little mental notes, resulting in an outpouring of stories I could tell you, but then I would have to shoot you.

Like many funny people, he exerts a magnetic attraction for funny experiences. He attracted one just the other day, when he went to see the new Paul Verhoeven film. "I'm looking at the screening schedule and I can't believe my eyes," he was telling us the other night. This was at dinner on the Carlton Terrace with Richard and Mary Corliss, Chaz, and our granddaughter Raven. "I'd never heard anything about this. I mean, Verhoeven just made 'The Black Book,' for chrissakes!

"It's titled 'Teenagers,' and it's screening in one of those little marketplace theaters in the Palais. I figure it must be a rough cut under another title or something. The place is jammed. People are fighting to get in. I'm able to get a seat. There are people sitting in the aisles, standing against the wall, flat on their backs on the floor in front of the screen. You can't breathe.

"The lights go down, they have some titles with names I've ever heard of, except for Paul Verhoeven. The movie starts, and a kid takes off his shirt. This is not the Paul Verhoeven I know. There's a stampede for the exit. People on the floor are almost trampled. I finally get out and the director is standing by the door. Sure enough, it says Paul Verhoeven on his badge. I ask him to his face if he stole the badge.

"You're thinking of the other Paul Verhoeven," he says. "He's my cousin."

It's been a slow year for sales, what with the economy and all, but Baker and Bernard bought the rights to Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet," Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" and Jan Kounen's "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky." They were up-front investors in "Broken Embraces" by Pedro Almodovar, his ninth film they've released.

We have our first winners. The jury for the Un Certain Regard section, which votes a day ahead of the Palme jury, has given its Grand Prix to "Dogtooth", by Yorgos Lanthimos of Greece, about three children raised by their parents in a house behind a wall and taught to remain childish, fear the outside world, and learn nothing about it.

nobody-knows-about-persian-cats-2009.jpgIranian musician

The Jury Prize went to "Police, Adjective," by Corneliu Porumboiu of Romania, more evidence of the remarkable recent renaissance in Romanian cinema. It's about a cop who is reluctant to destroy a life by making a marijuana arrest.

There was a Special Prize for "No One Knows About Persian Cats," by Bahman Ghobadi of Iran, about two hip-hop musicians in Tehran who scheme to gain passports to Eurpope even though they have prison records. Another special Prize went to "Le Pere de Mes Enfants" ("The Father of My Children"), by Mia Hansen-Love.

The Iranian film has generated much discussion simply because it is from Iran, a nation with a great cinematic richness that is much more diverse and complex than many Americans realize.

Faithful readers will recall that after I filed an early report from Cannes, I received this message from a reader named Scott Collette:

I took sympathy. No reader of this blog should come to Cannes and return home empty-handed. Cannes is not a public festival but a business convention. However, our granddaughter Raven blogged about getting a ticket to a screening in the Lumiere. She joined the throngs of hopefuls outside the Palais at every screening, holding up signs saying: Invitation, si'l vous plait!"

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Saturday afternoon, Chaz, Carol Iwata and I were leaving after the screening of "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo." Standing there in the lobby was Scott Collette, proudly holding up his ticket. "I got in!" he said. I asked him how. "What Raven did," he said. "I begged."

Newcomers to screenings in the Auditorium Debussy may be puzzled by an event that frequently takes place just after the lights go down. A voice, sounding like a dog baying at the moon, cries out despairingly: "Raoul! Raooouuulll!"

It is possibly a different person every time. This is an ancient Cannes tradition. Legend had it that one day in the infancy of the festival, a guy was saving a seat for his pal Raoul. The screening was packed and he was having trouble defending the seat. In desperation, he called out.

The fact that this practice has survived for 35 years that I know about, kept alive by people who have never met one another, explained to each curious new festivalgoer, is an excellent demonstration of the Richard Dawkins theory of memes. A meme is an idea, phrase, cliché or tune that leaps from one mind to another in its attempt to survive, just as genes leap from body to body.

Someday years from now, somebody reading this will call out for Raoul at a festival. Who knows. Maybe it will be Scott Collette. Remember: Only the Debussy. Never the Lumiere. I can't begin to explain how gauche that would be.

I am much disturbed that for the first time in at least 20 years I have not had a Leopard Lady sighting. Perhaps I haven't been in the right place at the right time. These are a mother and daughter who live in Lisle and for years and years have made an annual pilgrimage to Cannes for the purpose of walking up and down in their matching leopard skin dresses and being photographed as the famous Leopard Ladies.

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No, they are not looking for handouts. They're simply enjoying their 15 minutes. I have always seen them walking. Never seated. One year the daughter said she had a short in the competition. They never reveal their names. What are they seeking at Cannes? Maybe leopard hunters.

I have appended one of my Leopard Lady photographs from over the years. Also, a lot of other photos from the last decade or so. I have no idea why they are all of are of beautiful women.

Because the Movable Type blog software tends to mix up captions of long assortments of photos, I have thrown up my hands in despair, and posted them without captions. Most of them explain themselves. The subjects you should be able to recognize. These photos are copyrighted by moi, but by the masterstroke of not captioning them, they will elude Google searches.

As always, every photo can be enlarged by clicking. The newer ones are much improved. The older ones reveal their how small their files are. Posting these helps me pass the time as we await the Sunday night awards ceremony.

Here you will find a trailer for "Teenagers," by the other Paul Verhoeven.

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I am currently in Cannes, working out of an office on the Croisette across from the Palais. Work ends Tuesday/Wednesday and I am here until the end of the festival and I am very worried that when all is said and done, I will have attended the largest film festival in the world and will have not seen any films. This is already probably the longest I have gone in my life and I'm going through withdrawals. I have no credentials as they are very expensive.

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