Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #4: A beautiful day in Cannes

by Karen Jaehne

May 14, 1996

It was a rare and perfect day in Cannes. The light streamed through the window very early, so I didn't have to grope my way through the rain to get to my early press screening. They begin at 8:30, you know. In fact, I didn't have to go to the press screening, because I had been lucky enough to see "Fargo" in the U.S. before coming.

Instead, I followed my nose to the new film of a Hungarian director who always seems to make interesting little films. Peter Gothar is his name and in 1982, he made a film called "Time Stands Still," about rebellious youth in Eastern Europe that foretold what would happen about 1989. I can see his movies only at festivals, it seems, so I took a brisk stroll through the morning sun down to the Croisette, pausing to admire the way the light bounced off the white hotels and onto the turquoise morning Mediterranean and back onto the white sails flapping in the harbor as boats set out for a day on the waves.

Peter Gothar's film "Vaska" is actually in Russian and is ostensibly a Russian legend about two thieves and their crazy adventures until they settle down to be law-abiding citizens. It's a zany comedy that is more about what's happened since Communism evaporated and people have had the opportunity to "rob" as they see fit, before becoming good democratic citizens. It is also layered with famous scenes from very famous Russian films - to illustrate the lessons of Communism that they use to justify their current actions, so we get to see clips from "Potemkin" and sundry works by Eisenstein. It has the added virtue of brevity, so we were out in 89 minutes - back in the sun and up for another stroll along the promenade above the beach.

At this point, my friend Pedro from L.A. bumped into me and tried to get me to go see Garcia Marques' "Oedipe," an adaptation of the old Oedipus Rex. But I had to interview Robert Altman, so I strolled along to one of the fancy hotels to sit down and ask a director with four decades of experience if he had learned anything from all these years of coming to Cannes. "No," he laughed, "every time I ask myself why I put up with all this."

All this? The sun, the sea, the laughing people, the love of movies. He wrinkled his forehead and thought of his lawsuit with the French producers of "Kansas City," of his next project that he'd rather be working on in the comfort and privacy of home, and of the many times he's come to Cannes to endure flattery and confusion. "Everybody's got an opinion," he says, "but nobody seems to know why they like anything." I thought that was astute. More on Altman later, but I thought it was the fulfillment of a dream to sit and chat with him about jazz.

Then the nice publicity people at Fine Line treated us to lunch, so I got to hang out with my friends a little longer and see a few more people whom I'd not seem for a couple of years. It goes like this: "Albert? Albert, hi!" "Karen! Karen, what're you doing here again?" "Same old, same old. Going to the movies." "So what have you seen?" Then we drop titles the way Vanity Fair drops names and hug each other, promising to get together for dinner or lunch on the beach (knowing it won't happen, but sincere about what a nice idea it would be).

Then I went over to a long sloping lawn in front of the Grand Hotel and we interviewed an Stellan Skarsgard, a star from Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves." He has eyes the color of Egyptian lapis lazuli, and he let us know that von Trier wasn't even out on the oil rig to direct the hairy-scary scenes in the storm when the rig blows - seems von Trier is afraid of any form of locomotion and couldn't "break the waves."

Then Katrin Cartlidge (heroine in "Naked") and Jean-Marc Barr (lots of French films), who are both in the movie, sat down to chat about whether actors are artists or prostitutes. They had a good argument, then went on their way. The sun was still shining.

People were still mellow. There aren't the crowds that usually find coming into Cannes just to stand around and gawk. There aren't that many people who even came to be gawked at. Don't get me wrong. It's not sparse. But you can walk down the street, and it's not unpleasant. There seem to be two reasons for this. First, the strike hit France hard, and a bit of recovery is still going on, so people aren't spending money like they did. Secondly, there was no strike in the U.S., but the Americans are not here in force, and the rumor is that they're miffed, because Europeans laugh at many of the big Hollywood films that studio execs try to pawn off on the Cannes Film Festival as art. Art is something the French feel quite good at. It's hard to tell them "Last Action Hero" is an existential character study.

An old friend from Australia is here with his latest film, so I wandered through the curving streets of Cannes to one of the regular cineplexes tucked away behind some shops to attend what is called a market screening. This means it's not one of the films officially selected for the festival, but it's on display and being sold to various countries - called "territories."

Paul Cox's latest gem is called "Lust and Revenge" and I laughed through all but two scenes, and in one of those I was so touched I almost cried. It's very clever and the performances are spot-on. Afterward, Paul was standing in the lobby and everybody congratulated him and was so proud - almost as if they shared in his success simply because they've known him for so long and appreciated his work. Or maybe it was just the persistence of the sunshine.

Then I ran into a highly intellectual European critic who always has very deep things to say about everything. A cloud moved slowly across that ball of fire shining down on my head, but I listened while he analyzed something I had said in a press conference, corrected my opinion, then asked me to write an article for his magazine expressing my point of view - since others like me might also be wrong but find it interesting. The sun peeked back out, so I consented and came back to my room to shower and get dressed to the nines for two South American parties tonight.

The Argentinian party was a very dignified and pleasant affair with champagne and canapes, campari and soda. They announced the revival of their own film festival at Mar del Plata, a place kind of like Cannes, where in November a fiesta like this will be launched. Such a good idea - there should be film festivals all over the world, wherever there is enough sun outside to make up for the hours of darkness while watching other peoples' dreams.

By 8 pm I was getting hungry, so a group of us - a lovely English-Argentinian woman named Dianna, a very important South American distributor Alex, a Canadian publicist called Susan in a nifty dress, American Robert whose hobby is food, my pal Pedro who loves to eat, and me - headed toward the old port to eat fish soup and do some people watching. The restaurant we chose was so nice, we wound up eating and drinking and laughing. Lots of old friends stopped by the table to tell us of today's successes - and make us promise not to tell. "The ink's not dry."

About midnight we joined some more South Americans at a Mexican party on a terrace above the Majestic Hotel. The women all had flashing eyes, and we talked about a movie project on the life of Che Guevara, and everybody had different opinions of how it should be made...under the moonlight of a perfect night on the Riviera. This is how it's supposed to be - this is the point of the pilgrimage. Goodnight, Moon.

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