Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Deauville Film Festival Diaries
Deauville Diary: Day 8

by Lisa Nesselson

Deauville, September 6, 1996

While waiting in line (or the nebulous glob of humanity that passes for a line in France) outside the press office to pick up my invitation to the French premiere of "Independence Day" my eye is drawn to a familiar smiling face accompanied by a terrible headline in a French newspaper clipping mounted on the wall: "Christine Pascal s'est suicidee." (Christine Pascal Commits Suicide). I'm stunned. Plagued by severe depression, the Franco-Swiss actress and director apparently threw herself out the window of a mental clinic on the outskirts of Paris a week ago. She was 42.

She was also pretty, vivacious and gifted. Exactly a year ago I was seated across from her at a dinner in Geneva during the first edition of a festival called "Cinema Tout Ecran," an excellent event devoted to showing fictional work that had been made for television but was good enough to hold its own on the big screen. Christine Pascal was the head of the jury, which gave its top award to Atom Egoyan's thoroughly brilliant rendering of the tragic life of a leading Canadian hockey player, "Gross Misconduct." She joked in both French and English throughout the meal and generally came across as a walking advertisement for the expression "not a care in the world."

Pascal, who started out as an actress ( she appeared in some twenty films after Bertrand Tavernier gave her a small part in "L'Horloger de Saint-Paul" in 1972), directed five features starting in 1979 with "Felicite" which she wrote and starred in. It began with a woman committing suicide.

In 1989 her "Zanzibar" was a black comedy about the manipulative behavior crucial to making a movie - a sort of low-key cross between "Swimming with Sharks" and "The Stuntman." Call it "Wading with Stunt Sharks." "Le Petit Prince a dit" ("And the Little Prince Said...."), the story of an estranged couple (Richard Berry and Anemone) who enter a truce bubble when their only daughter is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, struck an emotional bulls-eye when it was presented at Cannes in 1992. It won that year's Prix Louis-Delluc.

Pascal's fifth and final film "Adultere, mode d'emploi" (Adultery: A User's Manual) came out in July of 1995 to mixed response.

Her distinctive, creaky voice and delicate frame will be missed.

The same wall of clippings - with its smiling photos of Deauville attendees Eddie Murphy, Matt Dillon, Gena Rowlands, Gérard Depardieu - also features mini-profiles of Charlotte Rampling, the president of this year's Deauville jury. Rampling, one of the most effortlessly drop-dead gorgeous women I have ever seen, admitted to reporters that she's been out of circulation for the last two years due to "debilitating depression." (Rampling was given a career achievement award this past January at the first Lumière de Paris ceremony, an initiative designed to resemble the Golden Globes given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. She was graciousness personified. Although she was unquestionably a knock-out as far back as Richard Lester's "The Knack" or her splendid performance in "The Night Porter" she appears to be one of those blessed women - Jacqueline Bisset is another - who grows more beautiful with age.)

Like everyone else, I have a tendency to dismiss the problems of characters in movies if they're rich or gorgeous or both. The suffering of a character played by Cary Grant can't possibly compare to that of Quasimodo, I think - without thinking. For in a world paved with Prozac, one man's minor inconvenience is another man's crushingly insurmountable obstacle.


"No Way Home" is the next-to-last film in competition. I'm always eager to see what Tim Roth has to offer (with the possible exception of his bell boy turn in the execrable "Four Rooms") and here he is the rock solid anchor in a three-character drama that commanded and held my interest from start to finish.

Roth plays Joey, a T-shirt clad young man who is released from a 6 year stretch in prison as the film begins. In a practically wordless sequence over the opening credits, writer/director Buddy Giovinazzo, does what all good filmmakers are supposed to do: he establishes a character with images. By the time Joey walks out the prison gate with $40 in his pocket, we know a lot about him. As he returns to his childhood home, now inhabited by his older brother Tommy ( James Russo ) and Tommy's wife of four years Denise (Deborah Unger in a very different register than her bang-up performance in David Cronenberg's "Crash") we want to know more. "No Way Home" never states the obvious as it quietly and powerfully explores the limits of family ties.

"Blood is thicker than water, right?" Tommy says to Joey.
"I don't know. I ain't drank any recently," Joey replies.

"I have a warm place in my heart for France ever since my first film "Combat Shock" was so well received," Giovinazzo explained before the screening. "In fact, France was the only country that liked it."

Giovinazzo, who shot the film on location in Staten Island, near where he grew up, added, "I take pride in the fact that "No Way Home" is the kind of film Hollywood doesn't want to make. They don't want you to see that side of run-down America. I say to hell with them -- I'll just keep coming to France."


