Amy Nicholson's Cannes Diary: A Tango In The Beach-Forest, A Missed Date With Spielberg, And A Shia Love Connection

Further adventures of our chief film critic in France (watch out for the tentacles!)

On Saturday night, I shimmied down the Croisette and stepped into the surreal. Steven Spielberg's new movie The BFG — short for The Big Friendly Giant and based on the book by Roald Dahl — had premiered that afternoon, and in its honor, the beach had been transformed into a forest. The pier was mossy with green astroturf, pinecones loitered next to the champagne, a waist-high wall of trees surrounded the DJ booth, and partiers abandoned their tall cups of ice cream, lit from below by glowing LEDs, on stumps where they blinked like fireflies. The fog machine was cranked up so high I was afraid to walk. "I haven't seen so much smoke since the last time I saw Macbeth!" yelped a friend as we slid past each other on the stairs. But it didn't keep one fabulous couple from dancing the tango, ignoring both the mist and the actual music to swirl around to Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind."

Amy Nicholson

The waves splashed high enough that the limousine-long concrete footprint — a giant-sized decoration — doubles as a duck pond. We tested the drier side of the pier and saw a backhoe blundering our way. It was 11 p.m. The huge orange machine spun around, plunged itself into the water, and came up with a scoopful of sand, which it spat onto the beach. No one else seemed to notice. I figured that was my cue to exit, but on my way out I got stuck in a mob of people surrounding a screaming man. He wore a gray stocking cap and red sneakers and was shouting something that sounded like "Jesus!" while pointing to the sky. He was so worked up that the gawkers were nervous. When he'd face one direction, the herd would shift to the side so that the circle rotated like a pizza missing a slice. Security didn't bother stopping him — they were focused on keeping gate-crashers away from the free booze — so finally the man tuckered himself out and wandered off toward town. He was headed my way so I tracked him, curious to see what might froth him up again. But it seemed like he'd said his piece, and after I watched him butt into three groups of partiers and get the cold shoulder, we lost each other in the crowd.

Amy Nicholson

I hadn't actually seen The BFG. That afternoon I'd been eating a sandwich in the park next to a carousel, overconfident about my chances of squeezing into the Grand Théâtre Lumière, which seats 2,309 people in an auditorium that feels like a movie theater crossed with a mountain. Climbing up to the back row of the balcony is dizzying, particularly if it's 8:30 in the morning and you're hungover from the night before. I figured altitude sickness was as rough as a Lumière screening got, but I'd underestimated the frenzy to see a big Spielberg movie that's going to come out in two months anyway. I got stuck in the middle security line behind a man who wasted three minutes figuring out what in his pockets was setting off the sensor wand, and I missed the capacity cutoff by just eight people.

So it goes. It was still a stellar day at the movies. My morning started with Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden, a strange and brilliant mash-up of Victorian horror and Asian fable set in a jumbled Korean mansion where the owner and interior decorator, an evil book snob obsessed with England, hung tapestries and oil portraits alongside bamboo mats and rice paper walls. In this erotic epic, a beautiful backstabbing thief named Sookee poses as the lady-in-waiting for a wealthy orphan in order to convince the naïf to marry her accomplice, a cad who plans to lock his new bride in an asylum and steal her inheritance. Imagine Crimson Peak with tentacle porn — a combination that makes sense if you've seen Park Chan-wook's earlier films Stoker and Oldboy — and then lose yourself in this wicked love triangle that tricks us as much as the characters betray each other.

Later that night, Cannes screened another bad romance: Andrea Arnold's American Honey. First-time actress Sasha Lane was a waitress at a Mexican restaurant in Frisco, Texas, when she read a casting call for "People who are wild, physical, fearless and ready for adventure. No acting experience required." The tatted and dreadlocked 19-year-old landed the lead role of dumpster-diving teenager Star, who ditches her dopehead boyfriend to jump in a van full of lost kids just like her. Under the command of white trash empress Krystal (Riley Keough) and her second-in-command Jake (Shia LaBeouf), this band of misfits cruises the Midwest drinking vodka, smoking weed, and selling magazines to people who feel sorry for them. You'd think their grotty gutterpunk fashion would get doors slammed in their faces, but somehow, like a modern Oliver Twist, it works. It has to: Every week on Loser's Night, Krystal forces the two worst sellers to beat each other up.

Star's lousy at lying to people that she's fundraising for college tuition. But she sticks around for Jake, a manipulative creep with an inch-thick rat tail, because his attention is the closest thing she's even known to love. Which isn't saying much. (Though in real life, it worked — after the shoot, Lane and LaBeouf moved in together.) At nearly three hours long, American Honey could shave 45 minutes from its runtime, unless you have a high tolerance for watching stoners flail around to trap music in a car. Oh, you do? Bon appétit.