Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #6: Whose Film?

by Karen Jaehne

May 15, 1996

Estimating the number of films being shown here at the festival is like counting the sands of time. Movies, movies, movies! It's like a world wrapped - Christo-style - in celluloid.

But try to find a particular little movie, as I did today, and you get lost in the tower of Babel of the Cannes market. My producer-friend Michael Nolin had told me to take a gander at his picture, which he'd just finished and would be in the market here at Cannes. It's his first directorial effort, and he's proud of it, so I set out to see the Michael Nolin debut film, as one might say out here among the cinema-savants.

Here, movies are spoken of as the works of their directors. Ergo, the Mike Leigh film or the Lars von Trier film. In the case of really famous directors, you don't even say "film." You just say, "I saw the Bertolucci." Or, did you find the Robert Altman exciting?" So, let's feret out "the Michael Nolin."

Standing outside on the vast plaza that surrounds the Palais, I close my eyes, ball my fists, and pull my nerves together. I am about the enter the Marché, where movies are bought and sold with the style of Turkish carpet merchants. I show the badge that I wear around my neck at all times. (To gain access to movies or moguls you need to be registered here). I enter and descend the steps to the bunker where a great number of sales companies are hawking their wares in booths like you'd find at any trade fair.

The "streets" of this souk (or is that "suk") are aisles that run between the temporary structures of white walls plastered with posters that promise things like "He wanted her. She fled. He shot." or "Her secret died at sundown." Then there's the dumb comedies: "The sun - the sea - the soup - Al Leventov is funnier than ever!" or "The hoax of the century! - How they painted the White House black!"

Now the salespeople are at least sophisticated enough not to call out "Movin' pitchuhs - getcha movin' pitchuhs here!" They lean against the counters where their brochures are placed and smoke small black cigarettes and smile wanly as you walk by. But you have this distinct feeling they don't speak a lot of English.

Sometimes they have a group of chairs or a comfortable little sofa around a coffee table with the brochures spread. This looks a little more inviting. The salesfolks are draped across the couch, sipping little glasses of liquid. They look up as you come by - "Hello, may I help you?"

I explain that I'm looking for a movie directed by Michael Nolin. "Michael Who? What's the name of the movie?" Stupid me, I can't remember - it had something to do with women. "Doesn't everything?" quips the man with the mitteleuropean accent. I think he's Hungarian, but that's not a nice thing to say. "Unless I know the title, I can't help you."

So I turn from the Rue Tarkovsky into the Rue Truffaut, passing in the process some stands with huge posters of half-clad babes brandishing weapons. I pause...would Michael's movie be here? No, he gave me a plot synopsis, and his babe was not armed. I move beyond the fleet of soft-core vessels and take a deep breath.

It's Kung Fu territory. Angry looking Asians with their feet in the air leap out of posters. Some of them have sharp objects in their hands, between their teeth. How do they do that stuff? Brisk business is going on here, and I'm sure Michael's love story did not take place in the Orient.

Here's a likely place - I recognize none of the names on any of the posters. But at least they're English. A lot of these movies look like souped up domestic comedies and tragedies: "Her son was in danger. Her marriage dying." or "Kidnapped! But by a kinder species" for "Loved in Space" (I'm not kidding here.) I ask if they have Michael's movie. They don't know his name, but one woman admits they're not exactly auteurists - they don't sell movies by the director at a stand like this. What do they sell them by? The kilo?

Oh, here's a stand that seems to specialize in surfing I'm moving faster now. Here's a big super stand in blue - French movies - it's built so you have to go inside; they're not open and friendly like the others. People are crowding to get in, because this morning a nice French film showed in competition, and the big French star Mathieu Kassowitz is very appealing in it.

I see several more likely places for Michael's film - small stands with small movies and very nice but slightly becalmed people who look like they'd rather by up in the big hotels where the really big companies have their offices. I hear two men talking quietly in a corner, and the one says, "It's a lot of money - we'll have to talk about this again tomorrow." The salesman runs his hand through his hear: "I'm sorry, but if I spent this much time with every customer, I'd never sleep."

No Michael Nolin pic. I'm getting frustrated, so I boogie outta here, drinking an eSpresso (yes, America, "espresso" - here it's spelled correctly) on my way out.

While I'm standing at the little bar watching my chocolate square melt in my coffee (you have your choice between sugar or chocolate), a friend comes up and he's fit to be tied. He just lost the American rights to a French film that he really wanted - "I'm the only one who knows how to make that movie work in the States." He's talking to himself, but I nod as if I feel his pain (a trick I learned from Bill Clinton).

Suddenly he says, "Let's ankle this burg." I look up hopefully and say, "We always have Paris." No, he thought just maybe a ride in the countryside. I quickly discover he's never been outside Cannes, so I agree - we can at least go as far as the Hotel du Cap where all the stars remove themselves behind the walled villa of a hotel and astronomical prices.

Confessions of a hooky-player.

We hop in his rent-a-car and start driving. Around the pool at the Hotel du Cap are some 20 very rich men - their pockets are as deep as their tans. Their blond companions look great in those bathing suits. We float around the premises, acting like we belong, hiding behind our sunglasses - drink a Campari - it's all so exquisite, it's like a parody of what people hope the Hotel du Cap will be. But it's already 3:30, so the stars are in their rooms cleaning their feet and buffing their nails for the evening.

So we go on to Antibes and roam around the quaint little town, which has some kind of Rosacrucian connection. Weird stars - not movie kind - on the buildings and beautiful cobbled streets and old stone buildings - and voila! The Picasso Museum where wonderful ceramics are on display that Picasso made when he was living in this particular place in 1946.

That's fun, so we keep going away from Cannes. "Monaco" says the sign on the European freeway. Yes.

We get to Monaco and there's a curious buzz. Tomorrow's the races! The Grand Prix, of course. I can't believe we got here just ahead of the paparazzi on their way up the hill from the Croisette in Cannes - exactly the atmosphere we were fleeing.

Then I see myself in the reflection of a very stylish window and realize I'm having a bad hairday. On the next street I see a coiffeur and solve that problem. Some people acquire things when they travel, I like to shed things.

With my new hair-do we go to the casino, find the Bar Americain and sit down to watch the swagger of the men coming and going. Yes, they must be drivers. And several of the men in the bar have elaborate mustaches and facial hair that would get them into a forest, if not a fancy party. Yet they're all wearing very expensive loose Italian clothing.

We watch the sun go down and decide not to go gambling. Just coming here was a big gamble for me, and I'm feeling very guilty about missing 2 of my 4 daily movies. Bad me, bad girl for going to Monaco - is that what they told Grace Kelly?

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