Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #2: Im Memory of Marco Ferreri

by Lisa Nesselson

May 10, 1997--The Italian film director Marco Ferreri died Friday night, May 9, in Paris. He would have been 69 on Sunday. The Festival is dedicating the 50th Anniversary festivities that day to his memory.

Very few movies are as solidly, uncompromisingly subversive as his "La Grande Bouffe" (1973) in which a group of friends decide to eat themselves to death. Mike Figgis may have taken some inspiration for "Leaving Las Vegas" - in which Nicolas Cage's character decides to drink himself to death and proceeds to do so - from Ferreri.

I think if it were possible to do yourself in by watching too many movies, the Croisette would be littered with bodies. As I charge through the celluloid jungle of my tenth Cannes, I find it encouraging to spot the diminuitive Spanish gentleman with the thick glasses who has attended ever single festival since the beginning. Sometimes he uses a cane, sometimes a younger companion holds his arm. An inspiration.

Eight of Ferreri's films were presented at Cannes and three of them won prizes. I have two personal memories in connection with Ferreri. One day, perhaps thirteen years ago, my husband and I were eating at an excellent sushi restaurant on rue Monsieur-le-Prince just a few blocks from our apartment in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. There were only three or four sushi joints in the neighborhood then - now there are dozens - and most non-Asian Parisians considered sushi a waste of perfectly good fish that was meant to be grilled or steamed or baked and served adorned with a squeeze of lemon.

Ferreri came in with the French actor Michel Piccoli (one of the bursting at the seams bon vivants in "La Grand Bouffe") and the two men ordered the costliest item on the menu: le bateau. It was as close as an assemblage of raw fish can come to qualifying as Felliniesque.

In a wooden boat that was just the right size to "dock" at their table were arrayed dozens of delicacies. The two friends plucked sushi and sashimi and trimmings off the prow, bow and mast. They traded chopstick maneuveurs. We saw how much fun they were having - two grown men playing with their food - and decided that we, too, would order "le bateau" one day.

As luck would have it, Iroha Sushi want out of business before we ever got around to letting our edible ship come in. When I walk past that spot (there's an Indian restaurant there now) I sometimes feel a slight pang of regret.

I would spot Ferreri walking down the street now and then. I'm told he lived on rue Saint-Sulpice. I've always had an inexplicable, violent reaction to Amish beards. Mr. Ferreri wore one and I think his is the only one that didn't turn my stomach.

My other personal memory in connection with Ferreri's work involves a trip to the airport in New York in 1984. I was one of three passengers in a collective cab provided by an outfit called Group Ride. We all started talking to pass the time and when I said I wrote about movies and spoke about them on the radio, the elderly gent in the front seat told me he was in showbiz too, as an actor and stand-in for Lee Strasberg, the famed teacher who took the occasional screen role, most notably in "The Godfather, Part II" as the "simple businessman" who thinks he's immortal but meets up with a bullet anyway.

This fellow was certain I wouldn't have seen any of his work, but it turned out he'd been in Ferreri's "Reve de Singe" (loosely: monkey dream) in 1978. The film, known as "Bye Bye Monkey" was shot in NYC , in English, and was left off of every list of Gerard Depardieu's English-language credits I ever saw when American journalists started writing about him around the time of "Green Card." Anyway, my fellow passenger exclaimed, "You SAW that? I've never seen it. What was it like? The giant monkey, the chimpanzee, Marcello Mastroianni, I couldn't make head or tails of it. I can't believe you've actually seen it."

I told him it was one of those movies creative Europeans tend to make when they switch to English - it "looks" like it's taking place on location in New York but the only place the narrative could ever comfortably dwell is in the director's own mind. Emir Kusturica's "Arizona Dream" is another example. The actors and locations may be authentic, but the composite result is as far from American geography and recognizable social patterns as the Hale-Bopp comet.

With the sudden death, at age 59 of graphic designer, painter, illustrator, writer, playwright, song writer, filmmaker and television innovator Roland Topor in Paris on April 16 (those were Topor's drawings in the animated feature "Fantastic Planet")

Europe - and the wider world - has lost two of its most dedicated iconoclasts and provocateurs.

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