Working in Cannes with Nisi Masa is a particularly surreal, Fellini-esque experience. For starters the name Nisi Masa is a reference to a motif in Fellini’s 8 ½ where the characters shout ‘nisi masa, nisi masa! And yet that is just the beginning of this theme.
The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Cannes is the bizarre juxtapositions present on the Promenade de la Croisette. The street is a chaotic montage of rich and poor, young and old, smart and casual, big and small, and leisure and work. Muscle cars like Ferraris and Maseratis roar along the street, displaying wealth and style, next to electric Renault Twizys (which are much easier to park, incidentally.)
Perhaps the most amusing image I saw on the Croisette was a TV cameraman standing dead still, echoing the stance of the static street mime that he was filming. Immediately following this Only God Forgives director Nicolas Winding Refn strolled past, adorned in his trademark loose-cuffed shirt and some very casual shorts. It was not what you expect from a style-obsessed director, whose controversial film is the talk of the town.
But it is not just outside that the experience is strange. In the opening night of British sci-fi horror The Last Days on Mars, there was a fanatical, hilarious and most likely alcohol fuelled excess of applause. But this was not for the film itself, but for the logo of each production company, before the first frame of the film.
Moments in the theatres have taken an even darker turn. In the screening of Portuguese/Swiss film Até ver a luz, a woman at the back of the screen stood up in the isle and shrieked “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” repeatedly. Whether this was a specific reaction to the film is unclear, but it was certainly bizarre and unsettling. In a screening of James Gray’s The Immigrant, an enthusiastic fan declared his love of Marion Cotillard, shouting “Marion, Marie!” to the audible amusement of the one thousand strong crowd.
One of the more bizarre and amusing rumors that has surrounded the media furor of Cannes was the presumed appearance of Korean pop singer Psy, famous for ‘Gangnam Style.’ Yet this was not actually Psy, but a convincing imposter, who managed to utilize photo opportunities with the stars to achieve 15 frivolous minutes of fame.
In essence the experience has been exhilarating, at times baffling, very productive and simultaneously a whole lot of fun. Working here with Nisi Masa I have learned that, providing you can keep your head together, Cannes is an awesome, surrealistic and truly cinematic experience.
By Tom Cottey