Film Scouts Buzz

1997 Cannes Film Festival Buzz
ET Phone Home: Cellular Phones at Cannes

by Lisa Nesselson

Harper's Index for May lists the following statistic:

"Chances that a human being alive today has never made a telephone call: 2 out of 3."

Rest assured that none of those non-speed-dialing multitudes are currently in Cannes.

In addition to the standard note at the bottom of menus in the finest restaurants about excessive pipe and cigar smoking, one may now see a carefully worded admonition to "limit the use of portable phones during the dining experience."

The recorded announcement in the two major auditoriums alerting the audience to "take [their] seats, the screening is about to begin" now includes a rider about making certain to switch off one's portable phone. While I've never known a spectator who didn't want to sit down during the show, an awful lot of people apparently feel the techno-ring of their portable phones should be incorporated into the soundtrack of whatever happens to be on screen.

The ring-a-ling of costly plastic communications devices is always annoying, but there's anachronistic-annoying and garden variety-annoying. "The Prince of Homburg" is set several hundred years ago. The title character has been sentenced to death for failing to follow orders, even though his premature initiative actually won the day for his side. If he is not pardoned, he'll be shot at dawn. In those days, the Governor did not "call." A messenger on horseback would deliver a snazzy parchment adorned with wax seals if need be. Needless to say, when a portable phone rang in the crowd it lent a comic twist to our young protagonist's legitimate angst.

Better still was the impromptu interaction between renegade phones and the big screen during "Funny Games," Austrian Michael Haneke's latest utterly unnerving examination of senseless violence visited upon otherwise polite society. In a semi-isolated vacation home on a lovely lake, a mom, a dad and their young son are at the mercy of two intruders as methodical as they are twisted. The family's only link to the outside world, their portable phone, hasn't functioned since it fell into a sink of soapy water. A dial tone or a call from someone somewhere appears to be the hostages only slim chance for salvation. Alas, the ting-a-ling of portables in the audience was of no practical use to the increasingly desperate folks in the movie.

Phones used to be criminally difficult for the average French citizen or resident to obtain. (As recently as 20 years ago, there was a waiting list to receive a home telephone number as there simply weren't enough lines to go around). France Telecom has caught up with a vengeance. Now being cellular-free is a stigma akin to not having indoor plumbing.

The finest pastry shops display chocolate portable phones. Which, when you think about it, is precisely the right level of technology for a noise-making device in a hushed movie theater.

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