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May 18, 1999 2:00 AM
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CANNES 99: Harvey & Ebert Chat: Oscar Dollars, Shelved Pics & Foreign Flix; "Love" For The S

CANNES 99: Harvey & Ebert Chat: Oscar Dollars, Shelved Pics & Foreign Flix; "Love" For The Savvy, "Beautiful People" Uneven

by Anthony Kaufman




As swift winds and a light rain pitter-patted against the American Pavilion tent on Monday, two of the most adored, envied, and despised men in the movies met inside for a one hour chat - men so famous they only need one name to identify them: Harvey and Ebert. Harvey Weinstein, Co-President of Miramax Films and a 20-year vet of the industry, sat next to Roger Ebert, described as "arguably the most recognized film critic in the world" -- these two giants of the industry drawing in a packed house of eager filmmakers and curious journalists.

Ebert didn't kowtow to his formidable opponent, immediately going into rumors of Harvey getting busted for smoking a cigar for two hours on an airplane. Harvey corrected that the incident happened in December after a Concorde took a precipitous dip and he was shaken up: "I went into the little boys room and had two puffs of a cigarette. The stewardess knocked on the door, I apologized."

Among other subjects Ebert brought up were the criticisms levied on Miramax over their Oscar campaigning. Weinstein defended and parried to great effect, saying that he only did what the major studios have been doing for years. "I played by their rules and I played it exactly the way they played, but because I'm so-called an 'independent' or whatever we are, we're not allowed to play the same game. It's not fair and it's totally ironic." Ebert also cornered Weinstein on his Shelf Award at the Independent Spirit Awards "for doing the best job of buying movies and never releasing them." Weinstein answered that the criticism was "fair": "Here's my excuse, which might be feeble; I love movies, and sometimes I see these small films and many often times, I find out through the marketplace that nobody else wants to buy these movies." Harvey, however, explained that he didn't want this to continue. "This year, purposely we've only had two finished acquisitions in twelve months, so that gives us a chance to catch up -- and we realize we have to cut down."

Ebert also brought up recent quotes Weinstein made in the trades that foreign countries should continue their trade embargoes on American films and that there was discrimination by the American networks against French and Italian product. Weinstein answered, "I grew up on the great foreign language films of my life - the early Truffaut, Fellini..." the powerhouse player commented. "These are the movies that I want to see continue to be made. As Americans we do incredibly well with our American exports on movies. If we completely dominate the local territories, then there's not going to be local filmmakers." Weinstein admitted that this "doesn't make me popular with my friends at Disney, and this doesn't make me popular with my friends at the network." Continuing, he said, "I know it's an unpopular decision in the States to limit free trade, but it's the only way a foreign language cinema is going to survive." The discussion moved on to Weinstein's hope to get their newly dubbed version of "Life is Beautiful" on the networks, though no companies have made any pre-emptive bids on a sale. (The last foreign film that was shown on American television, remembered Weinstein, was a dubbed version of Costa-Gavras' 1970 Oscar-winner "Z")

Wooing the crowd, Weinstein also noted: "Miramax has always won its battles by recognizing good writing. People always say it's the Bob and Harvey marketing show, but it's the script." Defending the strength of the company, Weinstein said, "If Miramax's success had done anything, we've raised the bar, we've raised the bar for ourselves, and we aspire to be something completely different -- we aspire to be the best and not the lowest common denominator." At the end of the conversation, during a few Q & A's, one bold director stood up, hoping to capitalize on Harvey's warm and hopeful remarks. "How does someone like me get my film into the hands of a Harvey Weinstein?" he asked. Weinstein simply asked for it and the director quickly pulled out a tape and handed him a copy.

***

In the race for the Camera d'Or - the award for first film -- two anticipated films screened yesterday to mixed effect. The first, "Love Will Tear us Apart" - one of two debut efforts in the Competition section - recently received positive critical attention at a screening at the Hong Kong Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI Jury's prize. Set in the border town of Shenzhen, the film focuses on several recent immigrants from Mainland China to modern Hong Kong, three of them in particular. With dead end jobs, a prostitute, a porn salesman and an elevator operator, the three fixate on the desires of their past (men covet a prostitute with that "Mainland China Doll" look, old propaganda movies are prevalent) and the problems of their present (thankless jobs, loveless lives). The movie will likely only strike a chord with the most Chinese-savvy audiences. One respected critic supposedly called it "Wong Kar-wai without the style," but director Yu Lik Wai does have a strong sense of color and composition, his neon Hong Kong and primary-colored production design is careful and evocative. Still, the movie is unbearably slow; several walkouts and snores could be overheard over the sparse dialogue of the film.

Another film of interconnected stories of exile, the Un Certain Regard selection "Beautiful People" by Bosnian-British director Jasmin Dizdar, showed in a press screening, with acquisition execs from October, New Yorker, and Miramax in attendance. A (occasionally confusing) mix of varying stories, comical and serious, the film follows several Yugoslavian immigrants living in London. The film grows more satisfying as it goes on, as each story comes back into focus with an emotional resonance. Though sustained chuckles could be heard throughout the screening, the structure of the film lacked precision. Screening Tuesday, two Competition entries: Tim Robbins' "The Cradle Will Rock," a 1930's New York City period film filled with a star-studded cast -- about 22-year-old Orson Welles and a theater production of the same name; and Bruno Dumont's ("La Vie de Jesus") "L'Humanite," about a somber police investigator burdened with guilt and despair.

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