Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day 9: Too Much

by Henri Béhar

CANNES, May 15th -- Too much is too much. Today, I promise, I swear, no parties. Only films.

Starts real strong at 8:00 a.m. A favorite target for fundamentalists - several of his films have been banned in his native Egypt - filmmaker Yussef Chahine makes a vibrant appeal for tolerance. "Destiny"'s main character is Averroes, philosopher, poet, doctor, astronomer, mathematician - and a Moslem. The man lived in Cordoba in the 12th century, but the message is highly contemporary: intolerance is in the upswing; everywhere, religious fundamentalism is interfering more and more in the political and cultural life. Better to convey his message, Chahine mixes all sorts of film genres: western, musical, medieval epic, Oriental melodrama with a pinch of Flamenco. Of course, one thinks of Salman Rushdie, one thinks of Chahine himself - and the festival-goers are sure they've just seen the Golden Palm.

Unless the top award goes to Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter." Based on the eponymous novel by Russell Banks, it is a powerful, haunting work. The action, if one may use the word liberally, takes place in the dead of winter in the small Canadian town of Sam Dent. The film describes the impact on the tightly-knit community of an accident in which a school bus suddenly skids off the road and provokes the death of most of the village's children. The accident and its consequences are told in jump cuts, time cuts and through several points-of-view, a la Kurosawa's "Rashomon." It's not as complicated as it seems. On the contrary it is as luminous as a fairytale. Or, more to the point, as Robert Browning's "The Pied Piper of Hamlin." If Atom Egoyan's films are as sparse as a haiku, the man himself is warm, messy, scruffy, passionate. After all, he is Mediterranean.

Violence on screen, violence in the street. Arguments, fist fights on the pavements and in the bars after the press screening of Mathieu Kassovitz's "Assassin(s)." Can't wait until the film is shown tomorrow night to the public.

The best resolutions don't hold longer than snow under the noon sun. Just dropped by Jean Francoise Richet's "My City is About to Explode." party for a quick hello. Strike that. We smurfed with the B-Boys until dawn.

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