One thousand and one stress-filled nights

article written by Alicia Luba

‘Tis the season to be bankrupt. Not only have you forked out a ridiculous sum of money on various ball tickets (you’re convinced the term ‘unlimited’ justifies the expense) you now have to dress for the occasion. The tension, the tension. Do you scour the rails over Easter or wait until the eve of the event? Buying in advance is a sure way to avoid the last minute sprint down High Street but will your pre-emptive strike deliver the goods on the day? If you are attending a ball post 6thweek, could all the inevitable Oxford cycling, stress and post ‘chocfest’ comedown mean you’ve dropped a dress size? And then how will you return the now-too-loose gown? The 28 day return policy shed its validity long ago.

As I said, the tension. Waiting until term time to buy means that you pretty much resign yourself into the hands of Coast and Monsoon or, for those of us unafraid to use our overdrafts, The Ballroom. Inevitably, you won’t be the only person on Trinity’s big night wearing the midnight blue strapless number with the faux-diamond front. If a ‘two of a kind’ situation is your worst nightmare, there is a simple solution. Take yourself to London. I know, I know, ‘the essays! The problem sheets!’ you cry. Work like a maniac during the week before hopping on the Tube and spending a day on Oxford Street. Covent Garden or Portobello Road are the obvious alternatives for something a bit more colourful or original. The collections of most high street stores feature one or two ‘options’ for balls but you can guarantee that if you buy Topshop’s reasonably priced £45 version, someone else will have done the same. The flagship store, on the other hand, has those cavernous vaults where you can find vintage items or hunt around in the concessions. They are also stockists of Lipsy, which is tricky to get hold of in Oxford unless you’re comfortable with internet ordering which, when it comes to ball dresses, I am certainly not. The brand always has a great selection to fulfil the black tie criteria. Selling mostly cocktail dresses, these can be accessorised on the night but also worn again on crew dates and Clems outings.

White tie events don’t let us off so easily. When you hand over your £200 or thereabouts for the ticket, consider it a down payment on a much larger sum of approximately £500 which will include the dress. Again, get yourself to London or befriend a survivor of last year’s ball who happens to be the same size as you and doesn’t mind adopting a ‘wear and share’ policy.  This is one of the more morally acceptable ways to wriggle out of ball-bankruptcy. The other is a road travelled only by the bravest, that of the ‘wear-return-and-run’. Not for the faint hearted, a few preliminaries need to be observed before an operation like this can be successfully carried out.  Watch the way the sales assistant folds the dress into the bag, do not break the sticker which seals said bag, safeguard the receipt, stay away from anyone brandishing a ketchupy item on the night and for Heaven’s sake buy a good deodorant. If you remember all this and even re-wrap the dress in its immaculately preserved tissue paper you’ll be fine.

For those with both money and morals Halston Heritage, Antik Batik or Issa won’t let you down for white tie while Acne, Malene Birger or Paul & Joe Sister are go-to labels for black.  Finally, distil your pre-event social circle to avoid additional stress. Aside from those with the larger bank accounts, the most contemptible humans around ball season are undoubtedly the ‘I’ve only got to wear a suit, right?’ men-folk.

Street Style – #002

Matt – student reading Law at Trinity College

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Rebecca - student reading English Language and Literature at Wadham College

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Tom – student reading History at Lincoln College

The Street Style team will be next out and about in Oxford on Saturday 4th June, so if you want to be featured in this section get dolled up and see if you can find us!

New directions – 4th week

Oh the horror! The unmitigated horror. Ok, so perhaps not horror. But it’s close. Due to what will admittedly be an extremely fun study trip to the Lake District, I am to be out of Oxford for a grand total of four days. And what that means is temporarily abandoning my directorial duties. I swear to God it’s like leaving a child. I’m missing meetings. I’m giving my cast the week off. Perhaps most terrifying of all, I won’t have a computer. And that means no emails. It feels as though the world may implode.

