The Hollywood film critic gets a gorgeous surprise at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,590 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Six. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
In the days since Ingrid Bjorge’s death, the entire Norwegian nation had taken the slain actress to its heart. The Ice Princess starlet’s murder when she and her film were supposed to open the first night of the Cannes Film Festival was a countrywide shock. Now her body would arrive on the ferry in a few minutes, then be carried by Viking pallbearers to the pyre.
The Bygdoy Peninsula is the untrammeled part of Norway’s capital city, the area with the museums and the Viking burial mounds. With its aggressive environmental protection laws, the Norwegian nation had kept it largely off limits to developers. An editorial in that morning’s Dagbladet acknowledged the irony of having the multibillionaire oil developer Gunnar Severeid, the mogul behind her movie, using it for the site of Ingrid’s funeral.
Following the autopsy, she had been transported back to her homeland on Gunnar’s personal plane, a Gulfstream G650. Her ashes had been placed earlier that morning in a magnificent oak coffin in Oslo. On this day of national mourning, Norway’s crown prince Harald had delivered a moving eulogy at the Ibsen Theater in Kungs Gate Park.
Erik Bjorge, the costume designer of The Ice Princess and Ingrid’s one-time husband, had gotten little sleep in the last several days. The Cannes police had grilled him, and, even more vexing, Gunnar had questioned him aggressively about the evening of the murder. With his fashion line positioned for the entire world to see at the premiere of The Ice Princess, Erik had believed he would be the Versace of Norway, the Gucci of the fjords. Now that dream was gone. Most of his clothing creations were still on a shipping vessel back in the Cannes harbor. He never bothered to unload it after Ingrid was killed. Instead, he went back to Oslo for her funeral.
Considering that Ryan had been up for several nights, found not one but two corpses, been chased through Cannes by what he thought were cops, had delivered an impromptu speech before a packed room of journalists, Ryan wasn’t too worse for wear. He recalled that Sean Connery line from the third Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford is whizzing along on a motorcycle with his dad clinging on the back for dear life. “This is not archeology,” Connery groused as Indy accelerated away from the bad guys.
“This is not film criticism,” Ryan muttered to himself.
Ryan hailed a white Mercedes cab directly across from the McDonalds that now sullied the Palais’ perimeter. With the fast food places and the jumble of souvenir type shops, the area reminded the Hollywood New Times film critic of Marina Del Rey on the way to Santa Monica, not the Cannes Film Festival. Ryan hurried up a side street filled with restaurants. He recognized the green and gold awnings of the fabled La Verna where a cadre of six security guards blocked the entrance to the party. Ryan approached and held out his festival badge. It was dark inside, cavern-like. He couldn’t see much, but the frantic babble told him that he was once again entering the domain of the chattering classes. People were supping, smoking and coiffing amid champagne buckets that sparkled and candles that flickered.
“Ah, the guy who killed the actress,” someone nearby said.
The voice sounded familiar. Ryan squinted and vaguely detected the grin of a blond-haired guy in a blue windbreaker.
“Don’t worry, I probably won’t kill anyone here tonight, as long as they bring me a glass of wine quickly,” Ryan said, adjusting his eyes.
Then he recognized the man behind the voice – Matt Damon.
“So you’re having an exciting festival It seems to me,” Damon said.
“You don’t know the half of it.” Ryan felt self-conscious.
“Remind me never to play you in a movie,” Damon said. “I’ll stick to my more sedate Jason Bourne roles.”
Ryan spotted Trygve Tecksle who was the Hollywood New Times’ Scandinavian correspondent. “People in Oslo are saying that Gunnar Severeid and Ingrid Bjorge had been having an affair. They say that is how she got her part. How else would an unknown who had only done some cheap sex films land the biggest role in the world?”
“Do you think Gunnar is likely to sell The Ice Princess to a Hollywood studio?”
“He’ll sell it to somebody. Severeid does not lose money.”
“Is he as ruthless as some people here seem to think?” Ryan asked.
“A man does not amass a fortune in excess of $27 billion by being kind and caring,” Tecksle answered.
