Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #1: On the TGV en Route to Cannes

by Lisa Nesselson

May 6--Yesterday morning, Variety's chief film critic Todd McCarthy called me at home in Paris to compare notes on films we've each managed to see before the Fest officially starts on Wednesday the 7th. (Of course, if you believe Newsweek, "opening night" is May 11th. More accurately, the 11th is the date chosen - at random, truth be told - to celebrate the Fest's 50th anniversary.)

Todd, a fairly reserved fellow, practically shrieks (as is "You've got to be kidding") when I tell him the May issue of the French edition of Premiere magazine gave Luc Besson's "The 5th Element" 4 stars (out of 4).

I tell Todd I saw Abel Ferrara's "The Blackout" on Sunday (the film is in the Official Selection but non-competing, to be shown at midnight on May 9th). Whereupon he says, "So, is the sex scene between the two women as hot as rumor has it?"

Let's see. It's been less than 24 hours since I saw the film, but nothing especially titillating springs to mind.

I venture: "Well, Dennis Hopper shoots video of two women together at one point. It's okay. It's more about Hopper calling the shots. My husband and I spent most of the scene trying to decide whether one chick's breasts were real or not. Is there supposed to be something special about those women?"

Todd: "You mean the scene isn't between Beatrice Dalle and Claudia Schiffer?"

It's my turn to (almost) shriek. Those two marquee names don't even meet in the film, let alone share libidinous screen chemistry.

Apparently stills have been circulating that would lead one to speculate that "The Blackout" might be the sequel to "Bound" starring Dalle and Schiffer.

Speaking of punctured dreams, French Minister of Culture Philippe Douste-Blazy is still in the hospital after being stabbed repeatedly in the back by a 37-year-old Albanian on furlough from a mental hospital. Before he became Mayor of Lourdes and Minister of Culture (in France, a politician may hold up to five offices simultaneously), Douste-Blazy worked as a cardiologist at the same Lourdes hospital to which he was rushed.

Douste-Blazy was on the podium at the Grand Hotel in Paris on April 22nd when the official Fest line-up was announced by Pierre Viot and Gilles Jacob. When the floor was opened to questions, a journalist asked: "French president Jacques Chirac is slated to attend the Festival on the 11th. In view of recent events, do you think Mr. Chirac will still be present in Cannes?"

Douste-Blazy got a big laugh by replying, deadpan, "What events?" (Chirac had just announced that he was dissolving both houses of Parliament. The two-phase general election takes place on May 25th and June 1st.)

"I can't speak for the President, but I can assure you the Minister of Culture will be there," continued the Minister of Culture. "And I sincerely hope Mr. Chirac is able to join us, because the eyes of the world will be riveted on France."

To recap: Minister vows to keep an appointment. Ten days later he's stabbed in the back by an Albanian mental patient - in Lourdes, no less, where the lame walk and the mute speak. Scratch the appointment.

If you put that in a movie it would seem hackneyed beyond belief.

I wish the Minister a speedy and complete recovery. And maybe Claudia and Beatrice would like to take time out from their busy schedule necking for the camera to cheer him up.

This morning, as I scrambled to fit too much gear into too many pieces of luggage (as soon as you've got formal wear and a laptop computer, you're well on the way to unwieldy), I realized that, mentally, I've been packing since January. I got a pedicure and had two pairs of shoes re-soled in preparation for Cannes.

It's pouring rain, natch. I have notes to myself on the backs of envelopes strewn all over the house: Pack extension cord. Pack computer disks. Find ergonomic pen. Now where did I put my Good Attitude and Infinite Patience?

When I and my luggage arrive at the Gare de Lyon it's like I've gone through a demographic time warp. Everyone is over 70 and has been told their next pension payment is contingent on grazing the American woman's shoulder bag, gouging the instep of her freshly re-soled shoes or (bonus!) dislocating her shoulder while mumbling "Pardon."

As I write these words I'm on the TGV and my arm still works. So far, so good.

On page 4 of the international edition of USA Today for May 6th, I spot an item that puts the difficulty of getting into Cannes screenings into perspective.

According to the newspaper 'Yediot Ahronot,' the office of the Prime Minister of Israel "bought 60 tickets to a Tel Aviv theater so that Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, could see 'Breaking the Waves' in safety. Undercover security people also took over the running of the theater, posing as ushers and leading regular customers to their seats. The tickets reportedly cost Israeli taxpayers $410."

Yikes. When the process is that involved, you really have to choose your movies carefully. Four hundred and ten dollars for "Breaking the Waves" or, say, "Fargo?" Definitely. For "The Blackout?" Nah.

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