Writing this the night before departure, I can’t help but feel that I have missed something. I’ve messaged the production team begging them to fill me in on anything they decide. Or discuss. Or even hint at. I’ve organised weekend rehearsals and booked a fight choreographer for my first day back. I’ve done a week’s worth of organising in a matter of hours. Yet the dramatic umbilical cord is still proving difficult to cut.

I am, however, aware that I am leaving my show in safe hands. Lighting plots can be charted. Posters can be ordered. Lines can be learned. And it appears that my little drama world will continue turning for a few days without me. The show must go on, and go on it shall, despite my brief absence. So off I shall go to Northern (and somewhat chilly) climes and focus on Wordsworth, Coleridge and the like, secure in the knowledge that theatrically all will be well. But I might sneak a peek at Nexus on my friend’s phone. Just to be sure.

– Caitlin MacMillan, director of Blue Remembered Hills

Preview: the UEFA Champions League Final

Sam Quicke

This year like no other, the final of the Champions League could hardly do more to reflect the pattern of dominance present in the domestic game. Where the early 2000s saw Bayern, Madrid, and the Italian sides regularly define seasons with their success, the last six or seven years have unquestionably been the era of Barcelona and Manchester United. Serial winners of their respective domestic leagues, these two European giants have also started sprawling themselves over the latter stages of the Champions League year in year out.

It seems more than two years ago that this fixture last drew the domestic season to a close. So much has changed within that space of time. The omnipresence of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi at Barcelona’s core should not obscure the subtle changes to the Catalans’ 2011 mould. Messi himself has risen meteorically in stature. His rebirth as a false #9, the spearhead of Barcelona’s attack, and his subsequently remarkable goal-scoring achievements, has surely seen him complete his previously inevitable procession to the pantheon of inter-generational greats. Elsewhere, Sergio Busquets has matured in his defensive-midfield/centre-back hybrid; Pedro has cemented his reputation as one of the best forwards in the game; David Villa has added a certain sharpness to the striking trio which, although hardly lacking before, has been valuable; and Guardiola himself has gone a long way to proving himself as one of the greatest innovators of the modern era. They are also a much, much better side, and a side that’s full to the brim on confidence.

Clearly though, the changes are far more obvious within the United set-up. The team itself has been very hard to predict; Ferguson rarely elects to play the same XI in consecutive games. The obvious catalyst was Ronaldo’s departure, making the talents and temperament of Wayne Rooney far more central to the side’s functioning. But if ever a team was struggling for an identity it would surely be this side. Over the last two seasons it’s been near-impossible to identify what’s been consistent about United, let alone what’s been so consistently good about them. This season, the breathtakingly mercurial performances (7-1 at home to Blackburn and the two Schalke ties) have juxtaposed awkwardly with some atrociously lacklustre efforts, but most surprising has been the uncharacteristic defensive frailty and mental fragility that’s occasionally crept onto the scene (think back to the leads thrown away against Fulham and Everton last autumn). The one constant factor, and probably United’s biggest asset of late, has been Ferguson, who above all else seems to get his players to perform when the situation requires.

What to expect

Whereas the 2009 affair was billed as an advert for the beautiful game with attacking starlets lining up on

either side, this time around we can expect a far less exotic display.  Barcelona are probably one of the most consistent teams of all time in terms of their approach to the game; the following passage isn’t just lazy journalism. They will hold a high line, dictate the tempo and shift the ball around until an opening arises. It will be all Barcelona from the off, and their self- imposed quest to better their possession statistics in each game will undoubtedly be on show. They will couple this strategy on the ball with possibly the most intense off-the-ball pressing game football’s ever witnessed (just ask Michael Carrick).

