Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

1999 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
#8, Phantom Menace? In Cannes, It's More Like Phantom Hype

by Richard Schwartz

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

CANNES, May 19 - Amid a flurry of special editions and expanded coverage, the U.S. press are boldly declaring today to be "one of the biggest days in modern cinema history."

But in what happens to be, at least at this very moment, the movie capital of the world, nobody even blinked.

Despite the hype generated out from all points west of the Majestic Terrace for Wednesday's stateside opening of George Lucas' long-awaited "Star Wars" prequel, Cannes was surprisingly silent on the film.

No sign of "Star Wars" life anywhere on the Croisette. Nary a billboard or a poster. The daily trades barely mention the opening, instead carrying articles on Harvey Weinstein and the "Dogma" controversy. Only two magazines - Empire and the French-language Cine Live - sport a "Star Wars" cover.

Pardon the Variety speak, but they're not even talking of the potential boffo B.O. here. In fact, one prominent French producer spent his day watching the opening grosses roll in - for Almodovar's "All About My Mother."

It could have been different. George Lucas was offered a prime out-of-competition spot here (most likely as the closing night film) but he apparently balked out of fear of being branded with an "art film." Art film? C'mon, anyone who has been down the toy aisle at the French department store Monoprix can tell you that "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" isn't anything if not purely commercial. In fact, given the recent reviews, the dreaded "art film" label might be a blessing. The last science fiction film to play the festival - Luc Besson's box office sleeper "The Fifth Element" - certainly benefited from its opening here.

Don't lose any sleep for the folks at Skywalker Ranch, however. "Star Wars" is likely to break opening weekend box office records in the U.S. And while the film doesn't open in Europe for another few weeks, there are definite "Star Wars" connections today in Cannes:

- Ewan McGregor, who plays young Obi-Wan Kenobi, dropped in this week to announce his production company is beginning work on a feature called "Nora," about the love affair between James Joyce and Nora Barnacle.

- David Lynch, who once turned down the opportunity to direct "Return of the Jedi," arrives in town today to screen "The Straight Story" in competition.

- Sofia Coppola, whose dad Francis mentored Lucas, today screens a film in the Directors' Fortnight section produced by her father's American Zoetrope.

- Billy Dee Williams, who portrayed suave Lando Calrissian in "Empire" and "Jedi," is being peddled in the Cannes market as part of a thriller called "Fear Runs Silent," now in post-production. The logline for the Artist View picture is simply "a film with twists and turns."

- Liam Neeson and Samuel Jackson, who appear in the prequel, also have films in the market.

So the Force is, indeed, out here. You just have to look really hard.

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