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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Cannes calorie creep

The Toronto Film Festival is on this week. Without me. Between that and the publication today of my new book, The Incredible Shrinking Critic, I’m reminded of all the film festivals I’ve covered over the years where it seemed impossible not to gain weight.
Poor thing, you say. All that free Champagne and fine French food; my heart bleeds for you.
OK, so it was an enviable problem, how to make it past the patisserie located next to my hotel. Movie reviewing mentally engaging, but physically passive. Now, imagine sitting on one’s derriere most hours of the day in the middle of the Riviera with only rich sauces to revive you.

In past years covering Cannes, I’d stop in at the next-door patisserie as routinely as I did at the hotel lobby to check for messages, and when things got rough – deadlines, boring movies, foot-in-mouth disease at some cocktail party – I’d squirrel away éclairs in my room. Even when things went well I felt like I was in the trenches; “Incoming!” someone would yell before lobbing a fusillade of pastries.
The first time I managed to turn that around was at Cannes one year after I was fortified by a visit to the Hilton Head Health Institute, where Bob Wright, the director of Lifestyle Education, entrusted me with his trademark coping phrase for high-risk situations: Unwise, better, best.
I’ll say this for Bob: For all his wonderful qualities, he’s not much of a sloganeer. It’s unclear how many of the catchphrases used at HHHI are Bob’s invention or holdovers from the original program by founder Peter Miller. Some might even be cobbled together from the nutritional stylings of Dr. Phil, who advises in one of his books to “stop living like a lazy slug.” When the Dept. of Health and Human Services says Calories Count, it’s simple and elegant and has the whiff of a pun. Meanwhile, Bob continues to come up with phrases that don’t exactly trip off the tongue, like “If you fail to plan, you’re planning not to succeed.”
Nevertheless, “unwise, better, best” is a winner. In dangerous eating climes — like covering a film festival with its long days and endless platters of pass-around, deep-fried finger food – the goal is not to be perfect but to make choices along a spectrum of unwise, better, best. At Cannes, “better” meant one mini-éclair at the buffet, whereas “unwise” would have been a plateful. (The fact that Will Smith and the alarmingly skinny Angelina Jolie were one table over that year helped my resolve; I didn’t want Will saying, “You know, Angie, the Mediterranean is lovely this time of year, but what’s with that chick and the éclairs?”)
There’s no judgment attached to unwise, better, best. It’s about making a reasonable effort under difficult circumstances. Which ties into another HHHI precept, “degrees of on,” in which you are never “on” program or “off” program, merely attached to a different extent at all times. Ideally, you strive for the upper end, where “on” is a neon halo. But as long as you’re on to some degree, there’s a spread of what’s acceptable in terms of calories, behavior, and exercise adherence. Being connected to a healthy lifestyle to some degree at all times is more efficient in the long run than being “perfect” a fraction of the time . The problem with rigidity (aside from alienating friends) is that when you fail to meet lofty, arbitrary, self-imposed standards, the tendency is to give up entirely and go back to bed with the cellophane wrappers from Hostess cupcakes crinkling beneath you.
Another specific new goal of mine for covering film fesitvals without calorie creep was to go to the gym – again, just to keep a sense of connection to my usual routine so it wouldn’t pull apart later like the pastry layers of a millefeuille. My hotel, the evocatively named Modern Waikiki, was lucky to have a one-person elevator, let alone a fitness center. For that, I had to go across the street to the Majestic Hotel, which charged a majestic day rate of 25 euros. I went every other day for complete cardio and weight workouts, often alongside the Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt By the Sun), whose work I admire even though he yelled at me in bad French to close the windows of the gym. What, no fresh Mediterranean air? Wasn’t he accustomed to the frozen tundra or the steppes of his homeland?
Colleagues pitched in with suggestions for where to score quick salads. Indie film reporter Mary Glucksman was really helpful until she told me where to find free dark chocolate squares. This is not the kind of advice the Incredible Shrinking Critic needs. And anyway, Mary, they weren’t on the fourth floor of the Palais like you said.
At restaurants, I ordered grilled seabream (a local fish) instead of steak frites, salade Niçoise instead of Caesar. And French yogurt is to die for.
Every pharmacy in France has a scale. When you insert a half-euro coin, it spits out a receipt that gives your weight in kilograms, your height in centimeters, and the number of calories you really ought to be eating. I expected a hand (with a French manicure) to reach out from the machine and slap my face: Stop eating zee food!
Pascal at my hotel did the math for me, changing kilograms to pounds. After two weeks in the South of France, faced with every temptation from the overeater’s torture pantry, I hadn’t gained an ounce.

One Response to “Cannes calorie creep”

  1. natalie says:

    Hi Jami,
    The Riviera, éclairs and films don’t sound all that bad. Just got to remember it’s temperance and will power or is it temperance at will?

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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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