Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #7: You and the Night and the Temptress Mooooooooon....

by Karen Jaehne

May 13, 1996

Peter Greenaway has been declared the most unpopular film director here, and there are people lobbying against his film being brought to America - or anywhere else. Of course, Bernardo Bertolucci doesn't have such a hot rep either, and he hasn't yet arrived, so Greenaway may even lose the one title he's got.

After yelling at journalist Peter Brunette, who asked a question about the use of nudity in "The Pillow Book", Greenaway would not stop. With an arrogance that only an insufferable Brit can summon, he humiliated the poor man, only later to have to admit that he, the one and only Greenaway, had made a film full of Chinese ideograms - but he doesn't know any Chinese or Japanese. He had experts, he claimed. "Who'd work for him? And how long?" quipped Peter Brunette.

To top off such bad behavior, Greenaway then refused to meet some actors from today's big film, "Breaking the Waves", by Lars von Trier (director of "Zentropa" and "The Hospital"). One of these actors, Udo Kier, has a much longer career than Greenaway and is a mensch, but Greenaway wanted nothing to do with Lars von Trier or his actors. Good grief, Gerti, lighten up, we say.

Then another exciting, packed Miramax screening took place tonight. Executives and the press sat cheek by jowl (the execs have jowls, so figure it out yourself) for Chinese director Chen Kaige's "Temptress Moon". It's a lavish story of pre-Communist China where all the men slink around like Christopher Walken with a cigarette holder, the Chinese women are exquisite passion-flowers, and opium is the family's drug of choice.

When a daughter is made head of the family - because her brother is an opiated zombie - the first thing she does is turn all the concubines and wives of her father and grandfather out of the house. Her reason? "There's nothing for them to do here anymore." People giggled, but not very loudly, because the Miramax people were watching us watch the movie, and we were all on our best behavior.

But as it proceeds, "Temptress Moon" gets into a kind of "Gone With the Wind" love story, and it's the perfect moment for one of them to say, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a dim-sum." Instead, some woman threw herself off a balcony (on screen, not from the theater). But its best moment was the opening scene, in which a father explains to this pretty little Chinese girl the joys of opium, and gasps smoke into her face. In the next scene, she's racing around pulling the tablecloths out from under the bingo cards at a party, so I guess her parents may have started her too young.

"Temptress Moon" and another Miramax film today had this drug defense in common. "Train Spotting" is Danny Boyle's movie about kids who'd rather do heroin than anything else, and the movie spends a lot of time explaining what a helluva lotta fun it truly is. It takes place in Edinburgh among working class kids with no future. It's a huge hit in the U.K. - really big! It's hard to imagine it playing in the USA, though. Who's going to say, oh yeah, let's show this pro-heroin movie. Even if the hero does skip out in the end to start a new life (after showing the virtual impossibility of that), its defense of heroin's pleasures is going to get a whole lotta hackles up.

Drugs were big today - so what did I do? Drank a little champagne at the yacht party and took an aspirin to ease the pain of the noisy music in "Train Spotting." The drug of choice at Cannes is, of course, movie stars. People just can't get enough of them, but I didn't see a single one all day long. Hard to believe, but four movies and a party and Chinese food with some fellow scribes soaked up the day (like a piece of crusty bread dunked in one of the bowls of coffee they serve here in the south of France).

I did see lots of old friends today - the veteran Cannes-combers - the circuit of critics from Los Angeles to Berlin, Edinburgh to Argentina, a few film directors who are not too pretentious to go out and go to somebody else's movie (Paul Cox, Alejandro Agresti, Robert Altman), the people who buy the films and take them back to their own countries for the public to ask "Where did they find this one?" and people from the Museum of Modern Art and festivals of New York, Toronto, London, L.A., San Francisco, San Sebastian, Venice, Berlin, etc, etc.

Truth to tell, what really constitutes the core of this festival are about 200 regulars whose jobs are connected to seeing lots and lots of movies, making snap judgements and moving on to the next phase or festival. The stars? They twinkle, sometimes never to be seen again. We Capistrano swallow-types share lots of strange and wonderful memories. Today, I ran into David Stratton, who was once a Variety colleague and Director of the Sydney Film Festival, but most important he's an old friend with whom I knocked around in Yugoslavia in 1977 looking for roasted piglet and finding a movie showing "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" in Serbo-Croatian. We've grown older, the world's grown worse, but civil war has not broken out in Cannes - yet - so we're as young as the movies will let us be.

Wait! I just saw a star! It's either Steve Buscemi or a gas station attendant. No, it's Steve - and he's so nice! Aw, shucks. A rare day at Cannes thrown back into banality. Yo, Steve, tell us what your next project will be - and how do you like the beer on the Riviera? Back to the grindstone......

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