Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

1999 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
#11, Obscurity D'Or

by Richard Schwartz

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

CANNES, May 23 - Well, we shouldn't have expected it to end any differently.

In a year during which the festival selection committee shunned big-budget films from Hollywood studios in favor of lower-key works by established auteurs, the festival jury in turn passed over those revered filmmakers in favor of more obscure, less accessible European films.

"Rosetta?" "L'Humanitie?" "Moloch?" That roster of films sounds more like the menu from last night's farewell dinner at La Mer Besson. I'd seen probably a dozen competition films at the festival, but never even came close to the theatre building during those screenings. "Rosetta," the surprise Palme D'Or winner about Belgian trailer trash shot in verite style, screened on Saturday morning, when we were all recovering from the Moving Pictures and Straight Story parties of the previous evening. "Moloch," which won a screenwriting award, had been on my viewing list for some reason until several colleagues warned me that the moody, long-winded study of Eva in Hitler's bunker was as dreadful as it sounded. And the three awards for the French "L'Humanitie" - the Grand Prix and two acting prizes - were questioned by those of who had too skipped this film and RIDICULED by those who had sat through the tedious two-and-a-half hour treatment of a murder investigation. Reporters in attendance called the granting of awards to "L'Humanitie" "inhumane," "baffling" and even "perverse." How fitting for a festival that began with a universally hated, self-indulgent period piece called "The Barber of Siberia."

With all fairness to Dardenne Brothers' "Rosetta," which was lauded by many critics for its emotional lead performance, the awards were a bit stunning. But, then again, the head juror was a guy whose previous film showed people getting sexually aroused from car crashes (coincidentally, that won a special chutzpah award here, too, in 1996), and so Mr. David Cronenberg apparently decided to make a statement. In fact, the only thing more radical would have been to give an acting award to Susan Lucci, but the Daytime Emmys already did that last week.

In the final examination, the awards were no more radical than handing the top prize to the Iranian "A Taste of Cherry" and Japanse "The Eel" a few year back, passing over such deserving entries as "L.A. Confidential" and "The Ice Storm" and "The Sweet Hereafter." And this year, those ignored greats will be joined by such festival favorites as "All About My Mother," "Felicia's Journey," "The Straight Story" and the list goes on, in a surprisingly deep year for the festival. But those films should all enjoy a longer life beyond the Riviera while "L'Humanitie" and the like will likely become yet another forgotten footnote in the Cannes history books.

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