A Hollywood film critic pans the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival – and suddenly he’s in police custody. Part Two. 2,430 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
The half moon was smudgy white but ripening nicely for its full appearance at the Cannes Film Festival. Like a diva, it would not make its entrance until the final Saturday which the organizers already were proclaiming an evening of perfect alignment when “La Lunar Festival” would ascend to its spot of high honor in the dark blue Mediterranean sky. At the moment, the moon was glowing so exquisitely above the sea that it could have been a special effects rendition.
For a brief second, Ryan Cromwell savored the spectacle. Because the moon, the sea, the breeze, and The Ice Princess party were all his. It was the hottest Cannes invite in years. A sexy publicist from DeSimio & Associates had offered Ryan $250 for his ticket and, when he declined, she had upped the ante with an X-rated proposition. Ryan said no because he had a bad case of “Cannes Disease,” a contagious desperation that you had to be doing something every minute, and if not, you were missing something somewhere. Because the one event you decided not to attend would be the highlight of the festival.
Ryan was the senior film critic for the Hollywood Times, the top trade paper for the movie industry. He stood just over 6 feet with wavy dark hair and a physique toned by daily afternoon runs at the UCLA track and regular Tae Kwon Do workouts at a dojo on Sunset. He dressed well, but erratically, and when he won special praise for his “costume design,” as he called it, he took it as an indication that he lacked style at other times. He had just turned 38, and this was his eleventh trip to Cannes. It still always overwhelmed him that he was at the celebrated film festival, where the likes of his movie idols had graced the Red Carpet. Despite his modesty, Ryan knew that he belonged; his reviews set the tone and held the future for many of the films that would debut here in competition. The world would be reading him.
Standing in line to get into the party, Ryan was tapped on the back. He turned to see Stan Peck, his least favorite journalist. Peck wore a Hawaiian shirt, large sun visor and blue metallic sunglasses.
“Where’s your cigarette holder, Hunter?” Ryan asked.
“Slightly funny,” Peck responded. “I hoped to talk with you about your scathing review of The Ice Princess. It’s already the talk of the festival. I loved your lead: ‘Big guns, big gadgets, big hair, big dud.’”
“It was the worst opening night film I’ve ever seen at Cannes.”
“Any theories on why the movie’s star Kristen Bjorge missed the Red Carpet premiere last night?”
“Don’t ask me,” Ryan replied. “The social and party stuff isn’t my beat.”
“Maybe she was so upset with your review that she refused to come.”
Ryan disagreed. “I’ve never known an actress to pass up a Red Carpet opportunity.”
In the post-newspaper world, Ryan was competing not just with legitimate movie critics, but also bloggers and even phony reviewers paid by PR firms who represented the moviemakers. Ryan was thankful he had his full-time position with the Hollywood Times, although he constantly had to prove himself over and over and over what with three different owners in the last seven years who knew nothing about journalism or even the entertainment industry.
Ryan had seen The Ice Princess in Los Angeles at a special advance screening arranged by the film’s producer so the industry trade reviews would run the same day as the Cannes premiere.
Ryan heard a familiar voice. He turned around to spot Dennis Barlowe, his buddy from their earlier Hollywood Times days. Scott sauntered off, leaving Dennis to raise an eyebrow as if to say, why are you giving that incompetent journo the time of day?
“Because not saying anything to a guy like Stan Peck is the worst thing you can do to him,” Ryan explained. “He’s left with nothing to distort.”
Barlowe laughed. He took a flurry of pictures on his iPhone including several selfies with Ryan. Older, with flowing gray hair and the requisite retro-Keds, Barlowe was a terminal hippie whose calendar had stopped at 1969. To his credit, he never wore his hair in a ponytail or, worse, a man-bun. Last Ryan heard, Barlowe had fallen on hard times since being laid off by Hollywood Times. Now he cranked out press kits for independent producers and wrote a personal blog. Because of his skill and connections, he was too good a journalist to be eking out a living like that now.
“So what’s going on with you?” Barlowe asked. “I read your review of The Ice Princess. You were rough on it. I’ve seen that actress in her early videos. Porn. Really wild stuff.”