More interesting will be the approach Ferguson elects to pursue. In 2009 United were the favourites.  They had Ronaldo, they had Vidic and Ferdinand, they had the experience of beating Barcelona the previous season and, of course, were returning Champions. Barcelona were unproven. Guardiola was still in his first season, and the glaring deficiencies of Madrid and every other Spanish Primera side made it hard to gauge the extent of their successes in La Liga and the Copa del Rey. Ferguson got arrogant; he departed from the tactics inherited from his deputy Carlos Quieroz (employed against Rijkaard’s 2008 outfit) thinking he could better Xavi and Iniesta at their own game with Carrick, Giggs, and Anderson. Since then, Barcelona have been widely recognised as one of the greats, the core of the Catalan club effectively won Spain the World Cup last summer, and one man has persistently illuminated the way to beat them. Real Madrid may not have defeated Barcelona in the semi-finals, but if the recent succession of riveting clasicos has taught us anything it’s that Mourinho’s strategy is as good as gold when it comes to halting Guardiola’s men. In style, Mourinho hasn’t really done anything that Ferguson didn’t do in the 2008 Champions League semi-final, nor has he improved much on Guus Hiddink’s tactical approach utilised by Chelsea in their semi with Barca back in 2009. Mourinho has, however, done it consistently (barring the monumental blunder back in November after Ferguson-levels of tactical arrogance were unwisely pursued) and he’s done it against a much better Barcelona outfit. Last season’s showcase of defensive majesty in charge of Inter was something to behold, even if it provided a fairly dull neutral spectacle. Sitting deep, allowing Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi time and space on the ball only in unthreatening areas, pressing full-backs Alves and (probably) Abidal fiercely from the front, and relying on the central midfielders to intercept and track runs from midfield while preparing to hit them like a bullet on the counter seems to be the modus operandi when it comes to toppling Barcelona.

But will Ferguson’s arrogance get the better of him again? The signs are unclear: Sir Alex recently departed from the tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation so regularly employed against Arsenal so as to accommodate the talents of Javier Hernandez. As expected, Arsenal’s superior manipulation of the newly-afforded space left United losers for the first time in 5 games against the Gunners. Such a move against Barcelona would surely condemn the Reds to another obliteration at the hands of Messi and Guardiola. But it is a genuine selection dilemma. Hernandez has been one of the top performers of this year’s campaign, scoring goals against opposition of all quality. Leaving him on the bench along with (as appears to be the trend in “big” games) Nani will leave United slightly shy in the goal-scoring department.

Prediction

Ferguson won’t risk starting Hernandez, and will set out in sensible fashion with the following side to counter the predictable Barcelona XI:

Van der Sar; Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Fletcher/Anderson (pending on Fletcher’s fitness issues), Giggs; Park, Valencia; Rooney

Valdes; Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Villa, Messi

It probably won’t be a classic, but if United follow Mourinho’s example they are capable of causing an upset, and what an upset it would be.

We survived the Rapture- so did Mick

‘Survival Sunday’, as Sky billed the final day of the 2010-2011 Premier League season, proved to be a prophetic title in more ways than one. Having escaped almost certain destruction less than a day earlier it may have appeared to Harold Camping, as his personal jet was forced to hotfoot it to Hawaii rather than the plains of eternal salvation, that the “rapture” had indeed struck across the Atlantic. Fans all over the country whispered prayers and sunk to their knees in desperation, or instead shouted abuse at a lazy winger failing to track the full back, all for the right to sing the most cherished words in English football: ‘We Are Premier League…’

Rarely does the superlative-filled build up to ‘Super Sunday’, or whatever word Jeff and the team pluck from Microsoft Word’s vast bank of synonyms for ‘good’, manage to fulfil the hype; the apathetic turnout for Match of the Day in the Balliol TV room would suggest so. But in reality fans had simply retreated to their rooms in exhaustion after, with eyes diverted from an eventless top four, the teams scrapping for survival and desperate to avoid the estimated £40 million shortfall lurking through the Championship trap door managed to spectacularly meet the quota of thrills, frantic calculations and middle aged men sobbing into their replica shirts. Once the drama had played out and fingernails were all but gone Wolves survived by the skin of their teeth and all 10 of Wigan’s supporters were elated with their survival, while Blackpool and Birmingham joined the hapless West Ham in slumping into the second tier of English football. Of the three, Blackpool return after a fairy-tale season that even in relegation defied all the odds. ­

