Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

1999 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day -1

by Henri Béhar

Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999 is brought to you by:

CANNES, Tuesday, May 11.

"My God! You mean these people make films, too?" One of the most idiotic things I heard on the beach today - and the Festival hasn't even started. That monstrosity was uttered - with no grain of salt whatsoever - by a brain-dead, but crispy-tanned and seductively coifed soufflé supposedly working in the film industry. Yes, Virginia, there is life outside of Hollywood. Just check the "menu": Pedro Almodovar (Spain), David Lynch (US), Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal), Jim Jarmusch (US), Leos Carax (France), Chen Kaige (China - one of the three Chinas present at the festival), Yussef Chahine (Egypt), Nikita Mikhalkov and Alexander Sokurov (Russia), Atom Egoyan (Canada), Peter Greenaway (Great-Britain), Spike Lee, Anjelica Huston (at the Directors Fortnight), John Sayles and Tim Robbins (US), Chantal Akerman (Belgium), Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Iran), Raoul Ruiz (Chile), Takeshi Kitano (Japan), Marco Bellochio (Italy), Arturo Ripstein (Mexico), Cheickh Oumar Sissoko (Mali)...this is kind of an Internationale of film auteurs. All idiosyncratic, all with a unique voice, miles away from the Hollywood mold - and that goes for nearly all the American filmmakers in the Selection.

For the first time in six years, the Festival won't open or close with an American film - read: a studio movie. Many reasons to that:

a) the lack of real good strong idiosyncratic films coming out of the majors;

b) the fact that no major studio got the Palme d'Or in a long while (per one of the majors' head honcho, Americans don't come to Cannes to participate, they come to WIN!);

c) the Festival usually ends in the midst of Memorial Day weekend, which is the kickoff of the summer season in the States. Definitely not your Cannes fare.

We were all expecting Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut to open the Festival, Time-Warner preferred to keep it under wraps until its Stateside release, some time in July. Why? Only Warner know. We were also kind of expecting the Festival to close with George Lucas' Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace. Apparently, Lucas himself turned down the invitation because, as rumor has it, he didn't want the film to be stuck with the "artistic endeavor" label that the Festival might beget it. I personally refuse to believe this came from Lucas himself, and suspect someone in his entourage has gone both nuts and paranoid. Spielberg didn't have these qualms when he presented E.T. in 1982.

Be that as it may, only two of the American films in the Competition have been produced by major studios: Tim Robbins' The Cradle Will Rock (Disney-Touchstone) and John Sayles' Limbo (Sony Columbia). Steven Soderbergh's The Limey (with Terence Stamp and Peter Fonda) was produced by a new, small, but aggressive independent, Artisan. David Lynch's Straight Story was financed by a French company, le Studio Canal Plus (for some unexplained reason, Lynch stopped finding American financing after Twin Peaks, the TV series). As for Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai, its budget came from a whole slew of international companies. Strange that the American industry should renege on its more intriguing children...

So most of the Hollywood fare is Out of Competition: tribute to Sean Connery (with screening of Entrapment), Miramax's Dogma as a Midnight Special and Ron Howard EdTV, just to launch on the international market what was perceived as a flop Stateside.

I'll tell you one thing right away: more often than not, I may skip some competition stuff to hit at least two sidebars: The Festival is paying homage to silent screen icon and femme fatale per excellence, Louise Brooks, and to Love stories on Film: from Leo McCarey's An Affair to Remember to Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (an odd approach to love, that) through Max Ophuls' Madame de, Charles Chaplin's City Lights and Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde.

Which is the reason why Faye Dunaway just flew into town. Caught a glimpse of her on TV as she came out of the airport. Question: How does she manage to look so fresh and shipshape after a 12-hour flight when I look like a wreck flying in from Paris?

David Cronenberg has been in town for two days, smoothly sliding into his duties as president of the Jury...

Still battleing with my Jornada, but we are beginning to come to terms with each other. Wanna bet by the end of the Festival, this will have been a love story?

One hell of a day tomorrow: Interview live with the BBC at 8:30 AM, Nikita Mikhalkov's Barber of Siberia (three hours) at 9:45. Mikhalkov's press conference (with Julia Ormond) at 1 PM, Jury press conference at 2:30; taping of intro for Bravo's live coverage of the opening night (with comments by Annette Insdorf and yours truly) at 4, drinks with the Toronto Festival gang in memoriam of smashing programmer (and friend), David Overbey who died this past winter and was a Cannes fixture (at 5), Bravo's live coverage (at 6), press screening of Amos Gittai's Kadosh (at 8), opening night dinner (from 10 onward)...

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