Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Deauville Film Festival Diaries
Deauville Diary: Day 5

by Lisa Nesselson

September 3, 1996

Start the day with "Stormy Weather," a swiftly paced jazz-bedecked black-and-white all-black musical from 1943 starring a young, gorgeous Lena Horne, hip harmonic hoofer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller, who gets in the line, "I was born bawlin' and I gonna ball my whole life." Good golly, Miz Molly - they snuck some racy dialogue by in those days.

Waller also got good comic mileage out of the expression "One never knows, do one?" (Although the supremely talented Mr. Waller knew exactly what he was saying, I am reminded of Fran Lebowitz's crack about an all-black Shakespeare production of "As You Likes It.") The 77-minute extravaganza leads up to a spectacular dance number in which two rubber-boned young men in tails combine the underlying theory of the hurdles with the overwhelming bravado of the splits with such ferocious landings that your crotch hurts just watching. Any movie that can give me sympathy pains in the groin region 53 years after it was made (not to mention that I'm a girl) is pretty hot stuff.

The film is the first of two today in the Jazz in the Movies retrospective, the second being a likable 1993 pic called "Lush Life" in which Jeff Goldblum and Forest Whitaker play session musicians and best friends in contemporary NYC.

Today's competition offering - a world premiere that's also headed to the Toronto film festival - is "The Substance of Fire" in which Ron Rifkin reprises his Obie- and Drama Desk-award winning performance as a tyrannical NY publisher whose three grown children are a distant second in his affections after rare first editions. I never had the pleasure of seeing Jon Robin Baitz's much-praised play, but the film version is as lukewarm as it is well-intentioned. Good performances by Tony Goldwin, Timothy Hutton and Sarah Jessica Parker aren't enough to make the story of this elite dysfunctional family fly.

If you come to Deauville and the wind off the English Channel isn't too ferocious, try the 18-hole miniature golf course opposite the Hotel Normandy. It's pleasantly dinky and part of the course is downwind from the pony stables, which gives one the odd impression of being immersed in nature while trying to get a dimpled little golfball to hew to one's will across concrete and red dirt mini-fairways.

Following last night's tribute to prolific producer Arnon Milchan (before the French premiere of "A Time to Kill") was this evening's sequel tribute to Arnon Milchan before the world premiere of "Bogus." Norman Jewison's "Bogus", which stars Gerard Depardieu and Whoopi Goldberg, is supposed to make single-parent or orphaned children feel better about themselves but its forced and insipid narrative made this adult cranky and irritable. After the ever so aptly named "Bogus" I felt like taking a machete to my inner child.

The evening was capped by splendid fireworks over the beach. The French are famous for wine and food, fashion and perfume, but one area in which they always, always excel is fireworks displays. The French term for one who designs and ignites fireworks is "feux d'artificier", which translates as guy who does sleight-of-hand with fire. Their handiwork tonight pleased me infinitely more than anything in "The Substance of Fire".

I watched the bursts of colored gunpowder from my room on the 3rd floor of the Normandy. When the last ka-boom had echoed out over the water, I heard distinct American voices below. If I'm not mistaken, it was a man and a woman accompanying the aforementioned Ron Rifkin. "They really know how to do glitz and glamour here" the other man said. "I never feel this way in Hollywood."

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