The Tangerines game against champions Manchester United exemplified what the Premier League has lost; entertainment in abundance, and a determination to enjoy their time in the spotlight. With 55 goals Blackpool are the highest scoring team to ever be relegated from the Premiership and their haul of 39 points would have been enough to secure safety in each of the last 7 seasons. But underneath all the statistics a special mention, a Premiership obituary, has to be reserved for manager of the year Ian Holloway; a man who has battled with the English language as well as the seemingly impossible task of keeping a side of Blackpool’s limited resources in the Premier League. Press conferences in which elaborate metaphors have compared himself to characters like Crocodile Dundee may have amused and bemused journalists and fans in equal measure but are nothing compared to the amazement at how he managed to convince players like Gary Taylor-Fletcher and David Vaughan that they are of Premiership quality. So much so that with Euro 2012 round the corner, DJ Campbell has announced highly questionable international aspirations that are unlikely to survive in the Championship, especially with Grant Holt set to storm England’s top tier. The Premiership will certainly mourn the loss of Holloway more than the dour Ancelotti who after less than two seasons with Chelsea will pout and shrug all the way down the Fulham road, and if Abramovich is in the market for a constantly jilted and entertaining West-country bumpkin prone to bouts of inspired fiction, the league would be better for it.

Along with Blackpool and West Ham, Birmingham City, suffering from one of the longest cup hangovers in history, failed to secure a third consecutive season in the Premiership. Their final day meeting with Tottenham could have been very different had fifth place not still been in the balance with Spurs overcoming Liverpool on the road in their penultimate game; as it was a brace from Pavlyuchenko, who in different circumstances would probably have spent the afternoon ambling lazily round the centre circle, secured European football for Tottenham and doomed the Blues to a summer of uncertainty. A side that have been over-reliant on the left foot of Craig Gardener looks set for a torrid time in the Championship with a bloated wage bill and few marketable assets; although Ben Foster and Roger Johnson could attract big money moves. Birmingham must be careful to avoid the path treaded by Leeds and Southampton in previous years, but whilst the future remains uncertain this season will not be remembered for relegation but for one glorious day under the Wembley arch, an inspired performance full of a desire that was conspicuously absent from their relegation battle.

For the newly departed, there appears to be no salvation from the hell that looms in front of them… the Championship. Ultimately, after surviving eternal damnation on Saturday the Championship cannot appear quite so timeless or painful to Alex McLeish, Ian Holloway and co., who would do well to appreciate that at the end of the day, relegation is not the end of the world.

Ben Allen

Athletics: Tabs canter to third win on the trot

Jake Shelley

The 137th Varsity Athletics match took place on Saturday 21st May at Wilberforce Road, Cambridge under glorious blue skies. The dominant blue of the day, however, was Light rather than Dark, as the match unfortunately resulted in a convincing home victory for Cambridge. The Oxford team was defeated in the men’s and women’s blues and seconds matches by a group of highly talented Light Blues, but there were nevertheless some truly outstanding Oxford performances.

The Oxford performance of the day came in the Women’s Blues match from Clara Blattler, competing in the pole vault. Blattler vaulted 3.50 to break the match record and earn herself the Best Field Performance award on the day. But her Varsity Match was far from over as Blattler also won the 400m hurdles, came second in 100m hurdles, third in both the long and triple jump and also performed admirably in the relay.

The 800m was also a successful event for Oxford. Following Blattler’s example were Rachel Deegan and the Club’s inspirational president Catriona Witcombe, who took first and second, respectively. Catriona equalled Clara by competing in six events on the day and she displayed her all round athletic ability in each of them. If ever there was an example set of how to lead a team in adversity, then it was Witcombe’s.  There were two further wins in the Womens Blues match, in the 5000m for Hayley Munn and in the Javelin for Katie Braham.

