Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #5: Happy Birthday Cannes

by Lisa Nesselson

Sunday May 11, 1997: 6:15 p.m. Grand Auditorium Lumiere

In English we say it's raining cats and dogs. The equivalent French expression "Il pleut des cordes" translates as "It's coming down thick as ropes." Right about now the Festival administrators probably wish they had a rope long enough to strangle the clouds that dared to unleash their precipitation on this of all nights: Sunday May 11, easily the most momentous date until, say, December 31, 1999. For this is the day the International Film Festival with which the city of Cannes is synonymous has elected to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

It started drizzling in the early afternoon, then, like a good script with a crafty narrative arc, it poured for a change of pace. And now we're back to steady, exceedingly damp and annoying drizzle. Any number of African vendors wander up and down the Croisette hawking sunglasses, but none of these guys have a stock of today's surefire sell like hotcakes item: cheap umbrellas. Americans are marvelling aloud at this lack of Cartesian entrepreneurial spirit.

Come to think of it, the weather is probably not vastly different from the climate on the Swedish island where Golden Palm of Golden Palms recepient Ingmar Bergman is instead of being here.

The ceremony begins at 7:30. Lesser guests (i.e. yours truly and about 1000 others) were instructed to arrive between 5:45 and 6:15. A giant screen hovering over the stage of the Grand Auditorium Lumiere gives us a video relay view of the umbrellas, er, celebrities mouting the red-carpeted steps between the honor guard. I guess they must Scotch-Guard the honor guard because those guys appear to stay dry no matter what. Maybe its the plumed helmets.

Mistress of ceremonies Jeanne Moreau has just arrived at the foot of the stairs in a fabulous coat as glittering as last night's fireworks. Many a gold button died to make her eye-catching tunic, worn over plaid slacks. This is definitely the sort of outfit you don't have to worry about seeing two of.

Next up, a cavalcade of stars. Former jury president Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner. There's no announcer's voice so members of the press from many, many lands are asking "Who's that?" in many, many languages. That looks like Angela Basset in a gleaming green sheathe. Anjelica Huston wears a bright red dress with white feather boa. Liv Ullmann is in basic sleeveless black with Jean-Claude Brialy at her side. Claude Lelouch arrives with his gorgeous umpteenth wife. There's Joel and Ethan Coen and Frances McDormand. Anouk Aimee is good bones personified. Claudia Cardinale has also opted for bright red with a plunging neckline and glittering diamond pendant. Cartier sponsored the anniversary dinner and rumor has it some very spiffy rocks are on loan tonight. The first round of spontaneous applause is for Charlton Heston who poses with Kenneth Branaugh and Kate Winslet. A few journalists mistake Jane Campion for Glenn Close. Dennis Hopper is the only arrival so far in dark glasses, which suit him. Gina Lollobrigida in frilly white and her much younger squire create a groundswell of murmurs in the theater. I wonder if the red carpet is going squish under all those famous insteps.

Gerard Depardieu is all smiles as is his companion Carole Bouquet. David Lynch sports a fab grey pompadour. Jeremy Irons is class and more class. Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley create outsized excitement. His bowtie is crooked and not a single aspect of her physical presentation is even slightly askew. Francis Coppola and his wife arrive - she takes snapshots of the crowd.

Chiara Mastroianni arrives with her beau, Melvil Poupaud. (Somebody really should cast Chiara in a movie with Susan Sarandon - they could be mother and daughter although Chiara's actual mom is Catherine Deneuve.)

Lauren Bacall looks handsome, as ever. Gregory Peck elicits applause. Victoria Abril is wearing snug white hot pants under a day-glo orange string bikini topped off by a slit-backed black tailcoat. That makes one more get-up we needn't worry about seeing two of.

Martin Scorsese, Vittorio Gassman, Liv Tyler, Johnny Depp, John Hurt, Pedro Almodovar, Barbara Hershey, the list goes on and on.

The advantage over the Oscars is that the stars don't stop for meaningless chitchat with zealous "local color" drones. They just stand there absorbing the flash of a thousand flashbulbs reflecting the dreams of a glamour-starved universe. Or something.

Sly Stallone obviously pleases the crowd outside while the folks inside giggle. Seriously statuesque Sigourney Weaver appears with her gum-chewing squire, presumably her sculptor husband.

There are 32 horn players and one drummer on horseback playing away to the right of the steps. That's a strange combination of skills: trumpeting equestrians.

Isabelle Adjani arrives with substantial jewels and the rest of the jury. Lisa Marie, on the arm of juror Tim Burton, is making a fashion statement but it's difficult to translate into every language. There's Kevin Kline, looking dapper. The cast of "The End of Violence" flanks director Wim Wenders. (Some wags are already dubbing Wenders' set-in-LA widescreen pic 'The End of Wenders Career.' To which ajacent wags riposte 'Yeah, but it couldn't possibly be worse than Johnny Depp's "The Brave." Depp's heartfelt and well-intentioned foray into directing won't make the slightest dent in the actor's richly deserved popularity, but it may create cash flow problems for the distribs who paid top dollar for the foreign rights sight unseen.)

Miraculously, everyone is inside by 7:40. Choreographer Philippe Decoufle's dance begins. Film is projected onto gyrating human figures - one airborne, on on the stage. Syncopated music helps propel additional dancers into the corruscating spotlight. A video hook-up bounces onto a screen the troupe's antics in front of two rectangular apertures mounted on stage. Giant mirrors descend to reflect the audience as a bilingual announcer walking an invisible tightrope on invisible stilts glides across the stage close to the cieling. It's a nifty effect: he seems to be walking on air. I'm not sure what this has to do with the cinema - which is suposed to be the theme - but it's , er, 'interesting.'

Dancers execute precise, rubbery movements before the mirrors, which turn out to be translucent depending on how they're lit. This helps make for the illusion of more dancers without hiring extra bodies.

So, it's all - or nearly all - done with mirrors afterall.

Jeanne Moreau walks out through a vent in the mirror panels and the dancers do a slinky dance around her. Moreau dedicates the evening to Italian director Marco Ferreri, who died Friday. She then proceeds to introduce a literally breath-taking number of Golden Palm winners, who take the stage one by one accompanied by a snippet of dialogue from their winning films.

The cumulative power of their presence is dazzling. All that talent and all that luck in one place at the same time. (Would "Scarecrow" have won against "M*A*S*H or "Blow Up" against "Apocalypse Now"? Impossible to say.)

Ingmar Bergman is announced as the winner of the Palme des Palmes d'Or, which is acepted by his lovely daughter (whose mom is Liv Ullman): "My father has asked me to ask you to forgive an old man for not being here tonight. 'After years and years of playing with the energies of life and death, life itself has finally caught up with me and made me shy and silent.' With honor and humility he wants to say thank you to everybody."

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