Cannes Diary, Day 9: Screw Art. Look at All This Crap!

The final days here are the loneliest. Most of the films have screened, most of the big business has been done. The European Parliamentary elections are under way through the weekend, which means the closing ceremonies are a day sooner than normal, which has only contributed to the unusually early exodus. Friends and the rest of the international film apparatus have begun to head home, which means the theaters and good restaurants are slightly less full. For a week, the brand-new Steak ’n Shake across the Croisette from the Palais has had a line longer than the restaurant’s front half and service that moved at the speed of one of its milk shakes. You’d see the queue and laugh on your way to a 20€ plate of couscous. By Thursday afternoon, it like was something out of Edward Hopper. (For what it’s worth, the burger has an addictive salty sweetness that’s disturbingly identical to its U.S. counterpart.)

The gradual emptying-out is even sadder in the Palais, especially where Le Marché du Film resides. This is where many acquisition, distribution, and financial deals are made. The Riviera setting lends an exoticism to what is otherwise a bazaar. Thursday, the scores of companies that occupy stalls or that have built their own offices were beginning to dismantle it all. Walking the carpeted floors in the bowels of the Palais was like touring the dorms on the last day of school. Posters were being rolled up. Printers and flat-screen monitors were being boxed. The larger companies appeared to have actual college-age kids doing the work.

Some companies had already gone, leaving behind rubber bands, paper clips, and glossy handouts for movies like Garbage Prince, a romantic-comedy coproduction from Finland and Norway. Here and there you’d see two or three people seated at a tiny round café table, feeling their way toward an agreement. Mostly, you could hear the packing tape peeling. You could still smell the Ikea. Earlier in the week, the Marché was a land of opportunity — a kind of biz-tronic farmers market, jammed with sales agents from companies all over the world and prospective buyers and festival programmers.

The Marché is hardly a secret. It occupies at least a third of the Palais. Critics don’t tend to bother with it. There are too many actual films to see. Plus, critics aren’t business reporters, and sales agents generally don’t want to waste their time talking to a critic. In most cases, what’d be the point? But a promenade around the space is enlightening. Occasionally, it’s even necessary. Say a critic loved that Hungarian power allegory cast with a mob of real dogs — Kornél Mundruczó’s White God — and wanted that movie to find a loving home in theaters around the world. Some of that work is done in the Marché.

But an overwhelming number of the transactions are not for films like White God or the new Dardenne brothers movie. They’re for something like Dishkiyaoon, a Bollywood film starring Harman Baweja as a gangster name Viki who “was born in the underbelly of the upper-middle class” and “backs himself to dethrone the existing king.” This is to say that a number of the transactions are for junk. But that junk feels like a truth of the international movie business: It’s the gas that makes the car run. Cannes hasn’t called this space the Marché du Cinéma, because that would be a lie.

Dishkiyaoon has a poster you notice: Baweja standing fit and shirtless, with the gun in his hand pointed at his head and the gun tattooed on his pelvis pointed down into his crotch; his arms, chest, and abs are stubbled. It didn’t seem to help. The movie opened two months ago in India and was a bomb. But its distributor, Eros International, is hoping it won’t stink as bad in your country.

Eros has always had a prime corner spot near the open café area. Occasionally, a sales agent is visible. But the posters on its wall tend to speak for themselves. They’re also trying to sell the hit Jai Ho, with the ageless Salman Khan taking on corrupt politicians. Lots of the films in the Cannes official selection are represented in the Marché. But most of the movies in the Marché wouldn’t be shown here or at any film festival.

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One of the biggest stories to come out of the market this year is about the film being made of the still-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. News of a search for financing caused a stir. It’s got a tabloid title — The Vanishing Act — and a trailer that seems to indicate the filmmakers know what happened, which is that, if there was a crash, the flight attendants all got very horny before impact. Antic shots of action in the main cabin catch passengers looking more suspicious than terrified, while a countdown clock tracks when contact was lost and for how long. A booklet full of pictures of a Malaysia Airlines jet promises midair fight sequences choreographed by Hollywood “stunt magician” Jared S. Eddo.

The director is Rupesh Paul, who happened to be in town with a different provocation, something called Kamasutra 3D. If you entered the Marché by heading down the stairs just off the Croisette and along a long, wide corridor, you couldn’t miss the space reserved for Paul’s eponymous production company. Earlier in the week, it had become a curiosity. By Thursday, it seemed abandoned, save for a few cards and pamphlets for existing and upcoming projects. On one wall hung a poster for 36 MM 3D, a “reel life story of Marilyn Monroe in a reincarnated avatar.” On another hung a poster for Monologues of an Indian Sex Maniac, as opposed to “confessions,” because with Paul there’s absolutely no shame.

This would be the most toxic example of what typifies the Marché. It’s a landscape specializing in tackiness. It’s another reason the agents, in my experience, don’t want to put up with a critic: They already know. Moonstone Entertainment, which is based in Studio City, set up a temporary office space with posters for its upcoming slate and kept a couple of trailers on a constant loop. One was about an action comedy starring Louis Gossett Jr., Margot Kidder, and Seymour Cassel as geriatric soldiers. “When this team takes on the Taliban, nobody’s safe,” promises the tagline. “I still got the shrapnel in my ass. Wanna look?” asks Cassel in the trailer. The movie’s called The Dependables.

