Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day 8: I Remember

by Henri Béhar

CANNES, May 14 -- Perhaps a tad too respectful, Anna-Maria Tato's "I Remember" is a moving tribute to Marcello Mastroianni. The film opens on the shadow profile of the actor reminiscing about his childhood in a long, freewheeling, free-associating monologue. The text of the film has just been published in French and Italian. I decide to read a page every morning.

In order to attend the press conference, actor Vittorio Gassman, with whom Mastroianni made his acting debut, has postponed his departure for Rome. Anna-Maria Tato tells how the movie came together and was shot during the filming of Manoel de Oliveira's "Journey to the Beginning of the World." Robert Altman is angry that Tato's film is not in competition. "I'd give it immediately the Golden Palm." But documentaries are not eligible, sir. "I don't care. I haven't seen here one film that is 1/10th as good as this one."

"Funny Games" by Michael Haneke, the first Austrian film in competition in 35 years. A shocking tale of horror by which the filmmaker intends to "resensitize" us to violence. A well-off bourgeois family sets up for the summer in a villa by a lake. Knocking on their door ostensibly to borrow some eggs, their neighbors - two very proper young men - turn this trip into a nightmare. They very politely take the family hostage and start, just as politely, to bump them off one by one, starting with their 7-year-old son. The passionate and angry debate that follows the screening on the steps of the Palais is a throwback to the fistfights that greeted Syberberg's "Parsifal" a couple of decades ago. No doubt the controversy will flare up again when the film is commercially released.

After "Hamlet", "Tromeo and Juliet" by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. A gory version of the Ro and Ju story, complete with piercing, vomit, sex sex sex and interrelated piss (don't ask). Maybe Shakespeare can cope. I can't.

Four Tibetan monks sing a prayer and throw rose petals under the portico of a temple erected on the Majestic Hotel terrace. It's 1:00 in the morning, and Martin Scorsese is secretly showing twelve minutes of "Kundun", the film he's completing on the Dalai Lama. "The best directors in the world are Chinese and they're not here," he thunders, referring to the absence of directors Zhang Yimou and Zhang Huan, banned from Cannes by the Beijing government. Obviously, "Kundun" too has drawn the ire of the Chinese authorities.

Scorsese has been asked by Japanese director, who directed him as Van Gogh in his "Dreams", to be his second-in-command on "The Mask of Red Death," which he plans to adapt from the famous Edgar Allen Poe novel.

Today's flavor is Australian. Shown last night at midnight, "Welcome to Woop Woop" is a vile, joyfully nasty comedy. Pursued by small-time gangsters in the streets of Manhattan, a charming young hooligan runs so fast that he arrives in Sydney. There, in the bush, he meets a nymphomaniac virgin. Clubbed, kidnapped, he wakes up married and stuck in the little village of Woop Woop (don't bother to look it up on the maps), a community of congenital dodos ruled by the lad's father-in-law, an out-of-this-world kingdom where the dollar has been replaced by marbles as the only acceptable currency, where the radio and cinema only broadcast and show musical comedies by Rogers and Hammerstein ("The King and I", "The Sound of Music"). Director Stephan Elliot must hate tourists, Club Med and muzak. Once the film is finished (it's now only a "work in progress"), if "Welcome to Woop Woop" keeps the frantic pace of its first 20 minutes, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" can get herself to a nunnery.

The last time you saw Guy Pearce, he was lip-synching opera in full femme regalia reclining in a gigantic silver slipper on top of a van driving through the Australian outback. For Curtis Hanson's "L.A. Confidential" (in competition), Pearce has traded his "Priscilla" atours for the very straight suit (Armani) of a police inspector in the 1950's Los Angeles. Why an Australian to play a California cop? The answer is simple: the guy is a smashing actor.

Yet he has the least juicy of the three male parts (don't touch it). A killer in "Romper Stomper", but a puppy (and gay) in "The Sum of Us", brutal in "Virtuosity", but non-violent (up to a point) in Sharon Stone-starrer "The Quick and the Dead", Russell Crowe - who's also Australian - plays here a sort of tormented Dirty Harry. The Golden Palm of Panache, however, goes to Kevin Spacey. The gimp that possibly knew the secret of "Usual Suspects"' Kaiser Soze plays here a crooked cop who cares more for his media image and bank account than for justice rendered. All three cops investigate a murder committed in Hollywood, the world's capital of illusion and delusion.

Alone at the bar ordering a stiff liquor, her face hidden by a black satin hood and a pale blonde lock of hair... This is how we first see Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential." Her character? A starlet stranded in Hollywood who turns into a prostitute for a ring that specializes in providing its clients with companions whoses faces have been surgically altered to make them look like famous stars (Kim Basinger's model is Veronica Lake). "Shooting this film", she says at the press conference, "made me nostalgic for a time that I'd dreamt of when I was a kid. It was probably easier then to be a sex symbol. Nowadawys, studios no longer look for this kind of beauty that fascinated me and transported me. They seem more attracted to the girl-next-door type, with whom audiences can more easily identify." Claiming today she is "a mother above all," Basinger admits that despite her ambition at the time, she did pass on career-making roles.

A writer of thrillers, some autobiographical, James Ellroy is one of America's leading novelists, and his coming to Cannes is an event. An expert in the art of shocking, he peppers his discourse with "fucks" and "fuckings". He always wanted to dynamite the notion of "the California thriller", he says. One still can't help putting his works up there with those of James Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Harking back to a film genre that, for all intents and purposes, belongs to the golden age of Hollywood, "L.A. Confidential" is as intensely pleasurable as an old blanket that you wrap yourself in on a cold winter night. Keeps your heart and body warm but, lift it a bit, and a million memories will come back of long-buried dreams, dry or wet.

The "L.A. Confidential" party also harks back to the grand tradition. Everyone is there, including James Ellroy wearing a kilt (??!!). Cars and limos from the 1950's, incredible villa in the hills overlooking the bay, multi-storied lawns, little gardens and leafy alcoves on the side. I chose the rose garden. The eyes, today, are violet. Contact lenses, but so what?

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