Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day 11: Handicapping the Players

by Richard Schwartz

CANNES, May 17 -- Only a single day remains until the festival ends and the award winners are announced -- the coveted Palme D'Or for best film, the Jury Prize for best film that nobody will ever likely see, the Camera D'Or for best directorial debut, the acting awards, and so on.

The 50th Cannes is quickly coming to a conclusion, but the finish doesn't seem nearly as grand as it should. Most people have already left town, especially with the film market having shut its doors today. The Croisette is rather quiet. And the closing selection, "Absolute Power," is quite a letdown. Everyone here has already seen the film, which was released in the states more than two months ago. Furthermore, the box office disappointment "Power" was selected only for its marquee value. Too bad for fest organizer Gilles Jacob that star Clint Eastwood has said he is not even coming to Cannes for the screening.

So that leaves only the awards presentation that those of us still left in town can look forward to with any sort of anticipation. There's no single film generating any strong excitement a la "Pulp Fiction" and even the journalists are providing few answers about potential winners. The jury -- an all-star crew featuring Isabelle Adjani, Mira Sorvino, Mike Leigh and Tim Burton, among others -- has been sequestered and almost as silent as the Timothy McVeigh jury.

Thus, the only method by which one can gauge the possible winners is rather unscientific -- stand in the Palais foyer outside the Lumiere theater and try to get a feel for the general reaction. It sounds rather insipid, but it actually works. The buzz tells all. Standing around after a showing of Johnny Depp's "The Brave," one could find dour faces and sour expressions all around. No Palm for "The Brave."

"Ice Storm," however, was another story. Everyone stayed for the entire film -- which is more than can be said for the Depp flick -- and the audience was very talkative upon leaving the theater. That's called a strong buzz.

Likewise, for Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter," there was a positive atmosphere in the foyer even though the film deals with a tragic subject. Again, this is a strong buzz.

Yes, it's a stupid way of picking winners, but it's all we've got. Past Cannes attendees have told us that the jury will often ignore the most buzzed about selections and head in a direction completely opposite the rest of the festival attendees. Witness the selection of the 1995 winner, "Underground," which seemed to catch everyone off-guard. Or the jury's snub of the most talked-about entry at the 1989 festival, "Do The Right Thing."

With that in mind, then, here are some favorites for Sunday night's honors. Palme D'Or: "The Sweet Hereafter," "Happy Together," "Ice Storm," "Western." Sleeper: "Nil by Mouth." Camera D'Or: Samantha Lang's "The Well" or Oldman for "Nil by Mouth." Director: Egoyan, "The Sweet Hereafter," Michael Winterbottom, "Welcome to Sarajevo."

Remember, nothing is certain. In fact, about the only sure bet for predicting a Sunday winner is that the Heat will defeat the Knicks in Game 7.

It's a good thing Spike's not in town.

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