Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #6: Powerbook in Hand

by Lisa Nesselson

May 15

A mad dash to the Palais for the 8:30 AM screening of Jacques Audiard's "Un Hero tres Discret" ("A Self-Made Hero"), which I must subsequently write up for VARIETY. Some journalists thrive under pressure but I'm not one of them. The screening is over at 10:15 and my completed review is due at 1. I'm lugging my Powerbook and the nightlight I use to check electrical outlets to make sure they're safe before plugiing in the computer. Sure enough, every work station is occupied in the 5th floor "press room" so I set up shop on the floor in an alcove nearby that has an outlet for a vacumn cleaner. I haven't sat in this spot since 1994 when I had to deliver my review of Kieslowski's "Red" in exactly the same time frame. Then, as now, I was very enthusiastic about the film.

Marie Llamedo, the publicist for International Critics Week happens by, looks at all the stuff I have spread out around me (canteen of water, box of M & M's, computer case, shoulder bag, coat, notepad, pencils, press kits in French and in English, dictionary, the rubber ball I squeeze between bouts of typing to ward off symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome) and asks "Is this a sit-in?"

I meet my deadline and trundle off to a luncheon aboard the Don Juan, the snazzy boat chartered by French pay-TV giant Canal+ (pronounced Kaaah nahl plooss) to attend an intimate gathering in honor of Equinoxe, the French screenwriting lab modelled after Sundance. Noelle Deschamps -- who is a successful producer and a major sweetie -- started Equinoxe in 1993 in order to "encourage writers, directors and producers of independent films, both in Europe and the United States, to write, direct and produce films that can reach national audiences as well as European and International ones."

Twice a year, Equinoxe sponsors screenwriting workshops at the gorgeous Chateau Beycheville near Bordeaux. Noelle is doing a great job of implanting the idea that screenplays really can be improved through the process of several drafts -- which is still a heretical thought in some quarters in France.

I am seated -- to my great delight -- next to Rolf De Heer, whose "Bad Boy Bubby" is one of my favorite films of the past five years. Rolf clears up once and for all why he used 32 different directors of photography on the film and explains that the film was picked up for American distribution but that, alas, litigation is currently underway. His latest film, "The Quiet Room," told entirely from the point of view of a 7 year old girl who has stopped speaking because her parents' problematic realtionship gets on her nerves, is showing here on Friday the 17th. Can't wait.

Lunch is very quick because I don't want to miss the short films in Competition at 2:30. The shorts are usually a highlight, but this year's crop turns out to be pretty feeble. The exceptions are "Sin number 8" by Barbara Heller, which makes neat work of incautious gossip in under two minutes; Jonathan Ogilvie's riotously funny "This Film is a Dog," which relates an Australian canine's trip to Cannes in hopes of selling a film project (the dog is an independent filmmaker with a vision); "Attraction" by Alexei Diomine, a Russian animated film in which little critters attempt to plant a flag on a mountaintop; and parts of Michael Liu's "Film Noir" in which two would-be indie filmmakers in Australia make fun of Quentin Tarantino's profanity-strewn dialogue, which they consider to be pretty lame. The later is mostly audio and features a nifty shot of an eye scooped out with a spoon. The program ended on a bittersweet note with Nanni Moretti's "Il Giorno Della Prima Di Close Up" which follows events at Moretti's art house, the Nuovo Sacher, on opening day of Abbas Kiarostami's "Close Up." Suffice it to say that the box office results at other theaters are heartier.

Curling up with a book seems like it would be very restful on the eyes right about now, so later in the afternoon I was delighted to happen upon the English Bookshop of Cannes where seasoned film journalist Angus Finney happened to be signing copies of his cleverly named account of the rise and fall of Palace Pictures, "The Egos Have Landed." Angus tells me the book is about to go into a second printing, so I'm pleased to snap up the first edition. It's all about Nik Powell and Steve Woolley, two brash young British producers whose films include "Scandal" and "The Crying Game" as well as such all-star misguided idiocy as "High Spirits." (It may come as a surprise to the people of America, but French audiences thought "The Crying Game" was pretty dumb. It lasted only a few weeks in Paris cinemas.)

Jaco Van Dormael's "Le 8eme Jour" screened tonight for the press and was roundly booed, although some people adored it. Much of the movie made me cringe, but I was charmed to the rafters when Van Dormael offered up a singing mouse, just like the harmonious rodents in "Babe," who does a dandy job of lip-synching a Luis Mariano hit from the '50s (Mariono is a piano-toothed Spaniard who sings about his mom in melifluous French). Although this pic is a syruppy mess, it shares a few thematic similarities with Lars Von Trier's "Breaking the Waves": a pure, God-loving spirit, touched by grace, leads more worldly types toward personal redemption through selfless acts.

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