CANNES FESTIVAL, Palais — I was on the press balcony sitting at a table, with a friend, on the last Friday of the festival. I was half-working, half-resting, until the next screening. Some colleagues were nearby, taping an on-camera interview. To my left, a handsome, elderly man sat writing on a sheet of paper with a pen, a contrasting sight to this Mac-toting journalist. He looked a little more than seventy springs.
Don’t you know who this is? It’s Michel Ciment!” my friend said. I hadn’t recognized him.
Michel Ciment, likely the world’s most eminent film critic alive today and a longtime specialist of Stanley Kubrick’s cinema, is the editor-in-chief of Positif, one of France’s oldest movie magazines. He’s written twenty books about cinema, including a series of interviews with Elia Kazan, studied under the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and has said that he got the inspiration to write film criticism from François Truffaut. A habitué at the Cannes Festival, Ciment would later champion films like “Leviathan” and “Winter’s Sleep.”
An Italian journalist, of about thirty, sat across from him that day on the balcony. The winds suddenly picked up and a sheet of Ciment’s written notes got blown away. He sprang to his feet, surprised, and screamed. I watched as the stray page flew overboard, towards the crowds below. I was too tired to react.
The Italian journalist, on the other hand, got up quickly, saying, “I’ll find your notes, Sir!” and disappeared into the Palais.
While we waited for news I observed Ciment’s patrician traits, his knowing gaze. He looked mildly disconcerted but also amused by what had taken place (but he was probably very frustrated, too). What could Michel Ciment have written on that page? A long critique of Sofia Coppola’s movies? A commentary on the overall state of the Cannes Festival? Was he appealing to the festival’s executive board to allow Lars Von Trier back in? Was he lamenting that Nicole Kidman was in four films in Cannes this year? Or rejoicing? Or maybe just preparing his forecast for the winners? Does Ciment even like to write forecasts? Who knows?
Within moments, the Italian woman reappeared with Ciment’s notes in her hand.
He thanked her and sat down for a few moments, jotted a thing or two on the paper. He then gathered his things. As he stood up and threw his bag over his shoulder he asked the journalist what her favorite film from this year’s festival was. The journalist replied, “Good Time,” the bank robbery drama directed by two brothers from New York, Benny and Josh Safdie.
Bold choice, I thought. The film, entertaining but far from perfect, hasn’t gained any traction among the press during the Cannes Festival, but, all the same, it’s going to do well at the box office. When she asked him the same question, Ciment replied, “The Square.” Then, he smiled briefly and walked away.