Arsenal Pictures appears to be gone, but its poster for Bachelors (“Night of His Life vs. Love of His Life”), with Marc Maron, Eve, Dustin Diamond, and Metta World Peace, still stains the wall. So does the one for Arsenal’s Meet Bill, with Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Banks, and Aaron Eckhart, looking handsome (and a little sorry): He’s got name tag with the film’s title stuck on his forehead. Its American title is now All Wifed Out, which ensures that future walls will be even dirtier.

Asylum, an American studio specializing in schlock, appears to be shopping Mercenaries, an action movie with Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica A. Fox, Kristanna Loken, and Cynthia Rothrock: “They’re only the men for the job.” The studio has Casper Van Dien in a dragon-riddled movie called Sleeping Beauty, so “asylum” seems right on. This is the company that brought you Sharknado and will deliver Sharknado 2. It’s got a movie starring Dean Cain and Robin Givens called Airplane vs. Volcano. (The damn poster doesn’t tell you who plays which.) And it’s got a movie with Robert Davi and Tia Carrere called Asteroid vs. Earth. For an American, these two capture the straight-to-cable, straight-to-video, straight-to-Jakarta aspect of a lot of these movies.

So much of what you see hanging on the walls and windows of stalls defies believability.  The German company Picture Tree International has lots of titles to push. One of them is a comedy called Fack Ju Göhte, with the sexy stars Elyas M’Barek and Karoline Herfurth as, respectively, an impostor schoolteacher and the coworker he falls for. It was Germany’s most popular comedy last year, and it will probably never play in the United States. But it’s a real movie, in the sort of way Paul Blart: Mall Cop is. (The Göhte poster also has, in spray paint, “Suck me, Shakespeare.”)

“I can’t believe it” applies to the other end of the quality spectrum. StudioCanal arrived with a long list of films. Its office staging is the most impressive of any company. It has a reception desk and dark walls and a logo you might recognize and stars on posters you certainly do. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are doing Macbeth for 2015. There they are, in a giant still. It’s handling a Brian Helgeland film called Legend, whose art has a man in silhouette twice. Apparently, it’s another film about Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the British twin gangsters, and it’s to star Tom Hardy. StudioCanal also has a hand in Susanne Bier’s Serena, one more film with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

Thursday afternoon, there was no one around at the studio’s site, but its most shocking artifact was left out and lit up: a huge electronic poster for The Gunman. It’s an action-thriller directed by Pierre Morel of the original District B13 and Taken, and produced by Joel Silver. The plot: “Jim Terrier is an ex-government contract killer whose past comes back to haunt him when his former employer tries to have him killed.” I know what you’re thinking because it’s what anyone would have thought: “That is so Liam Neeson.” But Liam Neeson doesn’t play Jim Terrier — well, now he’s always playing “Jim Terrier” in something. It’s. Sean. Penn. Make a note: Don’t become a great male actor over 50.

Other studios have similar head-scratchers. Take Millennium Films. It has a big presence on the Croisette. For instance: Banners have Salma Hayek looking strangely Evita-like for Septembers of Shiraz, a yet-to-be-filmed adaptation of the best-selling book with Adrien Brody and, thank the Lord, Shohreh Aghdashloo. Earlier in the week, there was a bash for the studio’s The Expendables 3 and some excitement for a gynocentric spinoff: the Expendabelles.

The Millennium space isn’t as posh-looking as StudioCanal’s, but it’s airy and light, a kind of homage to the offices you’d find on a Hollywood studio lot. The walls were hung with posters for stuff like Eliza Graves, a period-seeming film with Kate Beckinsale; Automata, with Antonio Banderas trudging through a wet, somewhat futuristic alleyway; the Olympus Has Fallen sequel, London Has Fallen, apparently starring only a toppled Big Ben; and The Humbling, whose art consists of Al Pacino and Greta Gerwig on opposing ends of the poster. They both look as though they’ve been caught by paparazzi leaving the bookstore where they picked up a copy of the Philip Roth novel upon which this movie’s based. Almost as bad is the one for Before I Go to Sleep. It’s just Nicole Kidman standing in the foreground flanked by Colin Firth and Mark Strong. All it tells you is that movie posters are an art and this is far from it.

The art was beginning to come down at Millennium on Thursday. A couple young people were at work on the dismantling, listening to Kanye West. Outside the entrance sat a mound of containers, boxes, and posters. A Frenchman walked by and asked if he could take one and was told by another Frenchman that he could. But as he rolled it up, another Millennium employee, an American, saw this and had to put a stop to it. “They don’t have contractual obligation,” the American said. What if something’s not right on them or needs to be changed? “Can you tell him that? We’ll get sued.” You could complain about the posters. But they already know.

Filed Under: Movies, Wesley Morris, Cannes Film Festival

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Wesley Morris is a staff writer for Grantland. He won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for criticism for his work at the Boston Globe.

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