Ryan took that opportunity to leave. He tucked his hands in his pockets and ambled down the cobblestone walk. Ryan took out the big cigar that Matt Damon had given him. He stuck it in his mouth without lighting. He was celebrating because he believed he now knew who Ingrid Bjorge’s murderer was. He would tell Lt. Savin tomorrow his thoughts on whom he felt was the likely killer. He conjectured that Erik had killed Ingrid in a rage over her not wearing his clothes to The Ice Princess premiere. He wouldn’t conjecture about the death of Hands-On film producer Nick Steele.
The lobby of Ryan’s hotel was deserted except for the night attendant. Ryan went upstairs and slid his room card into the slot, listened for the click and opened the door to his room. He stuck the card in the energizer on the near wall and flicked on the light.
She was sitting on the desk chair with her back to him, looking out onto the balcony. Her luscious blond hair shone from the outside lights. She wore a bright blue one-piece dress. She turned to him and smiled. And then Ingrid Bjorge got out of the chair and walked straight over to Ryan.
“News of my death has been greatly exaggerated,” the murdered star of the opening night film of the Cannes Film Festival told him.
Ryan was not easily surprised. Still, Ingrid’s resurrection from the dead, and her appearance in his room, rattled him. He tried to speak, but his throat tightened.
“What are you doing here?” he finally asked.
“I am alive.”
“Yes, I see. But what are you doing in my room?”
“I did not know what to do. So I came here,” Ingrid said.
“Surely you must have someone else,” Ryan said. “It’s funny, I just thought I figured out who killed you, and now you’re alive and in my room.”
“So who did you think killed me?”
“Your ex-husband Erik.”
“Erik was angry enough to kill me, but he did not kill me, obviously. He took me away. I suppose that he actually saved my life since I wasn’t there in the hotel room when that poor other woman was killed instead of me.”
“If you’re alive, then who was killed?”
“I do not know,” she said. “I feel like I am in a very bad dream. Your life, too, seems like it has been a nightmare because of me.”
“It’s been crazy,” Ryan said. "Please tell me what you know."
"Erik was so angry. Because I was supposed to wear this dress he had made for me for the opening night premiere, but Mr. Severeid’s people said I had to wear another gown.”
“Probably by one of those big-time designers,” Ryan conjectured. “Fashion is big business. The top houses fight to get the big stars to wear their wardrobes. When you’re on the Red Carpet at Cannes, you can be seen by more than one billion people. It’s a great opportunity for advertising.”
“But I am not a big movie star.”
“Yes, but being the star of the opening night film at the festival means all the eyes of the world are on you."
“We are not so concerned with clothes in Norway.”
She sat down on the bed. She tucked her legs under her and then quivered.
“What happened on that afternoon just before you were supposedly killed?” Ryan asked.
“I went to the movie’s reception. Mr. Severeid was there, of course. Also Erik. When I told him about not wearing his dress, he got angrier and angrier,” she said. “Then he told me that if I wasn’t going to wear his gown, he wouldn’t let me go to the premiere. Next thing I knew, I was in a car with him. I kept thinking that Erik would calm down and turn around.”
“Weren’t you worried about missing your big moment on the Red Carpet, and what Mr. Severeid would do?”
“Yes, I was very upset. I started to yell at Erik. He grabbed me and pushed me inside this building. He locked me in a room. He stayed out all night and came back early in the morning. He was carrying a French newspaper that said I was dead. He seemed to be even more confused about it than I was. Two full days passed. Then an old woman let me out. I had to walk down to the sea where I got a hitchhike.”
“Why didn’t Erik and you go to the police that first morning? It would have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble, me included,” Ryan noted.
“Mainly, he was afraid that Severeid was behind everything. He thought Gunnar could be very dangerous.”
“Erik was always fearful of him. Because Gunnar has so much money, he can do anything. But Erik also warned me that I must not go to the police because whoever killed that woman would still want to kill me.”
Ingrid began to sob.
“It’s late. You can stay the night, but I have to take you to the police the first thing in the morning,” Ryan said. “This craziness is getting out of hand. I’ve got to go back to the office. I’m actually supposed to be reviewing movies. Instead, I’m trying to figure out this nightmare.”
