Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #3: Women in Film

by Lisa Nesselson

May 14th

The Second Annual Prix Cristal, a black tie affair at the Chateau de Napoule in Cannes' neighboring town of Mandelieu-La Napoule, sponsored by 'Cercle du Cinema et de l'Audiovisuel,' which claims to be the French affiliate of the US.-based international non-profit organization Women in Film, teaches us that women are strong and resourceful. For example, any woman who always carries a serrated knife in her handbag was equipped to slice the roast duck breast that was served, whereas those participants who relied only on the flatware provided were put in the awkward position of trying to saw their chow with a close relative of the butter knife.

The evening was a fund-raiser for the Worldwide Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, headed by Professor Luc Montagnier (who identified and isolated the AIDS virus). Great cause. Alas, the story of Women in Film in France bears unpleasant parallels to the Franco-American struggle to assign credit where credit is due in the "We were first" chase to hunt down HIV. I will not sully cyberspace with the details, except to say that many of the celebrity presenters and distinguished jurors were mildly bamboozled -- they thought that they were volunteering under the auspices of Women in Film when, in fact, Women in Film's blessing appears to have been given to another group, known as 'Femmes Cinema et Audiovisuel'. The same Michele Leblanc who did a bang-up job of hosting and translating throughout the ceremony, was the first president of FCA. When she was voted out by the disgruntled membership, she created a splinter group and proceeded to behave as if FCA doesn't exist. ("But it does, Blanche, it does.") The 'Cercle du Cinema et de l'Audiovisuel,' letterhead says it's the standard bearer of Women in Film, in France. FCA's letterhead says IT'S the French branch of Women in Film. Let's cast Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and make a made-for-TV movie.

French director Robert Enrico and American legend Robert Altman are reportedly among the Prix Cristal participants who were chagrined to discover that they'd lent their support to the "wrong" group.

Be that as it may, the evening was an entertaining blend of classy and less classy. Outstanding French Actress award recipient Fanny Ardant -- who is terrific in Competition opener "Ridicule" and is also currently blazing a trail at the French box-office in the smash comedy "Pedale Douce" ('What a Drag') -- swept in and out as graciousness personified. Ms. Ardant is very tall and she has enough perfect gleaming teeth to light up a small Third World country. Ms. Ardant has many exceptional talents but, like so many of us, only two hands. Which meant that even she had trouble juggling her magnificent Lalique statuette and a huge bouquet of fresh flowers AND a wooden box only slightly smaller than a coffin containing a frighteningly large bottle of champagne. Covering the range of human emotions, much as she does when pursuing her craft and earning a living, Ardant remarked, "The great thing about champagne is, it's handy if you have a reason to celebrate and it's a comfort when you're unhappy."

Everyone at our table was unhappy when the main course arrived, since getting through the duck with the utensils provided was a bit like getting into the Palais without accreditation: impossible.

Emma Thompson was unable to pick up her award (for international achievement) in person. Prize presenter David Carradine gave a lusty, throaty kiss to fellow American, Karen Black, who accepted in Thompson's stead.

Presenter Martin Landau took obvious pleasure in giving Elsa Zylberstein ("Mina Tannenbaum", "Farinelli") her trophy as Most Promising Young Actress. Mademoiselle Zylberstein is not going to rack up any awards as best extemporaneous speaker any time soon, but she looked genuinely touched by the honor. Perusing the 26-title strong filmography of producer Vera Belmont, winner of the Prix Cristal Artistique, presenter Robert Altman remarked "Most of these are in French - but with a film like "Fucking Fernand" to her credit, you know she can't be all bad." (The comedy "Fucking Fernand" starred Thierry L'Hermitte as a blind man trying to make his way across occupied France during WWII. The French, you will recall, do not get up in arms about "dirty" words or even exposed body parts - as a stroll along the beach here in Cannes will immediately prove. For example, in France, one only had to be age 13 to gain admittance to the UNCUT version of "Basic Instinct" or "Wild at Heart" -- both of which must be artistic ventures, because they played Cannes. Lynch's "Wild at Heart" even won. ) The Prix Cristal also honored the late Grace Kelly. The pleasant woman who accepted the award on behalf of the late film star-slash-princess revealed that when, as a child, she met Ms. Kelly, she knew her only as Here Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco and was completely unaware of her film career. Speaking of being blissfully unaware, while aboard the shuttle bus that took us to the Chateau, I struck up a conversation with a nice young American man on his first visit to Cannes. As our chariot made its way down the Croisette, my husband and I pointed out sites of interest and utility to a novice Festival-goer. These included the Noga Hilton, whose sub-basement theater is home to the Directors' Fortnight and Cinemas en France screenings. Mr. Newcomer dutifully gazed out upon the Noga -- which monopolizes a city block and can only be described as a monstrosity when one thinks back on the airy, distinguished Old Palais that bit the dust to make way for this shiny newcomer. (The Noga may be a perfectly pleasant place to sleep or gamble, but it's an eyesore). And Mr. Newcomer made the following pronouncement: "I really hate that unfortunate '70s architecture." Me, too. Especially when one considers that the Noga Hilton was built in the '90s.

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