Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Day 8 - July 10

by Henri Béhar

Day 8 - Friday, July 10

The whole town -- well, our little film world -- is still abuzz with Jiri Menzel's action last night. Czech television reported on it, showing... the stick. No doubt Menzel and Sverak declined to be interviewed?

In town for both Michael DiJacomo's "Animals" (a world premiere, in competition) and for the screening of the newly restored "In the Heat of the Night", which was directed by Normal Jewison, Rod Steiger meets the press. The hair is gone (or shaved), the booming voice still there. He talks about playing emperors, dictators and gangsters (Mussolini, Napoleon, Al Capone), discusses Oscars ("Never forget it started as a publicity stint"), the Actors Studio, Montgomery Clift, Brando, "On the Waterfront", and death. "I'd like to die on stage." Pause. "Or on a set. I mean, working." Pause. "I mean, who said that if God was really kind, one would die in the midst of sexual orgasm, with a smile..." Hear, hear.

Last night Lauren Bacall brought her legendary glamour and humor to the Karlovy Vary screening of Howard Hawks's "The Big Sleep". She reminisced about working with Hawks and (then-husband) Humphrey Bogart. "None of us could make head or tail of the script. I finally asked Hawks who eventually DID commit the murder in the film. 'I don't know,' he replied. He called [scriptwriter and novelist] Raymond Chandler who said, 'I don't know'." After the laughter subsided, Bacall gracefully addressed the audience: "So if you do find out, please let me know?"

A debut feature given here its world premiere, Michel DiJiacomo's "Animals" boasts an impressive cast, with Tim Roth as a New York cab driver who, hankering for a new life (who wouldn't be?), drives all the way to Utah; John Turturro as a gangster; "Black Robe" 's Lothaire Bluteau as a D.W. Griffith-like silent film director (in a black-and-white flashback) filming Mickey Rooney (yes, THAT Mickey Rooney) as a tuba-playing tollkeeper in the midst of the Utah desert. The cast also includes Rod Steiger and TV's "Mission Impossible" star Barbara Bain. A picaresque fable-cum-road movie-cum spiritual quest, "Animals", which was partly developed at the Sundance Institute Lab, is an intriguing object: an American film that feels like an Eastern European one without giving up any of its origins. A well-rooted transplant, if you will. Keeping busy as a writer until his next directorial project is ready, Michael DiJiacomo has just penned a script to be directed by John Turturro (who will also star) and produced by Spike Lee.

Sandra Goldbacher's "The Governess" (world premiere, in competition) has a pretty darned interesting subject. Set in Britain in mid-19th Century, it deals with Rosina Da Silva (Minnie Driver), a headstrong young woman from London's Sephardic Jewish community who, after her father's sudden death, finds a job as a governess with a wealthy aristocratic Scottish family, the Cavendishes. But in order not to be subjected to the prejudice prevalent at the time, she has to hide her Jewish origins, and actually assume a new identity. She falls in love with the head of the house Charles Cavendish (Tom Wilkinson), a pioneer in early photography. An assertive and imaginative personality, the young governess partakes more and more in Cavendish's research, actually inventing the technique to fix images on paper. Threatened in his marriage and his reputation, Cavendish breaks the relationship, depriving her of her credit along the way. She returns to cholera-plagued London a hurt, but stronger woman.
A fascinating story, but a slightly problematic film. Minnie Driver is a strong competent actress (see "Sleepers" and "Good Will Hunting"), her acting is almost too modern here, too "been there, done that, fought and won this battle". But keep an eye on Jonathan Rhys-Myers, who plays governess-smitten Cavendish junior, and remember that he plays the lead in Todd Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine" (awarded at the last Cannes Festival), all but stealing the movie from co-star Ewan McGregor ("Velvet" will be released by Miramax this fall, don't miss it). You ain't seen the last of Rhys-Myers yet.

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