In the Men’s Blues match Oxford were dominant in the middle- and long-distance track events, as befits the famous heritage that includes, of course, Roger Bannister, the first man to break four minutes for the mile back in 1954. Some of the Bannister spirit seemed to have journeyed to Cambridge with the side, as Chris McGurk looked  in supreme form in winning the 1500m.  McGuirk was ably backed up by talented fresher, Tom Frith, who took 2nd in the same race. Luke Caldwell took the win with a strong last lap in the 5000m, an achievement all the more impressive given that he had been third in a hotly contested, fast paced 800m earlier in the day.

The Oxford sprinters and field eventers battled hard all day but were generally outclassed by their Cambridge counterparts. One exception to this was Laurent Stephenson from Balliol, who won the Javelin with a phenomenal personal best throw of 52.34m.

Eloise Waldon-Day was awarded the trophy for Second Team Performance of the day for her strong performances in the 400m, 200m hurdles, 400m hurdles, high jump, pole vault, discus, javelin and shot put.

It may have been noted by readers that several athletes competed in multiple events and this is indicative of a lack of strength in depth across the board. This was not helped by the withdrawal of several of Oxford’s very best athletes at the last minute due to injury and ineligibility.

With the British Universities championships being held at the new Olympic stadium in London next summer, the Athletics Club will look to recruit some talented new athletes across all events to bolster the side for the Varsity match next year.

Despite this year’s disappointment, the OUAC has a history of success which Cambridge are yet to match. Oxford still have the upper hand in the overall number of Men’s Blues matches, with 73 wins versus Cambridge’s 56. That said, it will take a serious effort to overhaul the worrying trend that is beginning to develop, with Cambridge taking the win in the last three years. It is though, a challenge that Oxford are certainly capable of succeeding in when the match returns home to fortress Iffley next year.

Ingrid Betancourt: Life after captivity

In 2002, Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian presidential candidate, was kidnapped by FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), a group of armed revolutionaries. She was held captive in the jungle for six years. Now, three years after her release, she is promoting her book Even Silence Has An End, her moving account of the psychological and physical torture, starvation, escape attempts and experiences of her ordeal.

Betancourt sits in front of a large Oxford audience, thin but elegant in a black pinstriped suit. She tells the room the story of the day she was kidnapped, on a tour of the countryside campaigning for the Oxygen Green Party. On 23rd February, she was visiting the town of San Vicente, in a remote area controlled by the rebel forces that Betancourt describes as “wishing they were political revolutionaries rather than a business”. Soldiers at a roadblock stopped her car. Betancourt knew that if their boots were leather they were the military, if rubber they were rebels. Instantly she saw their boots were rubber.

In perfect, heavily accented English, Betancourt recounts the boredom of being stuck in the makeshift camp used by the rebels with only a copy of Harry Potter and The Bible to read, the exhaustion of twelve hour marches between them and the sheer terror of her many attempts to escape one of the world’s most remote regions. Her descriptions of hoarding food, stealing boots from the guards and pounding through jungle, petrified of the wildlife, sounds like something out of a thriller, but Betancourt’s stony face makes it clear that this was deadly real. When asked why she tried so many times to escape the FARC camps, she replies calmly: “I saw some of my companions accept what they would not accept outside. They wanted to turn us into animals. But for me it is a loss of dignity that is a loss of freedom. Most people tried to adapt, but for me that was not acceptable and so I was driven to escape.”