“Yeah, I think she was about 15 when she made them. They’re pretty lenient about consent in Scandinavia. It was a whole series.”
“Most overseas actresses have something like that in their past.”
“All the videos had ‘blond’ in the title. Blond Girl, Ice Blond, Bond Desire, Blond Sex, Wet Blond, Blond Booty, Arctic Blond, Blond Nymph. I’ve got Blondage for you in my room.”
“I think I’ll pass.”
“From your review, Kristen was better in these porn videos than she was in The Ice Princess”
“She probably had better writers for the porn. The script for The Ice Princess was godawful. Pure formula. Warrior girl fights ugly invaders. Even videogames have more plot. Usually the worst movies have the best parties, so this one could be right up there.”
“People say the movie has a great look.”
“That’s true. They filmed it in the Norwegian fjords. I wrote that the director should have removed the actors and just shot the scenery “
Suddenly, the line to get into the party stalled. It was so typical of the French, Ryan seethed. He had taken to calling it “Le Factor Francaise,” their inability to handle any organizational challenge in a logical or efficient manner. But his sour attitude may have stemmed from the stress of the police interrogation he had just undergone. He usually applauded the French for their taste, diet and lifestyle. He took some deep breaths. Just when Ryan decided to throw in the towel and go back to the hotel, the crowd finally inched forward.
The huge tent that loomed before him was said to have cost more than $5 million. The entrance to The Ice Princess bash was fronted by an ice sculpture consisting of a tangle of arms, legs, butts and breasts. The men all had enormous appendages, while the women boasted curves in the right places. Surrounding the orgy figures in pornographic postures were real-life Vikings, tall and muscular blond men in azure capes and silver helmets.
Barlowe kept taking photos and gestured to Ryan to get into the shot with a beautiful actress and then pushed the critic into position next to the woman and snapped.
“Sorry about this,” Ryan apologized to her.
“I don’t mind, since I’m getting my picture taken with someone as famous as you,” the actress said. “You’re all over the Internet and TV giving interviews.” Ryan understood that, to her, he was just a prop.
They squeezed past the guards and entered the tent. The scene inside was a demented Valhalla: laser lights knifed through the revelry; drums thundered, and a brass horn wailed Pagan. Champagne flowed from the 10-foot ice sculpture of a Viking warrior with a large erect penis which was a tap dispenser.
All around, tribes of gorgeous blonds in lacy blue lingerie handed out shots of Aquavit. “It’s over 100 proof. It will knock you on your ass,” Barlowe warned Ryan.
“Maybe just what I need to sleep.” Ryan took a sip and shuddered. “This is awful. It tastes like turpentine.”
As usual, Barlowe had an eye for the festival freebies. He grabbed a swag bag loaded with St. Lauren perfume, a six-ounce bottle of Aquavit, and an azure Hermes silk scarf just like the one Kristen had worn in the movie. There also was an expensive silver timepiece mounted on a dazzling glass sculpture embossed with The Ice Princess crest. What did Rolexes run, 12 grand? Ryan saw the Orrefors company logo scripted on the bottom. Evidently, the movie’s producer Gunnar Severeid had put more money into the party favors than the movie. At about $15,000 a bag, Ryan calculated that,with 250 guests at the party, $4 million has been spent on the goodiey bags. This guy caught on fast.
Ryan gazed toward a swath of blond-haired women beckoning from artificial ice floats in the port. Brace the waters and swim to them – Scandinavian Syrens. They were drawing the attention of a pack of stubby Armani-clad Sammy Glicks from Planet 90212.
Ryan pocketed a shot glass as a souvenir. He scanned the area, and spotted someone he knew. Typical of festival gatherings, it was someone he never would have talked to back in Los Angeles: Ruby Blade, the “leather woman,” as she was called behind her back.
Ms. Blade headed up the online games division at one of the new digital media companies. Shopping for leather was her thing at festivals. She took a lot of meetings with handsome up-and-coming agents. Her real name was something unpronounceable, Ryan recalled. She had changed it, he had heard, because “Blade” made her sound stronger and sexier and more of a force. Ruby was tramped up in a leather suit with a silver-studded Gucci belt.
