Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Catch as catch Cannes

It’s definitely May. The signs are all there. The weather has improved, and the rain has gotten warmer. The house martins are once again trying to build nests under our gables by pressing mud and poop against the wall and making a mess on the paths below. And my friend Ben has sent me email detailing his personal schedule for the Seattle International Film Festival.

Good ol’ Ben. I appreciate getting his annual email because I am interested in what SIFF is showing and which films have caught his interest. But surely by now he realizes he is not going to run into me at one of the screenings. I haven’t been to Seattle in nearly five years and it has been a full ten years since I have been to SIFF. Well, hope springs eternal, and that’s a sign of May as well.

Of course, obsessive readers know that when we speak of hope springing eternal in the month of May, there is one major, glorious event that has my full undivided attention. But enough about the Eurovision Song Contest.

Yes, I kid. This is the time of year that, time permitting, I allow myself to get fixated on the Festival de Cannes, which this year is coinciding pretty darn closely with the aforementioned Eurovision Song Contest. Although I think I have mentioned it before, I do wonder—given that the majority of my readership appears to come from outside the countries that participate in the Eurovision—how many of ye actually know what I’m talking about? And there’s a challenge. How to describe the Eurovision to the uninitiated? Well, it’s sort of like Amateur Hour meets American Idol meets, I dunno, some sort of big European Union conference.

That description doesn’t really do it justice. For one thing, despite the name, the Eurovision isn’t strictly limited to Europe. Its participating countries are those that are active members of the European Broadcasting Union, something that is open to all European countries and those that are somewhat nearby. Countries that are partly or completely outside Europe—like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Israel, Morocco, Russia and Turkey—have participated. Winners are chosen by a complicated telephone vote tallying system across the participating countries. As you can imagine, in a song competition with scores of participants, the quality of the songs and performances varies widely. I would venture that most of the singers are soon forgotten, even in their own countries, but a few have gone on to make a mark internationally. One of the winners in a four-way tie in 1969 was the UK’s Lulu singing “Boom Bang-a-Bang.” In 1974, Sweden won with “Waterloo” sung by four people calling themselves ABBA. In 1988, the Canadian Céline Dion, representing Switzerland, won with the song “Ne partez pas sans moi.” Although Ireland has not won the competition in a decade and a half, it still holds the record for the most wins. Successful Irish performers have included future politician and TV personality Dana (“All Kinds of Everything”). Still-performing singer Johnny Logan won twice (“What’s Another Year?” and “Hold Me Now”). Ireland won three years in a row with Linda Martin (“Why Me”), Niamh Kavanagh (“In Your Eyes”) and the duo of Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan (“Rock’n’Roll Kids”). The country’s last winner was Eimear Quinn (“The Voice”).

The current drought for Ireland has now lasted 15 years, by far the longest the country has gone without winning since it first began participating in 1965. This has caused a strange sort of soul-searching in a country that seems to get a lot of its self-esteem by being liked by foreigners. For a while, the national broadcaster RTÉ made hay out of the selection process by having an American Idol-style competition show, but that process eventually got shelved after each succeeding entry went from bad to worse. RTÉ then decided to take things in hand and proceeded to get worse results. In the past decade, Ireland was forced to sit out a year (because of a poor finish the previous year) and didn’t make the final stage in three other years. In yet another year, Ireland would have wound up with no points at all if not for five pity votes from Albania. Recent entries have run the gamut from established performer Brian Kennedy, who finished tenth, to previous Eurovision winner Niamh Kavanagh, who finished 23rd, to (I swear I’m not making this up) a puppet named Dustin the Turkey, who sang a song called “Irelande Douze Pointe” (a shameless appeal for votes, 12 being the most points a song can get from another country in the bilingual tallying). Strangely, Dustin failed to make the finals.

This year the country’s entry is a genuine pop culture phenomenon—of sorts. Dublin twin brothers John and Edward Grimes have been ubiquitous in entertainment pages and magazines in Ireland for the past couple of years. Sporting tall blond bouffants that make them look like a pair of gaudy candles, the energetic performers, who perform under the name Jedward, burst onto the scene in 2009 as contestants in the UK talent show The X Factor, surviving seven weeks of Simon Cowell’s criticism before being eliminated. The 19-year-olds—whose nasal post-Valley-girl manner of speaking is easy to mock—have had a fairly robust career since then. They will be singing a song called “Lipstick,” which may actually have more of a chance with Eurovision voters than did the traditional and/or ballad-y fare that Ireland has tended to essay. Based on the first night of competition, I would say they actually have a pretty good chance. From where I sit, their main competition is Iceland, which not only has a pleasant, easy-to-sake song, called “Coming Home,” but its lyrics have an added poignancy because the man who wrote them and was supposed to sing them died suddenly of a heart attack in January.

As distracting as the Eurovision is, it will not distract me too much from following events in Cannes. Of course, it is harder to follow events in Cannes from Ireland than it is to watch the Eurovision. The BBC has cut its coverage of the film festival this year so, among other things, there won’t be the humorous video blogging from Mark Kermode this time around. There is a UK pay satellite channel called Cinémoi, which shows French movies 12 hours per day and which will provide a bit of coverage of the film festival hosted by the very funny Jonathan Ross. I am sure that would be very entertaining, but the channel costs something like seven British pounds per month, which is a bit pricy and I wouldn’t feel right about (or am too lazy for) going through the hassle of subscribing and unsubscribing for the sake of a few hours’ film festival coverage. I can count on my one French channel, TV5 Monde, to have some coverage during its news programs—usually the requisite interview with Catherine Deneuve at the end of the program. On opening night, they had an oddly synced interview in which we saw Angelina Jolie, flanked by Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman, but did not hear her own voice as she talked about how easy it was to be heard and not seen in Kung Fu Panda 2.

Otherwise, I will be doing what I did last year: surfing the web. The official festival web site did a pretty darn good job of providing (nearly too much) up-to-the-minute info, including video of film clips and press conferences. What I miss is the strange satellite channel on my television that came and went a couple of years ago and ran a slide show of photos from the red carpet each night.

My web strategy this year has been enhanced by the inclusion of the iPad. I have loaded my RSS feed app with all the best feeds I could find with festival coverage. My plan is to sit down each night and skim through them, looking for the best coverage I can find. Is it as good as actually being there? Of course not. But in some ways, it is better. It’s not as though I would have any hope of seeing the films if I were actually there. And who needs all that warmth and sunshine anyway? Besides, there is something to be said for following things in the comfort of my own home. I just have to make my own espresso and ensure that I am well stocked in Bordeaux.

And, if that’s not enough for me, well, I can always email Ben and see how things are going at the Seattle film festival or (sigh) watch Jedward on the telly.

-S.L., 12 May 2011

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