A French woman in the audience asks Betancourt: “Don’t you and your children feel angry?” In front of the large group she replies: “For four and a half years I could not think about my children. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what my children went through. But they aren’t filled with anger, they have nothing to prove. They are free.” Later, away from the crowds, she tells me: “When I came back from the jungle, I had many evenings when they were around me. I could see that they didn’t want to ask questions because they didn’t want to hurt me. But at the same time I wanted to tell them things, but every time I tried it was so painful I couldn’t. So I came to the point when I thought ‘ok, writing the book is a good chance to tell them.” I ask if her children, who were 16 and 13 at the time of her kidnapping, have read her book. She pauses for a moment. “Melanie read it. Lorenzo read a hundred pages and then he gave up. He said he will read it another time. It was too hard.”

It is clear that it is not only her children that are bound up in Betancourt’s story. The Colombian ambassador has travelled from London to see and support his compatriot. A French journalist tells the room that she cried on the Paris metro while reading the public letter Betancourt’s mother wrote to her daughter. Later, a woman asks to have her copy of the book signed. She says quietly confides that she found out that she had cancer the day Betancourt was kidnapped, and was given the all clear the day she was released. Betancourt says that she feels these strangers who are invested in her personal life are “a blessing and a gift”. “When I meet them for the first time, I have the impression that they have been in the family for so long, that they know me. It feels really personal, like these are people who I have known all my life, it is a privilege really. It is very beautiful.”

Are there any plans for a return to politics? The answer is neither a direct yes or no, but it is clear Betancourt is still a woman of intense political conviction. “Education is the key. But education to acquire spirituality and responsibility. It is about values and a new kind of relationship between human beings. And that is only possible through spirituality.” Tellingly, even her current political musings turn inwards, referencing her jungle torment. She uses the young FARC guerilla captors as an example of the power of education. “I can understand why they chose to be guerillas, it was an upgrade. Giving them a gun gave them respect, and respect in life is a very important thing. It is what gives us dignity. I think these guys were searching for respect.” She recalls how intelligent some of her young guards were, how thirsty they were for knowledge and how, despite the communist heritage of their organization, she had to explain to some of them what a state, a constitution, ironically even communism was.

It is clear that Betancourt’s political views have been fundamentally changed by her experience. She openly talks about the spiritual growth she experienced in captivity – “I read The Bible many times” – and this is evident in her world view. “We have to change the way politics are done. You have to change the hearts of the people. Because we live in democracies. It’s not like we have this crazy guy that we have to abide because he was appointed. We cannot just pretend it doesn’t concern us. If we want to change things we really have to change. If we want to change the world we have to begin by changing spaces. And the core of that is our world, our inner world, which is a spiritual one. And that will change the way we have relationships with the people around us. Our families, our friends, our teachers, our fellow workers, whatever people we encounter in our lives.  And then this will change the way we engage between nations. We have to be convinced that we can do it. Sometimes we feel it is too big and we can’t do everything. Like, ‘how can I, my little self, do something in this big world?’ Well we can.”

Betancourt stands alone in the middle of Tom Quad in Christ Church having her photograph taken. When she returns to her group she finds that the hairclip she removed for the shoot has been accidently broken. She is clearly and visibly upset. Her mother had bought it for her and she cannot buy another. It seems slightly strange that a woman who has experienced so much hardship should care about a hairclip. But then she turns to everyone and says that it is fine, and they shouldn’t even think about it.

Later, something Betancourt says to me helps this to make sense. It makes it clear that everything in her life, from a hairclip breaking to her desire to study theology in the future, is shaped by her experiences and what she learnt from them. “When somebody comes in a loving way you melt, you want to be nice. And when somebody comes in a very aggressive way, you want to protect yourself and get back… We need to be more responsible. We can do it – I think it is the time.”

A camper’s guide to Cannes

Alice Brunton

I first overheard “Festival de Cannes” whispered excitedly by students in February at ENS Lyon, where I’m about to finish my Erasmus year. Somehow or other I found myself invited, and with help from those in the know I applied online for Accreditations, the magical concept which opens up the parallel universe of Cannes for the thousands of cinéphiles (film lovers) who make the pilgrimage every year. The process was surreally easy, until we remembered we hadn’t finalised any accommodation. So I’ve just got back from a week camping, in true festival style, at Cannes: a less glamorous week than planned, but nonetheless a week full of amazingly varied films and shiny celebrities.

