Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day 7: Disneyland by Dante

by Henri Béhar

CANNES, May 13th - Jack Lemmon called the festival a circus, but hastened to add he had one of the best seats. For Roman Polanski, it's a zoo, "but we all love animals, don't we?" Robin Williams adds his freshly-minted two cents. "Cannes," he decrees during an impromptu press conference, "is Disneyland by Dante."

A rumor: juror Paul Auster, novelist and screenwriter ("Smoke", "Blue in the Face"), is about to make his directorial debut. "Lulu on the Bridge" is the story of a jazz saxophone player whose existence takes an unexpected turn when he's caught in a gun fire and is wounded. Juliette Binoche might be in it. Not as the sax player, we hope.

Everyone is still talking about Shohei Imamura's "The Eel." "What a genius," some say. "Not quite up to his genius," sniff the others. "But it's bound to be the Golden Palm," say both clans. Another one I'll have missed.

Symphony For a Massacre. Francesco Rosi's "The Truce" is badly received at the morning screening, and the press conference promises to be somewhat agitated. Adapted from an autobiographical book by Italian writer Primo Levi, "The Truce" retraces the author's life during his last days at Auschwitz's extermination camp, its liberation by the Red Army and his long trek back to his house in Torino. Director Rosi had dreamt of this project since 1987. At the time, to impersonate Primo Levi, he was looking for a "sort of Woody Allen 25 years ago."

"That would have been a monumental mistake," John Turturro protests laughing. "Thank God time played in my favor." The two men met in 1991, the year Turturro was Best Actor for "Barton Fink". They met again in 1992, the year Turturro, now a filmmaker, presented "Mac" at the Director's Fortnight. Martin Scorsese, a common friend, played the go-between. Turturro read Primo Levi's entire work and, throughout the shoot in Russia, rediscovered his European roots (his father immigrated from Italy to the United States at the age of 6). Half-Italian, half-American, he says he is "stuck in the middle of the ocean." His favorite filmmakers are generally Europeans: Vittorio De Sica (Italy), Michael Powell (UK), Francois Truffaut (France), and above all, Jean Renoir, whom he literally worships. "'The Grand Illusion'? I wanted it to stop, I was so afraid it wouldn't be as good to the end." An intimate epic on a traveling theater company in the 19th century, "Illuminata", which director Turturro starts shooting at the end of July, is a tribute to Renoir's "Golden Coach" and "French Can-Can" with a bit of Marcel Carne's "Children of Paradise" thrown in for good measure.

The same multiculturalism, but to the power of 10, was what struck most at the French Vogue luncheon on the Carlton Beach. A cautious hostess, Joan Juliet Buck had initially arranged three tables: one for the Frogs, one for the Anglos, one for the rest. In less than 5 minutes, Bernardo Bertolucci, his wife Claire Peploe, Anjelica Huston, Charlotte Rampling, Helen Mirren, Anouk Aimee were moving tables and chairs, turning the whole thing into one gigantic picnic table. "*Piove*, et alors, what is the problem?" is the kind of sentences Bertolucci is apt to utter, embodying a linguistic Europe years before the economic one is to jell. Pigozzi chats in Italian with Anouk Aimee who interrupts him to ask a question in English to Anjelica Huston, who answers in French. Lauren Bacall takes photographs of everybody with her Minolta. And when Christian Slater drops by to say hello, he and Bacall exchange a quick look. Whispering in her ear, he asks whether she, too, feels language-impaired. "You betcha," she answers with her legendary gravelly voice.

Mirren turns to Charlotte Rampling. "Do you know I've been jealous of you for a long time?" she says. "Are you serious?" Rampling replies. Absolutely. Mirren envies Rampling for having given her career an international dimension, for being as much at home in English cinema as she is in Hollywood or in Paris. Not so many years ago, when she was working at Peter Brook's Theater Workshop, Mirren had rented a little "mansarde" in the Quartier Latin hoping to work with French directors. "As things turned out," she says, "from that very moment, all I did was fly back to London; that's where the work was. After a year, I gave up my studio. I always regretted it." Taken aback, touched, Rampling doesn't know what to say.

Saved by the bell. Her son, David, who wants to be a magician, is performing a magic trick for Anjelica Huston. A related question: How could Charlotte Rampling, so slim, give birth this 20-year-old kid who is 6'11" and still growing?

Bernardo Bertolucci leaves the table to participate in a debate on cinema. The conversation continues in all languages, hopscotching from one culture to another. Unbelievable as it may sounds, these people actually travel, go to the theater, visit exhibitions, and *read*. Books. Without thinking that they might be turned into "properties". Who says film folks only think of themselves? Probably people like the big fat sweaty American sitting at the table nearby with a cigar in his mouth and a cellular phone in his ear. Shaking his double chin in our direction, this caricature of the 1950s "big producer" wonders loudly why "those Barbarians [us] can't speak English like everybody else."

Barbarians, indeed, sir, and proud to be.

Suddenly it's 4:30. Where did the afternoon go?

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