I'm enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich (called a "croque monsieur" which pretty much translates as "munch gentleman") by the tennis courts. Whenever I order one, I invariably think of the word "croquemort," the French term for "undertaker." It means "one who munches or bites the dead" for the colorful reason that in the olden days, one way to determine whether or not a dead body was indeed deceased was to chomp down on the presumed corpse's big toe. If this elicited a response, the victim was still alive. If not, it was approved for burial.

There are two young men with walkie-talkies at the adjacent table, who are chatting up the four young ladies to their left.
"Jeez, that was horrible last night!"
"It started out morose and it never improved."
"I mean, I thought it would NEVER end."

It turns out they're talking about Abel Ferrara's "The Funeral" which just had its world premiere in Venice before coming to Deauville. It's dark alright. Ferrara's struggles with good and evil and moral choices in general - according to the pen of his faithful screenwriter Nicholas St. John - are always interesting, but what I mostly came away with from this outing were questions about how a wacko lug like Chris Penn ended up married to the likes of Isabella Rossellini and why a smart gorgeous broad like Anabella Sciorra would stick with an unsavory character like Christopher Walken. There's that beauty thing again. Why are these trigger-happy, revenge bent crooks the best these women can do? Chalk it up to the 1930s.

Ferrara himself is a raspy-voiced character - a vocal cross between William Hickey and Brando's Don Corleone in a hipster's body, slightly bent toward an invisible jazz beat. Ferrara is the subject of a retrospective at Deauville this year, one that lacks perhaps his best film: "King of New York." Walken's performance in that one is so towering it rivals the World Trade Center (before and after the bombing). As Ferrara is handed a special medal struck by the Paris Mint, the announcer calls him "One of the most unpredictable film artists of his generation."

"I accept," says Ferrara, clasping the mike and looking out at a capacity crowd of 1500. "You put a lot of energy and effort into films and it's always small rooms here and there. It's very rare that you get out front and get that jolt of an audience. You know you're not doing it for yourself, you're doing it for the people.

"Unfortunately for us, the farther away from home we go, the better we are. I just found out that the New York Film Festival didn't accept our film - which I find pretty funny. At the same time, I'm wondering how I'm gonna get back to Venice if I win.

"Listen, I dig the fanfare. I dig the juice. People ask me why this film's so dark. We all lose someone who's close to us, people we love and that's what this film is about. I want to dedicate it to my mother."

My luncheon neighbors may not have appreciated what Mrs. Ferrara's son hath wrought, but they were enthusiastic about the film that followed, Peter Jackson's ode to ectoplasm, "The Frighteners."

"I really love presenting my films for a French audience," the roly-poly New Zealander told the cheering crowd. "I have a soft spot for you since "Bad Taste" received such a warm reception." (A week in Deauville teaches me that there are an awful lot of English-speaking directors out there walking around like bruised fruit with "soft spots" for the film buffs of France.) "The Frighteners" was made in the spirit of an amusement park ride," says Jackson, "like a roller coaster ride through a haunted house. And I hope you'll take it in that spirit."

The poster slogan for "The Frighteners" in English is "Dead yet?" In French it translates as "Still alive?" which is not quite the same thing. Far more interesting on the title front is the French release title for "A Time to Kill": "Le Droit de tuer?" That means: The Right to Kill? With a question mark. It's a cross-cultural truism that whereas American movies strive to be clear-cut, even obvious, French sensibilities prefer ambiguity.

"The Frighteners" is indeed a roller coaster ride -- one that flies straight off the rails before the end. But I enjoyed it. It was especially fun to see R. Lee Ermey as an eternal (literally) drill sergeant with jurisdiction over the local cemetery. It reminded me (as it was meant to - and as was played up in "Toy Story" where the actor was in charge of that brave bucket of green plastic soldiers) of Ermey's stunning performance in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket."

Ermey's soul-killing and relentless badgering as he mercilessly whipped his recruits into shape for Kubrick's lens was so full of inventive invective that the French left-leaning daily "Liberation" published a line-by-line translation of his bottomless barking, so French audiences wouldn't miss a single devastating insult.

That drilling served its purpose, with one notable exception: Private Pyle played to doughy lumbering perfection by Vincent D'Onofrio. D'Onofrio was in Deauville earlier in the week to promote Alex Cox's new film "The Winner."

"I gained 80 lbs for that role," D'Onofrio told Filmscouts. "The hard part was keeping that extra weight on for 13 months because Kubrick sort of held us hostage all that time. Thirteen months without exercise. But that weight was crucial to the role because it was the visual equivalent of a man becoming a monster, an inflated blubbery monster."

I'll take inflated blubbery monsters for their superior intellectual and allegorical component most days, but the inventive special effects in "The Frighteners" are fun, too.

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