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May 15, 1999 2:00 AM
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CANNES '99: Playboy Bunnies to "Ratcatcher" - Cannes Revs Up

CANNES '99: Playboy Bunnies to "Ratcatcher" - Cannes Revs Up

by Anthony Kaufman



As Day 4 of the international festival du film gets underway this Saturday, one gets the sense that the circus is starting. Day travelers from all around France flood the streets, the folks at Troma can be seen in costumes accosting passersby, a publicist had to have 2 stitches in her skull after a German camera crew mowed her down when seeing "someone" on the beach, and Hugh Hefner appeared at the American Pavilion with Playboy's Playmate of the year, Heather Kozar, along with a couple of extra bunnies. (After 10 minutes of photographs, the moderator asked for questions - but only a heavy, awed silence covered the crowd.) It's this kind of bizarre behavior that accompanies the seriousness of the cinema here. Perhaps, it's a good thing that the ridiculousness accompanies the art, the two balance each other out.


Screening yesterday were two strong contenders for the Camera d'Or, the award for best first feature, embodying another dichotomy to be found at the festival: strong artistic vision versus more conventional storytelling techniques. The award for the Camera d'Or cuts across all categories of the festival, from the Competition to Un Certain Regard, Directors Fortnight to Critics Week. Scottish director Lynne Ramsay proved herself to be worthy of the award with her Un Certain Regard entry, "Ratcatcher," - proof positive of her transition from shorts to features. (Ramsay's 15-minute "Gasman" won second prize at last year's Cannes). Luminously photographed, and framed with an elegantly off-kilter, yet entrancing perspective, "Ratcatcher" tells the story of a young boy haunted by a young friend's death in a poor slum of Glasgow in the 70's. Though the slice-of-life narrative was too slow for some, Ramsay's unique poetic vision combined with her heartwarming child-actors is a startling entry in a race that will be undoubtedly hard fought. Giving Ramsay some competition was the crowd pleaser "East is East," a Director's Fortnight entry (acquired by Miramax pre-festival). Also set in the 70's, the film is an account of a large Pakistani family living under the strong fist of their conservative father (Om Puri, who will also appear in Miramax's soon to be released "My Son, the Fanatic") countered with the lenient love of their white British mum. The film had audiences giggling, laughing and eventually cheering by end credits. With little innovation, the film is traditionally lensed by another shorts director Damien O'Donnell - his "Thirty Five Aside" won prizes at more than 30 film festivals worldwide. Twenty-three films in all will compete for the Camera: other debut films which screened on Friday included Eric Mendelsohn's "Judy Berlin" and Benoit Mariage's "Les convoyeurs atttendent" (The Carriers are Waiting). Today, John Polson's Aussie favorite "Siam Sunset" screens.


Other notable feature films that screened on Friday were Michael Winterbottom's grainy, critical front-runner "Wonderland," backed by Universal Films, and the much quieter (and "Wonderland" is pretty quiet) "Ghesse Haye Kish" ("Tales of Kish") which is a trio of short stories from three Iranian directors: Nassar Taghavi ("The Greeks Boat"), Abolfazl Jalili ("The Ring") and the more well known Mohsen Makhmalbaf (the best of the three "The Door"). Each story unfolds on the island of Kish, located in the Persian Gulf. Several directors were asked to create stories of their own choosing, as long as they take place on the isle. Three more shorts are expected from the omnibus, one from Dariush Mehriji (director of the currently in release "Leila").


While dozens of other films continued to unreel on all parts of the coastal theaters, Variety drew in some industry folks at the international eyesore known as Planet Hollywood to honor its "10 Producers to Watch." Publisher Gerry Byrne called the producers a "centerpoint where of most of the energy in this industry comes from." The lucky picks include: Paul Rosenberg (Doug Liman's "Go"), Marshall Persinger ("Twin Falls Idaho," "Kill the Man"), Sunmin Park ("The Emperor and The Assassin"), Peter Loehr (Chinese films), Richard Holmes ("Shooting Fish," "Waking Ned Devine"), Georges Benayoun (Benoit Jacquot's upcoming "A Mother's Recompense"), Robert Collolly (producer-director of Berlin favorite "The Boys"), Galt Niederhoffer ("Hurricane Streets," LAIFF entries "Jump," "Blue Ridge Fall," upcoming adaptation of "Prozac Nation"), rising Spanish producer Antonio Perez and Scandanivian stalwart, Henrik Danstrup ("Pusher"). Last year, Stefan Arndt ("Run Lola Run" ) and Dolly Hall ("High Art") were among the honorees. In between a flurry of congratulations, handshakes and business card exchanges, Persinger, who felt snubbed at Sundance where the director is king, remarked, "It's so nice to be honored as a producer." Citing last year's Variety producer picks, Persinger called the honor "a good omen for the future."


Highly anticipated features set to screen today (Saturday, May 15th) include Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother," Alexander Sokourov's "Moloch," Chantal Akerman's Directors Fortnight entry, "Sud," and a post-midnight screening of Steven Soderbergh's out of competition film "The Limey."

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