Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #7: Fully Baked Film?

by Lisa Nesselson

May 16, 1997

Most of the films thus far (in Competition, far more than in the other sections of the fest) have been so half-baked, I've been contemplating putting my head in the oven. Then, today, along came two movies that threw some torque into the torpor.

Jean-Francois Richet's "Crack 6T" (Cinemas en France) is a bracing, utterly irresponsible call for France's disenfranchised youth to raze the nation and its institutions to the ground. Richet, himself a child of the projects, financed his first film "Etat des Lieux" by gambling several months worth of unemployment checks at a casino. For his sophomore effort, Richet has benefitted from more traditional funding sources. With no apparent irony, he thanks Marx, Lenin, Engels and Daniel Toscan du Plantier (the exceedingly well-to-do head of Unifrance) within inches of each other in the closing credits.

I got into a long conversation after the screening with two French women - one a high school teacher and one an assistant programmer at a cinema - who were riled and incensed that this film will be released in French theaters in a matter of weeks. They've already had first-hand experience with showing teenagers films that are supposed to discourage violence only to find their young charges shouting "Let him have it! Blow his brains out! Rape the bitch!" as the intended lesson in Gahdi-like behavior unfolds. So what, they want to know, can possibly be gained by showing a slick flick in which teens and young adults shoplift, steal cars and shoot at their peers when they're not demolishing property with baseball bats?

The day's other compelling surprise is Abbas Kiarostami's "Taste of Cherry." The Iranian director - who was not expected to be allowed to attend the festival at all and whose arrival was confirmed mere days ago - entered the auditorium to a lengthy standing ovation.

As with Iran's other incredibly talented filmmakers, Kiarostami is a master at weaving something out of practically nothing. In "Independence Day," a representative of the mighty U.S. military and a computer expert save the world. In Kiarostami's film, a berry saves a life. And guess which pic is more plausible?

A 40-something man drives his car along terraced hills looking for a candidate to help him with the concrete aspects of an existential dilemma. He conducts "interviews" along the way with a Kurd soldier, an Afghan factory guard, a foreign seminarian, a mellow employee of the Natural History museum. The job he offers is technically (if not emotionally) simple and extremely well paid by local standards.

After 45 minutes in the theater, I smell gasoline and the man in the row behind me gets up and leaves. No doubt I see too many movies, but I can't help thinking it wouldn't be impossible for a political extremist to blow up the auditorium during an Iranian film. The smell dissipates and the Palais remains intact.

The film's narrative drive is precisely that - a car journey through winding tiered cliffs in search of a helper. "Taste of Cherry" is a less pretentious and far more profound treatment of some of the themes around which Johnny Depp spins his wheels in his directing debut "The Brave." One man (played by Depp) resolves to go to his reward for the sake of his family and the other (in Kiarostami's film) contemplates going to his reward, for reasons known only to himself, leaving behind a reward for someone else.

"Taste of Cherry" is rewarding and "The Brave" is taxing.

Speaking of financial windfalls from unusual sources, I am mortified to discover than I may have eaten a million dollars during the Kiarostami. That's a lot of berries, cherries, smackers, clams, what have you.

Earlier today in the American Pavillion, I invested 10 francs in a package of M & M's imported from the U.S.. I opened and ate them in the dark during the Kiarostami screening and put the wrapper in my shirt pocket. When I looked at it later in the light, I spotted the contest notice explaining that if you find gray candies in the package, you may have won a million bucks. Great. While watching a (terrific) movie made for the Western equivalent of $1.98 in which most of the characters talk about how they earn pennies for long days of hard labor, I may have snacked my way out of Easy Street.

My other gustatory run-in with fate occured a few days ago in front of a vending machine. Kit-Kat, one of the fest's official sponsors, has been publishing entertaining Cannes trivia on its wrappers in France for several months. In their contest, certain packages are supposed to contain a special emblem good for free accommodation at one of the city's finest hotels and a festival pass during the 50th anniversary. When I bought my Kit-Kat I thought it would be poetic beyond compare to open the package standing in Cannes only to find I'd won a trip to Cannes with all the trimmings.

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