Newsnight Review, 20 May 2009

Cannes Blog

This is my first trip to Cannes and, for the novice, it is a strange place. You walk down La Croisette, and a giant yellow robot appears, advertising Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. Next to him is a perfectly recreated winter scene, complete with Christmas tree and snow-decorated palm trees, to lure you to Jim Carrey's Christmas Carol remake. The sun beats down on sandy beaches all day, unnoticed by those who scurry from one dark room to the next, trying to find the film everyone will soon be talking about.

The colour of your access pass is an issue of real envy - Newsnight, you'll be relieved to hear, is taken very seriously indeed, so my pass is Rose Pastille (pink with a yellow dot on it). This puts me one down from a movie star, in almost every way, and means I can swan into screenings past queues of hot, tired ill-wishers. It is the closest I hope I ever come to understanding what it must be like to be fashionable in an American high school: you can go anywhere you want and everyone is nice to you. Once you're out of earshot, they all wish you dead.

The fabled pink pass will also get you in to press conferences, like yesterday's hotly-anticipated one with Lars Von Trier. I was at the screening of Antichrist on Sunday evening, and like many of the audience was reduced to outright laughter on occasion. The crazy melodrama torture porn didn't do it for me, actually. I stayed resolute while Charlotte Gainsbourg smacked poor Willem Defoe in the head with a large plank of wood, then had a go at castrating him with it, then drilled a hole in one of his legs and attached a concrete wheel to it, and then hid his only wrench so he couldn't remove it. I was stony-faced as he crawled away, half on foot, half on castor, hid under a tree, and was then buried alive. Sadly, I cracked when she belatedly had a change of heart and dug him up, saying the word, 'Pardon'. Call me an unforgiving old crone with an inappropriate laugh, but 'Pardon' simply wouldn't have cut it for me at that point. Pardon is for bumping into someone with an over-large bag. Fitting a wheel to someone's shin requires a little more.

The press conference should have been a blast, therefore, but things got off to a strange start, with a Daily Mail journo shouting at Trier to justify himself and his film. I consider myself to be capable of considerable bile, and will cheerfully bear a grudge for decades on end. But even I wouldn't have been able to generate so much righteous fury from a standing start. It was genuinely compelling: I have always assumed that 'They should string 'em up' journos were, well, faking it. Building themselves up to a head of anger for the purpose of creating copy in the tone of their paper. But really no. It turns out that they can go from nought to livid in about half a second. It was kind of great. And slightly mortifying.

I calmed myself down by going to see Alejandro Amenabar's Agora. Christians, Alexandria, astronomy, philosophy - I know how to have a good time, huh? Perhaps the first Humanist sword and sandal epic I've ever seen. I hope it isn't the last.