Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #6: Cinematic Overload

by Lisa Nesselson

Due to cummulative fatigue, my brain synapses are behaving like a renegade firing squad - going off when they feel like it and not always in the proper direction. You know how a doctor tests your reflexes by tapping your knee with a hammer, in search of an immediate response? Last night it took me way too long to come up with the name "Robert Altman" so I know my brain's response time is diminished.

However, I reacted immediately to a one-sheet glossy advertising supplement to the International Herald Tribune singing the praises of the Noga Hilton. Someone told me "noga" is "architectural abomination" in some unspecified asian tongue, but one needn't resort to exotic foreign languages to reach that conclusion. The Noga stands where the magnificent, airy Palais Croisette stood from 1949 until the late '80s. I understand it's a comfortable place to stay but it suffers greatly on the charm front when compared to the location's former tenant.

Anyway, some copy writer came up with this jaunty paragraph: "Noga Hilton Cannes offers you all the glamour of the past paired with every modern convenience. We've got location. We've got glamour. We've got fabulous bathrooms. At night, the stars come out."

Am I to understand that "at night, the stars come out" of the bathrooms? A big selling point, granted. Prior to the arrival of dusk are they holed up there all day admiring the bidet?

The press kit for Curtis Hanson's "LA Confidential" asks us not to reveal the plot twists. At least there ARE plot twists to refrain from revealing in Hanson's thoroughly entertaining adaptation of James Ellroy's novel. As opposed to, say, Samantha Lang's "The Well" a heavilly atmospheric but ultimately pointless effort from Australia. 'The Well," in which an older woman and a younger woman juggle repressed feelings, a dead body and a hunk of cash, is an outback movie set on a rural road with no twists and fewer turns. A celluloid lump of atmosphere so understated as to be inaudible. Or, as more than one critic was heard to mumble, "What the f--k was THAT all about?" (Well, you'd do well to steer clear of "The Well.")

My disappointment was increased in relation to the "buzz" that preceeded the film. When the Cannes competition entries were announced in Paris back on April 22, Gilles Jacob decribed the 29-year-old director as "a great new talent: I wish her the same career evolution Jane Campion has enjoyed."

Speaking of woman directors, there's nothing like a room (well, a tent) full of Americans to point out that there are "no women on the panel" when faced with this year's line-up for Roger Ebert's annual indie filmmakers event. Last year Mary Harron (of the excellent "I Shot Andy Warhol") was the lone distaff rep. Of course, two-time Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple was filming the proceedings for the docu she's making about this 50th fest. Rob Tregenza spoke eloquently about how he thinks women are perfectly suited to the task of filmmaking because it requires infinite stamina and dedication, qualities he believes women to possess in even greater quantities than men.

Speaking of men and their qualities, one of the very best films I've seen this year is Neil La Bute's "In the Company of Men," (Un Certain Regard) in which two guys, Chad (a hunk) and Howard (a nerd), deliberately plot to court and dump a vulnerable young woman.

You've heard of the business jungle? Well, using a deceptively simple arrangement - three characters, a handful of sets - playwright and first time director La Bute explores more dangerous flora and fauna than most of us usually take in in one sitting. Insidious and terrific - this on a double bill with "Swimming with Sharks' will tell audiences of the future everything they'll need to know about office politics and dating in the late 20th century - "In the Company of Men" keeps percolating in my brain. There are few sensations finer than a tricky film that leaves an agreeable aftertaste.

Also firmly filed under "memorable" for the 50th Cannes is an pic from Norway. A scruffy, unkempt and unscrupulous Oslo letter carrier stumbles into a series of far-fetched but wittily calibrated circumstances in "Junk Mail" ("Budbringeren,"International Critics Week). First time director Pal Sletaune displays a Hal Hartley-ish knack for coincidences and foibles in an utterly assured and darkly humurous debut that falters a bit only at the very end.

Looking like Norway's answer to Tim Roth, the protagonist dumps much of his daily load of correspondance under a railway overpass, the better to loiter in a comic book store. When a woman leaves her keys within reach, our hero explores her apartment with monumentally unforeseen results.

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