The opening night at the Cannes Film Festival is invariably a mix of magic and madness, of strange contradictions, and of stranger perplexities. As the festival's 68th edition started last night here at the scenic French Riviera, flanked by the hills on one side and the glistening blue waters of the Mediterranean on the other, it was an eyeful to see the cavalcade of gleaming limousines draw up outside the Grand Theatre Lumiere, each carrying a celebrity, including Katrina Kaif.
As the legendary French actor, Catherine Deneuve, who starred in the inaugural movie, Standing Tall, stepped out of the car, it was hard not to notice a bit of drama on the the other side of the road, where a beggar, drunk silly, was brandishing his bottle of alcohol in a kind of cinematic gesture with the cops trying in vain to shoo him out of sight.
French actor Benoit Magimel, actress Catherine Deneuve, director Emmanuelle Bercot, actor Rod Paradot and actress Sara Forestier pose as they arrive for the screening of the film Standing Tall. (AFP)
But this is Cannes, where you see poverty in the midst of riches and glamour -- frail women with babies eying the red carpet, while handsome men in black ties and pretty women in their ravishing evening gowns walk up the steps of the theatre to popping flashbulbs and a paranoid paparazzi out for their kill of the evening.
Last night was no different. There were lensmen vying with one another to get the best shots as beautiful women posed for photographs. Watching all this tamasha was the serene and seductive Ingrid Bergman, whose poster has been chosen by the festival this year.
In a way, the choice of Bergman seemed apt. Much like her -- who divided her time between Hollywood hits like Notorious and Casablanca and European arthouse fare which auteurs such as Roberto Rossellini and Ingmar Bergman made -- Cannes is a mix of the artistic and the hugely commercial cinema.
Yes, indeed. Cannes is all set to show two of the major summer blockbusters -George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road and Pixar mainstay Pete Docter's Inside Out. But these have been quarantined outside Competition, so as not to pollute the purity of arty fare fighting for the Palm d'Or.
The opening film, Standing Tall (La Tete Haute in French), by Emmanuelle Bercot -- the second-time ever that the festival is being inaugurated by a woman director's film -- was haunting realism, perhaps the most down-to-earth work in recent years. Ably performed by Catherine Deneuve, who essays in all its intensity the role of a juvenile court judge, and Rod Paradot as a troubled kid, they carry the movie from point to point with wonderful restraint and dignity.
Standing Tall spans the child's life from ages 6 to 18, and is a telling example of the often unfeeling juvenile justice system in France -- which hardly ever gives solace to a troubled boy or girl. And it is in a scenario such as this that we have judge Florence Blaque (Deneuve), who beneath the veneer of a stern and emotionless face shows exemplary courage and kindness to help Malony (Paradot).
Malony fritters away one chance after another till that moment in his life when he is faced with the birth of his own child!
Standing Tall is undoubtedly arthouse stuff crafted with all the care and seriousness such a film deserves, but there is hardly any energy or drama to captivate us. And we never know why Blaque takes a fondness for Malony out of the tens of kids she meets. Visually too, the movie often seems cold and functional -- hardly the aspects one would expect from a work about a delinquent child.
And, come on, Standing Tall is no opening film. A festival must start with a work that is light and breezy, not one that is sombre and sedate as Standing Tall was. Remember, movies create magic, and a festival must begin its roll on such a charm.
The festival chief , Thierry Fremaux, had said that Standing Tall was a universal subject. But I differ. No Indian, perhaps no Chinese or Pakistani or Bangladeshi, can identify with Malony or Blaque or Standing Tall.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cannes Film Festival for the 26th year)