Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day 3: What's Wrong With This Picture?

by Henri Béhar

CANNES - Friday, May 9

What's great with this picture? Everything. The picture in question is Robert Guediguian's "Marius and Jeannette", the French - nay, fiercely Marseillais - film that opened the Un Certain Regard sidebar. When was the last time you saw people on screen that you wanted to hug and slap at the same time - each one of them -; that you feel are just like your neighbors, except they have tons of humor; that make you laugh, and tear up, and at the end you just realize that character-driven, bittersweet, wacky comedy is *also* a political movie?

Robert Guediguian's film is to be savored like one of those mid-afternoon cocktails only native Provencals know the secret of. 180° from the crassness of flaunt-your-dough Croisette. Entirely shot, like Guediguian's previous films, in L'Estaque, Marseilles's northern district, it deals with - urgh, I know - people-like-you-and-me. Marius lives alone in an immense, disused cement factory which he guards prior to its demolition. Jeannette brings her two children up on a meagre check-out girl's salary and lives in a tiny house that opens onto a typical Mediterranean-style courtyard. A family of neighbors, gently, funnily dysfunctional, faint echoes of Le Penn's right-wing propaganda machine. You hold your breath for fear the director might add one false note to his garlic-flavored chamber music piece. He doesn't. A petite miracle.

What's fun with this picture? Just about everything. The first French entry in competition, Manuel Poirier's "Western" is an epic that takes place within a few hundred acres of South Britanny, a "road movie" where the characters walk instead of drive (their cars are stolen or break down), and head *east*. One, Paco the hunk, is catalan, from Northern Spain, the other, frizzy haired, a Russian of Italian origin (don't ask). They team up when the latter steals the former's car and turn into the loveliest, most relaxed Laurel and Hardy combo you've seen in years. It was (splendidly) shot in wide-screen format; after all, says the director, " 'Western' is the story of humble folks who *deserve* Cinemascope."

What's wrong with this picture? Everything. Tearing up the quaint little coffee-shop/tea-room of the Splendid Hotel, in the midst of the Allees gardens, "they" have come up with a Planet Hollywood that is the insolent replica of every other Planet Hollywood, complete with neons that go schwing, shebab, pow, plop, wizzzz. Yes, co-owner Bruce was there for the opening, and Demi, and Sly. And the venue is bound to be the site for many a party during the festival.

The locals aren't taking too kindly to the addendum. Esthetically, it's as if Burger King had replaced Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue. Sociologically, festival-wise, it's a mistake. It's as if the superstars, ensconced in luxury apartments and bungalows at the Hotel Du Cap (twenty minutes from Cannes), had created their own space in town, and phooey to you, frogs, phooey to your cuisine and your mores and your ways. Consider yourselves lucky if you're accepted in *our* territory. Cultural blindness at its most blatant.

What's weird with this picture? At the party that followed the midnight screening of Abel Ferrara's "Black Out", painter-turned-director Julian ("Basquiat") Schnabel played the bass - Ferrara tried his hand at lead guitar - while actors Claudia Schiffer, Beatrice Dalle and Matthew Modine watched or, eek!, sang. They were still puzzled by their press conference which had been, well, hectic. A standup comic of the lowest caliber had infiltrated the p.c. room and asked to be directed to the loo. He was efficiently escorted out. True to form, Abel Ferrara was such a talking machine that Beatrice Dalle, she of "Betty Blue" fame, had to put her hand to his mouth so she could answer a question. Commenting on her first film role, Claudia Schiffer kept her cool and handled reporters like a pro. After a day full of trampoline interviews, they all let it hang out. Suddenly it was dawn, the children of the night scurried back to their hotels, the rest of us washed our faces and braced up for the 8:30 am screening.

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