Ryan rushed to the office in time to hear colleague Stan Peck announce, “You’ve got to rip apart the home page. My story is really big, and it’s exclusive. I found out that the producers of The Ice Princess are engaged in a secret auction of the film. Hands-On is emerging as the independent film company of the festival,”
“That company is just scum from the porn world,” Ryan said. “It makes sexist, violent, ridiculous movies and sells them to moronic fifteen-year old males in the Third World,”
Ryan plugged in his laptop. He needed to type in some program production notes and would need to start cracking on the two movies he had seen that morning.
When he was done with his Cannes coverage, Ryan hightailed it back to the hotel.
The azure gown was cut into a low sweetheart style and the fabric reached down nearly to the floor and was slit up the sides. Ice sequins danced up the mesh front, and its back was open and laced with silver trim. Ingrid looked stunning in Erik’s gown.
“That dress was made for you,” Ryan said admiring her. Then he reached into his festival bag and pulled out one of the Hollywood New Times t-shirts and a pair of blue jeans. “Having you switch from that gorgeous blue gown to this getup will be among the great fashion travesties of the year,” he joked.
She snatched the clothing from him and headed into the bathroom. While Ingrid dressed down, Ryan pulled out a black Souvenir baseball cap from his suitcase. When she emerged, he placed it on her head, pushing it down over her ears and blond mane.
“Let’s go for pizza," Ryan suggested. "It may be one of the last few times I can take you out before everyone realizes you’re that very famous movie star, and then I’ll never get the chance again. You are the biggest mystery of the festival and I don’t just mean about your murder.”
“Why am I so mysterious?”
“Because most star actresses are very vain and self-centered and would love to have their picture taken on the Red Carpet At Cannes. They would do anything to get here. Yet you do not really care about it. That is ironic.”
She picked up her light blue gown from the chair. “May I keep this in your closet?”
“I don’t think that is a wise idea. Someone could find it and link us,” he said. “But one more thing, though.”
“Before this crazy festival is over and all this is cleared up, can we go out one night and you wear that blue dress?”
“What would you wear?”
“A black tuxedo.”
“All the beautiful women who want to be stars must be lining up to meet you, the famous film critic.”
“That’s right. All my great Hollywood loves — Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta Jones, Halle Berry are always calling me late at night. Oh, and now, Rihanna. I keep getting raunchy text photos from her and then angry texts from Leo.”
“I do not know if you are teasing me.”
“Actually, right now I’m teasing me,” Ryan answered. “I mainly lead a very unglamorous life, especially since microwave dinners and cable TV sports were invented.”
“I like that you are modest. So you get paid to look at movies?” Ingrid asked.
“Yes, I confess. I’ve now seen 37,078 car crashes and 204,000 fiery explosions and 6 million people getting shot or stabbed."
“You do not like the movies so much anymore?”
“The ones they’re making these days are not great,” Ryan said. “They’ve got all this new technology, but the stories are awful. I like the older ones, when movies were about people instead of aliens, explosions, vampires, and slashers.”
“You must see many movies that aren’t like that here at this festival,” she said.
“Well, the Competition films are usually very erratic. But yes, Cannes movies are about people. They’re not big screen video games. That’s why I like covering festivals. Sundance, in particular, and Chicago. Actually, the films that win the Competition here are not usually that good.The film that win no one in the United States will want to see it. Except for The Ice Princess. Believe me, there will be a media frenzy when people find out you are alive.”
“Oh, no. Everyone will be coming to me again for interviews, and following me around wherever I go,” Ingrid lamented. “Will they make up more things about me that are untrue?”
“Yes, but you can handle it for a couple days,” Ryan said. “I’ll help you out.”
She smiled, and Ryan saw her blue eyes ignite. He caught himself staring and quickly looked down at his watch. He had missed his 7:30 p.m. screening!
His chest tightened, and he gasped. “Damn, damn, damn! The Matt Damon movie,” Ryan exclaimed. “It’s nearly quarter to eight. They don’t admit latecomers. I’ve missed the review. My trade will go nuts.”
“But you can see it again, can’t you?” Ingrid asked.
“That’s not the point. The other trades will all have a review,” Ryan said. “It will be up on the Internet seconds after the movie ends, maybe even before. I’ve blown the one film that everybody back in Hollywood is curious about. There’s a good chance I’ll get fired for this.”
"I’ll help you out," Ingrid said sincerely.
Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Six.
This story first posted on May 10, 2017.