The Cannes Film Festival is, of course, one of the premier events in world cinema, a peerless convocation of the filmmaking elite. However there are huge numbers of people at Cannes with commercial rather than artistic objectives in mind, as producers from around the globe arrive in town, dreaming of a mega-bucks distribution deal. Welcome to the other side of the Cannes Film Festival.
It would be something of a surprise if you popped down your local multiplex and found yourself collared by Joel Silver or Jerry Bruckheimer, stuffing a promotional flyer into your mitts and beseeching you to check out Sherlock Holmes or Pirates of the Caribbean. Yet this was essentially my experience when I was at the Olympia on Monday afternoon, waiting to be granted access to the screening of Quentin Dupieux's Rubber in Theatre Five. As I stood there, a tall man with an American accent, neatly turned out in white shirt and black trousers, handed me a postcard for a movie, urging me to attend a screening of it later in the week in the same venue.
I inspected the card: Entitled C.L.A.S.S.; the picture was of an open book with blood smeared over the pages, a chunky knife resting on top of the tome. Pictured on the book's pages were the various actors. The tagline read, 'Get more than a lecture'. Before I could say that this might not be quite the flick for me, the man who had given me the postcard drew my attention to the fact that the star of C.L.A.S.S. was none other than Tom Sizemore. And yes, there indeed on the poster, lurking just below the blade of the knife, was the man who was big news for his turns in Natural Born Killers and Strange Days in the mid-'90s, before going on to have some much-publicised substance abuse issues and a tempestuous relationship with Heidi Fleiss, a woman described by comedian Peter Serafinowicz as looking like 'someone ironed Iggy Pop'. The last time Sizemore registered on movie fans' radars was when he starred in Zyzzyx Road, which posted a grand total theatrical gross of $30 (and no, I haven't missed out any noughts or 'millions' there).
Though on closer inspection of the C.L.A.S.S. postcard, Tom Sizemore wasn't the only familiar face staring back at me. Stood next to the Relic actor, handgun raised and apparently ready to shoot, was none other than the American-accented man who had handed me the card in the first place – as it transpires, a gentleman named Sheldon F. Robins who not only acts in C.L.A.S.S., but also wrote and produced it, as well as being credited as one of the executive producers. Wow, handing out flyers and trying to enthuse capricious film critics seems a pretty cruddy reward for all that individual endeavour. Then again, there is something eminently appreciable about a guy making his movie and then refusing to sit back in one of the Croisette's swanky bars, order a few champagne cocktails and wait for a deal to land in their lap, instead getting out there and hustling up some interest in it. Clearly, if nothing else, Sheldon F. Robins is sharp enough to know that the really hard work begins for independent filmmakers after the movie is in the can.
And C.L.A.S.S. appears to be reasonable enough fare when compared to some of the film market screenings taking place at Cannes 2010. Though plenty of pictures with very decent pedigrees indeed are exhibited, pictures like James Franco-starring Ginsberg biopic Howl and Sylvain Chomet's eagerly-anticipated The Illusionist, there also legions of movies on show for which it would have been preferable for all concerned parties had they remained hermetically sealed within their directors' imaginations. Here are a few of the ones that had the Indie Movies team rolling their eyeballs (synopses taken from the Cannes Film Festival editions of Screen Daily):
Chain Letter – 'A maniac murders teens when they refuse to forward chain mail.' Sequel idea: online Viagra salesman turns homicidal when people refuse his offer of a 'biger TOOL shel looove u 4'.
We Are the Future 2 – 'They met at a military reenactment where they simply wanted to play war. But war decided to play with them.' Tsk. Who knew a bit of simple war could lead to bad things happening?
The Pimp – 'Thomas Langmann brings us a stylish comedy about a banker-turned-pimp.' So, wait, what's the difference?
The Name of Love – 'She's a free spirit, he's pretty uptight. When they fall in love, sparks fly.' Hmm, well that doesn't sound generic at all. We'd love to see what happens when two uptight people get together. Presumably just a lot of strained silences over who left the lid off the toothpaste.
Formosa Betrayed – 'In a land where the truth is not what it seems and the only people he can trust cannot be trusted at all.' Sorry, come again?
Girlfriends – 'Three girls' relationship turns awkwardly as they fall for the same guy who seems to be the best kisser in the world.' Was this synopsis written by a twelve-year-old? Does he also have the coolest pencil case in class?
Mad Cow – 'A Frankenstein-like experiment goes horribly wrong unleashing a half-man half-cow creature on a rampage across an African game reserve.' Half man, half cow: all genius. Where's the beef?
At Home by Myself... With You – 'A multi phobia-plagued single woman who hasn't left her apartment in six years finds her carefully organised existence disrupted by her hot new 'on-the-go' neighbour.' Love the way they assure us that the neighbour is hot, in case we're turned off by the phobia plagued lady.
Spooner – 'Facing eviction from his parents' home on his 30th birthday, a socially awkward guy meets the girl of his dreams and creates his own rules for growing up.' Bit late for that, eh?
But lest you think that the Indie Movies team has been ensconsed in some sort of ivory tower of quality film-watching, let us assure you otherwise. We have been down and dirty with the best (or indeed the worst) of them, beginning on our very first day, when we slipped into a Marché screening of the Anglo-Indian horror Fired.
In our innocence, we then believed that everything in Cannes would be filmmaking of the first water, so we cycled through the emotions of confusion, bewilderment, confused bewilderment and finally resignation. And that was just in the first ten minutes. The film opens promisingly with a lone man walking through an office late at night and opening a door to find the entire office gathered around a figure on a table, whose eyes they are sewing shut. It's our protagonist!
Joy Mittal is a London-based office employee who's arranged for a promotion to CEO with his Indian head office, in exchange for firing 121 of the company's 137 employees. But when the last of the people has left and Joy is winding down with a bottle of champagne, he gets a dose of supernatural revenge. It all sounds pretty nifty (and we were quite anticipating the flick) but the problem is the cheesy nature of the so-called scares. The first one comes when he has to tear out the smoke alarm in order to enjoy a peaceful cigarette and out pops – a snake. Yep, I wasn't expecting that either but I was expecting a scare, so I guess it was two surprises in one.
Most of the film involves Joy (Rahul Bose, who makes a pretty decent job of the whole thing, considering he is alone onscreen for about 90 per cent of the running time) wandering around an empty building, opening doors, getting a fright, falling over in shock and then discovering he's hallucinated the whole business. The film borrows liberally from other shockers, so we get a creepy doll, computers and clocks that go haywire for no reason, the antagonist appearing in a mirror, a spike through the eyeball when peering through a keyhole and many more familiar set pieces. The scares are all office-themed, so for example, when the inevitable Ring rip-off occurs, and the scary dead girl comes crawling towards him (hair over face, broken nails) she does so out of an oversize filing cabinet drawer. He then fights her off with a fire extinguisher. There's also a sequence in which the office copier prints of its own accord a series of images which Joy flips through like a flick book, discovering himself lying in an expanding pool of blood. The best bit, however, has got to be when Joy is menaced by a soft drink machine in a break room, which lumbers unscarily into his path for a bit to his wide-eyed horror.
D'you know what? The more we're writing about this, the more we're convincing ourselves it was quite fun after all. Time to stop then. Fired was directed by Sajit Warrier and was released in India in January of this year.
More odd movie news? Check out our Rubber (synopsis: sentient tyre menaces planet) write-up here.