There has been a certain je ne sais quoi in the air here in Cannes, and I wasn’t able to quite put my finger on it. It bothered me, someone always good at defining a moment, person or place, that I couldn’t put that feeling into words. Then I attended the press conference for Luca Guadagnino’s ‘The Staggering Girl’ and I had a ‘EUREKA!” moment. So bear with me for a moment while I get to that…
The one film that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since watching it is ‘5B’ co-directed by Dan Krauss and Paul Haggis. It’s a project that is backed by a Verizon company and you all know how I feel about them since they abruptly fired all of us contributors at HuffPost in January of 2018. So for me to go out on a limb and call the film stunningly sad and hauntingly perfect takes a lot. While I knew I needed to watch it — it’s a documentary about a special groundbreaking ward inside San Francisco General Hospital at the height of the AIDS hysteria in the early 80s — I also hoped it would give me the opportunity to criticize it. It didn’t. The film is utterly right, so wonderfully important for us to watch, as human beings. I loved it and it now occupies a special place inside my heart. I interviewed the subjects and filmmaker on the day of the late Richard Lormand’s birthday here in Cannes. He was definitely with us in that room.
Personally, I have always believed in the power of the human touch. In fact, while I know my dead dear loved ones are still with me in soul and spirit, it is most often their touch, their physical connection that I miss most. Cupping my hand on their cheek as a hello, or them holding the small of my back for support or safety during a conversation, those are the moments I miss most. So, the nurses and caregivers of Ward 5B inside San Fran GH in 1983, at the peak of those “you can get AIDS from touching” fear mongering headlines, actually built a place where they could touch, caress, massage and bathe those afflicted with the virus. In a particularly candid moment of the film, a nurse talks about her resignation to help people die: “we had to realize that we weren’t going to cure people, just care for them.” Everyone died of AIDS in the early days, and we forget that now, because with the drugs available in the Western world the virus has become a chronic condition, not a death sentence. But think of countries in Africa where those medications are simply too expensive… So while it isn’t a headline anymore in the US, AIDS continues to count victims in the Third World.
You can read an interview I did with Dan Krauss on the ICS website.
Other films I loved included ‘The Unknown Saint’ by Alaa Eddine Aljem —, I met him and his wife Francesca Duca in Doha and instantly knew I would love their beautiful film; ‘Litigante’ by Franco Lolli, with whom I did an interview as well, this one posted on Thrive Global; and ‘Cancion Sin Nombre’ by Melina Leon, also check out my interview with the filmmaker — a story inspired by her own journalist father’s search for the truth of where young Peruvian babies were disappearing to in the late 1980s.
Then came time for Luca Guadagnino’s film collaboration with Pier Paolo Piccioli of the Maison Valentino, starring Julianne Moore, Kyle MacLachlan, Marthe Keller and Alba Rohrwacher. I mean, fashion, movie stars, Guadagnino (whose work I simply adore from the bottom of my heart!) what was there not to love?! And love it I did, as much for the film itself, which only lasts 37 minutes but packs a punch of style and mystery that I keep carrying with me two days after viewing; but also for the connections I felt to the creatives behind the project, during a press conference that took place on the terrace of the Marriott.
Guadagnino is undeniably one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. He cares about style and class and that’s something that is extremely important to me. Film is a visual medium and if a work of the 7th art looks drab and discolored, things thrown together only to tell a narrative story with no attention to details, I switch off quite quickly. I need my eyes to enjoy a film as much as my heart does. And with ‘The Staggering Girl’ my eyes, and ears too, did indeed enjoy the ride, with those Pier Paolo Pasolini ‘Medea’ influences and stunning Ryuichi Sakamoto score. I even spotted Guadagnino’s little homage to Woody Allen within the font of the opening credits.
So a little later, as I waited in the lobby of the Majestic hotel for a junket, I spotted Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera talking to a fellow Italian. Listening and watching Barbera’s class and simplicity of gestures, nothing to hint at the greatness of the man or how self aware he could be of that, I realized why I love Venice and what I perhaps hold against Cannes — year after year.
Venice is a couture, beautifully curated festival that creates an atmosphere that is at once international — in its selection of world class, Oscar nominated films — and fundamentally Italian — from the Italian good old days of Visconti, Fellini, Germi and Pasolini I mean. I still carry within my heart the image of Lady Gaga on the red carpet under the rain, in her pink feather ballgown for the 2018 premiere of ‘A Star is Born’ at the festival.
Cannes is a festival for the masses, for those audiences who watch it from afar, from around the world. It wows, it blinds, it punches you in the face with the multitude of stars and celebrities walking up the red carpet but when you think about it deeply and from a style POV, once the lights are turned off, little remains burned in our subconscious.
And that’s what I realized when I found myself in the presence of Piccioli and Guadagnino… Who are, of course, at the core, Italian.