We arrived, waded through the crowds wandering along the Croisette (Cannes’ seafront promenade) to collect our photo-passes, set up our tents and looked around bewildered. Two hours of queuing later, it became clear that a mixture of patience and determination (elbowing) would guarantee success. The streets were teeming with clichés: loud Americans, blasé Brits, stylish French and excited Italians, all hiding behind designer sunglasses pretending to be more famous than everyone else. I joined in, but having been in my outfit since 7.30am I realised why ‘camping’ and ‘well-groomed’ are not usually in the same sentence.

Top of our wishlist was Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, due to the amazing trailer and Brad Pitt’s presence, but as it’s in the Sélection Officielle (for the Palme D’Or) just queuing for hours doesn’t work. Having made signs asking for tickets in a last desperate attempt, unbelievably a passing journalist gave us some spares he happened to have in his pocket! The film is a contemplative piece, in which the camera zooms out across the cosmos before zooming back in on a boy’s relationship with his family. It’s full of the bright and dizzying movement of childhood, only darkened by the imposing authority of Brad Pitt disguised as an ugly, stern 50s-era father. The 2001-A-Space-Odyssey-esque sequences were perhaps excessive, but overall it’s a very thought-provoking film. The highpoint of my week was emerging from the film to watch the red carpet Montée des Marches for the evening show and taking hastily zoomed-in photos of Brad, Angelina, Sean Penn, Jude Law et al. My other favourite is Habemus Papam (Italy), a hilarious yet moving account of a reluctant Pope, in which its director Nanni Moretti plays a do-gooding psychiatrist in a comic tour-de-force. Sadly I arrived too late to see the Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), of which I’ve seen mixed reviews.

Miss Bala (Mexico, director Gerardo Naranjo), about the Mexican drug wars seen through the eyes of a beauty contest candidate, uses the startling contrasts between the glittering artificiality of the beauty pageant and the violence of Tijuana to great effect. The excellent female lead (Stephanie Sigman), who gained a standing ovation at the film’s premiere, unites both threads with a movingly understated performance. This quick-paced film is the opposite of Bonsai (Chile, director Cristián Jiménez). As Jiménez is from a country without warring drug gangs or corrupt police, he prefers to overlay lingering shots of sex, Proust and a bonsai tree to create a navel-gazingly enjoyable tale of first love. The French film 17 Filles, a convincing portrait of female adolescence based on a true story (google it), is lovingly shot by sisters Delphine & Muriel Coulin for their first feature film. The frustrated teenage girls’ will to escape the present proves too strong for those around them, with life-changing consequences.

Eye-blindingly bad films were of course uncommon, but the winner has to be Bollywood: The greatest love story ever told, a documentary for which I walked up the red carpet excitedly, being a fan of all things dance-related (e.g. Pina), only to be completely disappointed. Connoisseurs of Bollywood may be more forgiving, but the rapid succession of loud song and dance scenes almost without explanation was not an enlightening viewing experience.  The weirdest film, which in fact was an enjoyable experience (for me, but not for the swathe of French old ladies who walked out) was The Island, a Bulgarian contender in which a couple lose touch with reality on a small island off Bulgaria. The sudden change of location is a shock, yet also brings the key theme of identity to the fore. It’s completely batty but definitely worth a look.

Having sunbathed on the beach, seen Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt and watched ten films in four days, I felt pretty odd. Was it all the junk food, sleep deprivation or just a movie overdose? Whatever the reason, I felt dizzy and kept seeing the world in potential film sequences; those palm trees for the backdrop, overheard conversations as dialogue, now what about a storyline?  It was most definitely time to go home, sleep, and introduce into my diet something other than the weird and wonderful films of Cannes.

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