“I see you’ve been getting a lot of press,” she said as she brushed Ryan’s hair with her hand. “You know we’re premiering our new film here. It’s in 3D for the Chinese market. Will you be reviewing it?”
“Is that the one about the female anthropology professor who falls for the circus midget?”
“He’s a dwarf, not a midget,” she corrected Ryan. Ruby scoured the party for luminaries more worthy than him. Then she expertly drifted off toward a tall guy with a bald dome and neck tattoo.
Ryan headed back to Barlowe who was talking to a guy in the “cool filmmaker” costume: shades, baseball cap, t-shirt with the film logo and a blue The Ice Princess scarf draped around his shoulders.
As Ryan approached, Barlowe snapped his notebook shut. “So, Dude, you wanna check out some women?” he said in a mock-California tone, trying to lure Ryan away from baseball cap guy.
“You look like you could use a woman,” the baseball cap said to Ryan. “What do you do?”
“I’m a journalist.”
“The Hollywood Times, but we put out a print and online edition and a daily here, too.”
The baseball-cap director stood back and squinted. He tried to focus his bloodshot eyes. “You’re not Ryan somebody or other?”
“Yeah, Ryan Cromwell.”
The baseball cap guy reached back and smashed Ryan with a karate punch, driving a fist straight into the critic’s nose. Ryan stumbled backward, splashing into a Jacuzzi. He was chest deep in the gurgling hot water. The baseball cap guy towered over him.
“I read your fucking review on the plane, you ignorant son of a bitch,” the guy yelled at Ryan. He grabbed a whip from one of the nearby Vikings and snapped it toward Ryan, barely missing. “Consider that a warning.”
Two Viking security guards hurried toward them. They pinned baseball cap guy’s arms behind him and dragged him away. The partygoers crowded closer, straining to see what was going on. Ryan brushed his face and saw blood on his hands. A barrage of cell phones pointed at Ryan, taking video. Barlowe pulled out from his breast pocket a Galaxy and posed Ryan for a head-shot.
“Say `swag.’ This is going on my blog.”
“Give me a break,” Ryan griped, hoisting himself out of the water.
“That’s Jason Pinelli,” Barlowe said. “He directed The Ice Princess.”
“I tried to get you out of there, man,” Barlowe reminded. “You were lucky those security guys came by. Pinelli knows how to use a whip. He’s really into S & M.”
“Where do you get all this information?”
“Just good investigative journalism,” Barlowe said with a grin.
The remaining Vikings formed a wedge around Ryan and Barlowe. “Come this way,” one of the Vikings demanded of Ryan and Barlowe and led the two journalists out a side exit, ushering them to the water’s edge. There a police boat waited, its motor chugging and a bright blue light glowing on its bow. The engine kicked in, and the boat slid backward into the water. Over to his left, Ryan could see the Palais lit up still, and back much further the old church tower high up on the Old Town hill. Then the gendarmes charged.
A team of blue-shirted French National Police sprinted down the side decks. A commander barked out orders. The crowd hushed and cowered. Ryan craned his neck to see what was going on. He was jolted by a thunderous clomping to his right. A regiment of cops was getting into position, two feet apart, along the front railing. The leader stopped abruptly in front of Ryan.
”Monsieur Cromwell,” he said. ”Come with me.”
”Monsieur Cromwell. You must come. It is the law.”
Ryan’s stomach flopped. His body sagged. The police pulled him up. Everything was a blur. What was going on? Was this some sort of crazy nightmare? Maybe he was just jet-lagged, and he would wake up in his tiny French bed with the hard pillow half under his neck and find that the alarm was just about to go off. But everywhere he looked, he saw gendarmes. They had formed a cordon around him and stood in a tight straight row. The boat’s blue lights kept flashing.
Suddenly, Ryan heard a Gallic newspaper boy pierce the scenic pandemonium in a mixture of French and English: “Murder. Murder. Star actress of The Ice Princess murdered. Voici, Le Figaro.”
Ryan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Murder at the Cannes Film Festival? And what did this have to do with him?
The police boat sped through the water until it neared a bleak cement building with glass fronts and three flags – the headquarters of the French National Police. The gendarmes yanked Ryan inside.
This story first posted on May 12, 2016.