While the Cannes experience for many consists of glamming it up to watch high-profile movies in the festival’s spotlight sections—on endless lines, discussing the important things in life like celebrity sightings, selfie sticks, and red-carpet fashion rules—there are others who frequent the decidedly unglamorous Market, the underbelly of Cannes, if you will, obsessively looking to buy or program films, or simply to discover them. So as some attendees checked off their lists the latest “essential” cinema by festival mainstays and select newcomers, the Market dwellers, such as myself, experienced an entirely different Cannes. In other words, while friends and colleagues basked in arty, reputable cinema, I “slummed it,” watching savage horror films, sleazy thrillers, sci-fi oddities, and assorted other uncharted questionables.
A refuge from the obscenely overcrowded Croisette—in part due to more manageable queues—the Market did yield some legitimate entertainment from its bottomless pit of offerings. Two of the more amazingly absurd things I saw—perhaps ever—were “road movies” set in very different parts of France. Julien Seri’s stylish, deceptively micro-budget Night Fare takes viewers on a nighttime tour of Paris as two old friends—with some serious unresolved history between them, involving a stolen girlfriend and a possible murder—are re-united after two years of silence. The guys party hard to help break the ice, but as they arrive at the next destination, the bigger creep of the two refuses to pay the cab fare for a laugh. Bad idea. The remainder of the film consists of the stiffed driver relentlessly pursuing them—and not just for his cash. While Night Fare grows increasingly high-minded as it reaches its unguessable resolution, Abner Pastoll’s Seventies B-movie throwback Road Games wisely never loses sight of how silly it is. Somewhere in the French countryside, mysterious Brit hitchhiker Jack stumbles upon Véronique mid-fight with a boyfriend. He intervenes and she and Jack end up taking to the road together, their erratic ways and undeniable sexual attraction seeming to make them the perfect travel companions. But they soon cross paths with three inescapable weirdos: a menacing roadkill collector and an older married couple with questionable agendas. Nothing is quite what is seems on this psycho road trip, and crazy revelations are eventually spilled.
More contained, and oddly complementary to the feelings of claustrophobia that those Croisette crowds so generously provided, were the surprising number of films set in uncomfortably tight spaces. I saw movies whose action was primarily confined to a spaceship, a morgue, a derailed commuter train, a haunted house, and, in the best of them, an isolated farmhouse and a nearly uninhabited apartment building (in The Pack and Sweet Home, respectively). Not to be confused with Robert Clouse’s 1977 when-animals-attack classic, Nick Robertson’s The Pack does feature killer canines, but their prey is a family of four—already battling assorted harsh realities—who must survive a night of terror, as they are viciously stalked by hungry dogs on their Woop Woop Australian farm. The film is horror of the most jarring, edge-of-your-seat kind, with the added bonus of characters actually worth rooting for. Rafa Martínez’s atmospheric, ultra-gory Sweet Home also features protagonists you’d rather not see dead. Well-meaning real-estate inspector Alicia decides to take her down-on-his-luck English boyfriend Simon to an all but deserted building for a low-key birthday celebration. But a promising evening turns into the worst gift ever when three masked men come to dispose of the sole remaining tenant—employing the sort of questionable tactics reputedly used within Spain’s real-estate hell—and once they become aware of the presence of potential witnesses, proceed to relentlessly hunt Alicia and Simon down. The couple puts up a good fight, but when reinforcements are called in, they are pitted against one of the nastiest villains to hit the screen in some time.
For the record, I did spring for some official Competition titles like The Assassin and Macbeth—both visually exquisite and confounding in equal parts—as well as Un Certain Regard’s riveting but logically unsound PTSD thriller Maryland (starring the do-no-wrong Matthias Schoenaerts) and Jeremy Saulnier’s grimy, disappointing Blue Ruin follow-up Green Room, in Directors’ Fortnight. (It hurts too much to go into the festival’s biggest disappointment of all: Gaspar Noé’s idiotic out-of-competition 3-D porn snoozefest, Love.) Had I made a Top 10 list none of these would have made the cut; Critics’ Week selection Mediterranea by real-deal Jonas Carpignano and Cannes Classics’ Hitchcock/Truffaut by Film Comment deputy editor Kent Jones, on the other hand, would have. But, for the most part, give this girl killer rabbits with large swinging penises, werewolves on a train, Nicolas Cage–starring ghost stories, and the latest Andrzej Zulawski insanity. Who said Cannes had to be civilized?