A Flat Serve: Night Conversation Far Away from the Red Carpet

By Fernando Ganzo

(leer en castellano / lire en français)

This was the first full-time day of screenings at Cannes. It’s midnight and I’ve just seen today’s last picture (Darezhan Omirbayev´s film), my sixth today. I walk slowly towards my apartment. I’m too tired to write my review, so I wander the streets. After so many hours of watching new films, I find myself thinking (God knows why) about Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom; or, actually, about rich characters in film. What aim do they serve? Why do they become fundamental sometimes? I think of some obvious examples: Lubitsch, for one. His own sophistication as an artist required for his characters to walk up the social ladder. That would enable him to build different layers in their dialogue and further the intricacies of their relationships. The second case is Hitchcock. I think about the vacations of affluent people. Are they actually better than that of their poorer counterparts? But of course, Hitchcock wanted the audience to identify with his characters, and that’s fairly easy when you have a few stars in your films; and better yet, when you have stars playing rich people. Wes Anderson needs well-off people in his films because rich people always have more toys.

As I walk down the streets, I remember that I have with me an invitation to a soirée. I resolve that I’m scalping my invitation to an American lady (face very much redone) who seems quite desperate to attend. Money in my pocket and all, I look for a bar that looks anything but a bar in Cannes, and I finally find one. It looks very much like the bar in a train station anywhere in France; hardly anyone inside. There I see two characters who are dressed quite particularly. The elder one wears a Merle Haggard tracksuit. His younger friend is even more flamboyant and is sporting a communist bear (very much out of fashion) and a L.A. Lakers jersey—that of Metta World Peace. They are playing chess and talking in English with an accent; not the same one, though. (I can’t quite decide where are they from, but I would bet my Cannes credentials on the older one being French). They are talking about film, about the festival. I sort of trust their looks, in a way, so I discreetly produce my mobile phone, sit in the bar and order something. I start recording their conversation thinking to myself that I might save a day’s review if I just type what they say—which follows. (I sort of missed their first sentence because I don’t quite understand it, but I catch the name “Apichatpong”, so I conclude they must be talking about Mekong Hotel).

The young one: Yes. Suddenly it was like getting into a shelter, away from this nightmare. You could very much feel as if you were with them, the actors: talking, rehearsing, improvising—rehearsals that actually made the film. The guitar we hear in the background was so charming… as were the shots in which we see the guy calmly playing it.

The old one: You know why you felt that way? Because in the film time is almost still. I felt as if everything was slowing down in the course of that twilight; even his film was slowing down. Time freezes as if you could cut through the film and see another side of things, perceive time in a different way.

The young one: a side that is not rhetorical?

The old one: I’m talking about the erasing layer, the one that enables you to get lost in an all-together different world. The one that vanishes and lets you see another layer: the one with humour and a sense of irony.

The young one: I thought the response from the audience, the giggles and all of that, proves that they weren’t actually getting the point. They sounded over-knowingly too, like a forced smirk. Nobody wanted to look dumb, obviously. I also think, as always with Apichatpong, that the political annoyances that his films generate in his country are a big mystery to us. Think too of the strange views we see from the porch of the hotel where it all takes place, the construction site…

The old one: I rather think of the old actress. Her speech about the parts she usually plays in his other films sounded almost like a political liberation. Did you notice the cadence in her voice? She was basically rapping this thing; though she was also beating the bushes too. Apichatpong was cutting away when she did that, but he will do it quietly, as if he was leaving the table with a smile while she is still speaking. A bit like the scene in which Kris Kristofferson and his girlfriend leave the old guy to sleep together before they die in that film by Sam Peckinpah.

The young one: Today I have been thinking a lot about tenderness and hardness in cinema nowadays. In fact, I wonder if we get any hardness at all.

The old one: What do you mean?

The young one: Aesthetic hardness. I thought about it today after I show a film from Argentina: Los Salvajes.

The old one: Do you see films from Argentina? Don’t you have enough of them with their tennis players? By the way, you told me I could catch some tennis games in this bar, and all they have is music videos without the music.

The young one: I only show it because someone sent me an email about this filmmaker from Argentina who blog about it with such passion… I loved it, and I got carried away, I suppose. I think the film was intended to be harsh, only it wasn’t, really.

The old one: Like Clouzot?

The young one: Yes, you know; like an old painter who wants to paint a bull and ends up painting a butterfly. Hardness has very little to do with people carrying machetes or getting lost in the woods or being dirty all the time or being lit only by a bonfire. It is something else. That script lacks hardness too. I soon realized that I was watching a monster movie. But monsters don’t dream of becoming monsters. They dream of going to Buenos Aires and making it big. Only they cannot, for they are monsters. The script is quite weak, for the characters really become monsters in the end. The film appeals to certain mysticism but ends up being self-indulgent.

The old one: Sometimes I wonder how’s it that you breathe. I’m afraid I can quite follow you. You were talking about hardness…

The young one: Yes, I think the critics are to blame for that, actually. I don’t think they could bear to watch an aesthetically hard film. Even filmmakers like this guy from Argentina. They go for the style and so their films become soft and stylish. It’s quite moving, in a way.

The old one: One they you will learn that in order to make a hard film they’ve go to have their dicks hard. Like Tourneur, who used to get a hard-on by watching his actors. Did I ever told you about Robert Stack in Great Day in The Morning?

The young one: I didn’t know you were into dormant gayness in film.

The old one: No, it’s not gayness. It might not even be something sexual. But it is hard. You can even see that through their pants. Think of Lang and Dana Andrews. Dana used to drink so much that he probably couldn’t even get it up, but the films in which he’s in are hard. Nobody would bear to watch something like that nowadays.

From this moment on they start talking about tennis players who serve flat as opposed to those who slice serve or reverse serve. It all becomes a bit confusing, so I will omit the rest and go mute.

Translated from the English by Hugo Obregón.

Special Screenings
THAILAND. 2012. 61’
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Cinematography: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Editing: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Sound: Chalermrat Kaweewattana.
Music: Chai Bhatana.
Casting: Jenjira Pongpas, Maiyatan Techaparn,
Sakda Kaewbuadee, Chai Bhatana,
Chatchai Suban, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Critic’s Week
ARGENTINA. 2012. 119’
Director: Alejandro Fadel.
Script: Alejandro Fadel.
Cinematography: Julián Apezteguía.
Editing: Andrés P. Estrada, Delfina Castagnino.
Sound: Santiago Fumagalli.
Music: Sergio Chotsourian, Santiago Chotsourian.
Casting: Leonel Arancibia, Roberto Cowal,
Sofía Brito, Martín Cotari, César Roldan.