Cannes Day One: Up
Posted on Wednesday May 13, 2009, 13:24 by Damon Wise
The Cannes film festival got off to an unusual start for me, since I was actually able to get into the press screening of Up in good time and actually sit downstairs in the Salle Debussy, which may not sound like much of a treat but it should tell you something about the bureaucracy here that it is. It's like the scene in Borat when he realises his New York hotel room has a chair in it: king of the castle indeed. But what made the extra difference was the the 3D specs I was handed on the way in. Not the red and green ones I got for Creature From The Black Lagoon, or the polarised ones I got for Parasite or even My Bloody Valentine 3D: this were big chunky red plastic goggles. Even festival director Thierry Fremaux got excited, getting up onstage to take a snap of the bespectacled masses.
This certainly was the cutting edge of 3D, but the downside of wearing the damn things is that it made Up, a light, funny and very brisk comedy, seem longer than it ought. To be honest, I didn't see quite why even had to be 3D at all; though its leading man spends a good deal of time up in the air, the film doesn't quite exploit depth of field in the way you might expect, and, for me, there just weren't enough things coming out at you LIKE THIS, which to me was a major selling point of the enjoyably rubbish My Bloody Valentine. To kick things off, however, the festival had come up with a nice 3D Palme D'Or, which hovered briefly on the screen before the main attraction.
As a taste of things to come, Up might seem an odd choice to open the festival, but, frankly, it's not a very coveted slot anyway. If the film's great, it's quickly forgotten, and if it's terrible (which it often is) or simply in the wrong place (like last year's much maligned Blindness), it'll be slaughtered by the critics, who have brought a bag of knives and are not yet too tired to sharpen them. So a crowd-pleaser like Up is a safe, middle-brow choice, and I sense that a lot of the usual cinephiles gave it a miss for that reason. Which was just as well, since it enabled the film to play as it should, and there were no knee-jerk, spoilsport boos at the end of the screening.
I'll 'fess up now and admit that I wasn't too gone on Wall*E. I liked the Earth stuff but lost interest in the spaceship and still curse it for reminding me of that horrible song from Hello Dolly in which Michael Crawford exhorts us to “have your picture took”. But I digress. Up is a more more classic piece of entertainment, which cleaves to the Pixar template of being beautifully rendered, emotional and laugh-out-loud adult funny, all the while capturing the naïve charm of old-school Disney. The opening 20 minutes or so is very like Wall*E in that respect, in that it could be a mini-movie in itself. It's almost Japanese in its economy; childhood adventurer Carl Fredricksen meets Ellie, the girl of his dreams, marries her and loses her, the passage of time beautifully expressed in a montage of different knotted ties. Left alone in a house that's earmarked for demolition, the now-septuagenarian Carl decides to recapture some of his youthful spirit, tying his home to a host of helium balloons he's amassed from his dayjob and takes to the skies – unaware that an eager boy scout, Russell, has tagged along on his quest to find the lost jungle city of Paradise Falls.
To be honest, I hadn't quite known what to expect, but in retrospect it's pretty much (high) standard Pixar. I wasn't so sure about some of the sentimentality (in that it was a little conventional, not that it was overdone), but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the gags. Tom McCarthy, wildman director of The Station Agent and The Visitor, is credited as a co-writer, and (if I have my facts straight there) I really think you can see his influence. For me, the best stuff involves a pack of dogs who have been fitted with speaking devices by the mad maverick explorer Charles Muntz, and some of the film's most exquisite comedy comes from the very concept of a dog's thought processes and attention span. This is perhaps embodied in the character Dug, an adorable golden retriever who (and this is no mean feat in an impeccably animated ensemble) simply steals the show; he reminds me a little bit of The Station Agent's Bobby Cannavale, for some bizarre reason.
So I came out happy, but still unprepared for the 2009 edition. Of the highlights to come, I've already seen Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces and Ken Loach's Looking For Eric, and for the moment I am clinically embargoed up the wazoo, but, regardless of how I rate them, neither of those films has given me any indication of the way the festival might yet go. On the basis of three being a trend, however, I will stick my neck out and say that this year's festival will feature a lot of name directors doing pretty much exactly what they usually do, and in the case of Up, that's a major compliment. Another Pixar hit, and, ironically, one that doesn't need the 3D specs to stand out.