Amy Nicholson's Cannes Diary: A Tale Of Two Fishers. And One Adam Driver. And Some Dogs.

Our chief film critic reports from France as the competition for this year's Palm Dog heats up

Carrie Fisher and Fisher Stevens were the guests of honor for teatime at the Hotel Majestic, a double billing that my friend joked "sounded like a dare." But this wasn't a PR gag — they'd teamed up by themselves to make the documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, a mother-daughter biography codirected by Fisher Stevens and his partner Alexis Bloom.

The two Fishers have been friends for years, explained Fisher Stevens, "ever since we did this terrible movie." Suddenly, producer Brett Ratner burst into the salon, squinted at the poster, and saw he'd been misattributed as the composer. He sat down at our table, then popped up again to point out the mistake and laugh. Stevens nodded his white Panama hat and signaled that it was time to open the champagne. Bright Lights, which premiered at Cannes before playing on HBO next year, feels like an intimate portrait made by friends. In one scene, Carrie Fisher lounges on a bed and talks about losing her virginity to actor Griffin Dunne — who's sitting right next to her. According to Carrie, Debbie suggested she sleep with one of her own older friends who had more experience. The teen girl said no. Jokes Dunne, "I took the pressure off your hymen."

Both women have spent their entire lives as movie stars, and they have the big personalities to match. Carrie and Debbie still live next door to each other in Los Angeles, and their proximity, plus Carrie's frankness about her figure (at one point, The Force Awakens sends a trainer to empty her fridge of Coca-Cola), makes Bright Lights play like an updated Grey Gardens. "Thank god we don’t have the cats!" laughed Carrie in green-rimmed sunglasses. "But we do have the dog." She stroked her French bulldog, Gary Fisher, who wore a matching green rhinestone collar.

Amy Nicholson

The night before, Gary strapped on a bow tie and became the first dog to walk the Cannes red carpet. Fame's made him a diva. At a panel at the American Pavilion, Gary refused to sit down on his chair until he was given a pillow. "Those wooden seats are very uncomfortable, but it’s embarrassing," groaned Fisher. "And he didn’t even like the pillow. It was a little high for him and I knew that was going to happen." C'est la vie. After growing up with her mother, she says, she can handle any personality. "I’m very comfortable around high maintenance."

Today, Gary Fisher is the most famous dog in Cannes. No small feat — the sidewalks are packed with more puppies than starlets, turning the already crowded Croisette into an obstacle course of leashes, each attached to a creature barely as tall as my ankles. This is a festival where dogs are so popular, there's even a semi-official award: The Palm Dog, presented to such luminaries as Uggie from The Artist. (I'm still bitter that Dug from Up beat out the black poodle in Inglourious Basterds — sure, he had more lines, but that's easy when you're a cartoon.)

A violent Romanian gangster flick called Dogs was a fake-out, but check it out if you're into severed feet. There's a great mutt named Blaise in the teens-on-the-run prairie noir Mean Dreams, starring Josh Wiggins (Hellion), Sophie Nélisse (The Book Thief), and Bill Paxton as the girl's murderous father. Hosting a panel on the film at the American Pavilion, I awkwardly brought up Blaise. "We haven't talked about your other fantastic costar," I started. Paxton burst in.

"Yes! Colm Feore!" beamed Paxton, talking about the Shakespearean actor who plays the local sheriff.

"Oh no," I sputtered. "I meant the dog."

"The dog!" wailed Paxton, smacking his hands on the table. "Colm Feore and we're talking about the dog!"

But, so far, the front-runner for this year's Palm Dog is Marvin, the English bulldog who snorts through Jim Jarmusch's Paterson as star Adam Driver's pet and personal nemesis. Every night, Driver — playing a bus driver who dreams of being a poet — ditches his high-energy artist wife to walk Marvin around the streets. And every night, in this movie as rhythmic as a sonnet, he ducks into a bar for a beer. The routine is so familiar that even Marvin knows what's coming, flopping on the curb before Driver ties up his leash.

I struggle to like Jarmusch. His films strike me as too clinical, like a mortician trying to tell a love story with corpses. (Which, in a way, Jarmusch kind of did in the vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive.) At first, Paterson seemed like more of the same, another stiff picture sentimentalizing a man out of time. Driver's bus driver doesn't even own a cell phone. Instead, he wakes up in the morning and straps on his old-fashioned watch. (Unlike Fisher and Fisher, I suspect the Driver-driver homonym is deliberate — his character, Paterson, even lives in Paterson, New Jersey, and the film is peppered with pairs of twins.)

But as the days tick by and Driver's notebook fills with plainspoken poems, Paterson blooms into a story about the need to create art, even if only for yourself. On his walks, Driver meets preteen poets, grown-up rappers, and Japanese tourists, all bursting with words, while at home, his wife (Golshifteh Farahani) paints black-and-white squiggles over everything they own: shower curtains, clothing, pillows, cupboards, walls, and even the cupcakes she dreams of selling at the farmer's market. Paterson honors the beauty in a working-class town. Sure, the big cities and beautiful French beaches get all the attention, but Jarmusch reminds us that self-expression happens every day, everywhere. The crowd cheered their heads off and I happily joined in.