Cannes: A Perspective From The Croisette
by Stephen Garrett
This year's 50th Cannes Film Festival has everything, but great movies.
With the exception of Michael Winterbottom's tearjerker morality check,
"Welcome To Sarajevo," and the well-received but overlong "Nil By Mouth" by
actor-turned-director Gary Oldman, film after film unspooling in the
Grand Theatre Lumiere have been less than fantastique. What's the cause?
A melange of reasons including starpower (sadly, Johnny Depp qualifies
as major celebrity wattage) and festival politics (the 1997 Berlin
Festival already awarded kudos to stunning films like Taiwanese gem "The River" by Tsai Ming-Liang ("Vive L'Amour"), ghettoized to Cannes market
screenings in twenty-seat theaters).
Granted, at this halfway point the competition films are starting to
improve, particularly with "The Eel," new from Japanese director and Palme
D'or winner Shohei Imamura ("The Ballad Of Narayama") and Ang
Lee's dark, impressive "The Ice Storm" -- but no movie yet has electrified
the audiences like 1994's "Pulp Fiction" or last year's "Secrets And Lies."
If anything, festival darlings Marco Bellochio ("China Is Near") and Wim
Wenders ("Paris, Texas") have fallen flat with missteps "The Prince Of
Homburg" and "The End Of Violence": the former is light, dull and preachy;
the latter is pretentious, dull and preachy. Thankfully the latest from
Atom Egoyan, Mattieu Kassovitz and Wong Kar-Wei have yet to debut,
fueling the hope for celluloid epiphanies. And in a last-minute
diplomatic coup, the Iranian government has allowed Abbas Kiarostami's A
"Taste Of Cherry" to compete with the rest. So, as they say, it ain't over
'till it's over.
Outside the Grand Palais's 2,500 official selection theater, though, a
wealth of worthy movies are being screened in sidebar series like Un
Certain Regard, Director's Fortnight, and Critic's Week -- many, like
American prizewinners "Sunday" and "In The Company Of Men" straight from
Sundance. And in the market screenings (special paid exhibitions for
international distributors) are older films by competition directors
like Manuel Poirier ("Western"), side-by-side movies like the German
blockbuster "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." And snuggled against official
selections are special non-competition showings of Abel Ferrara's "The Blackout"
(generally considered a self-indulgent soft-core bore) and
nonagenarian Manouel De Oliveira's latest (and Marcello Mastroianni's
last) "Voyage To The Center Of The World." Stopping John Malkovich in the
street for an opinion about working with the now 91-year old director
(the actor was in Oliveira's The Convent"), I asked if the old man was
still lucid. Looking malevolent with his bald head but sounding
absolutely charming, Malkovich replied, "He was... uh... yes... um...
But who needs great films anyway on the half-century of the Riviera's
greatest movie festival? Fireworks, the French president, trumpeting
gendarmes on horseback and literally dozens and dozens of cinematic
royalty have overflowed into the Croisette, including Martin Scorsese,
Gerard Depardieu, Charlton Heston, and a who's who of international
directors: Michaelangelo Antonioni, Andrej Wajda, Chen Kaige, Francesco
Rosi, and Emir Kusturica just to name a few (and not to mention all five
flavors of the Spice Girls).
The parties haven't been too shabby either: hanging around Ciby 2000's
Moroccan rockin' beach shindig for "The End Of Violence" were David Lynch
as well as a slightly tipsy Gabriel Byrne bitching about someone's
suggestion that there be a sequel to "The Usual Suspects": "I mean, my
characters' fucking dead, you know?" And in timely anniversarial
fashion, New Line feted its own 30th in a birthday blowout that
overflowed from the Palm Beach casino, where exclusivity was de rigeur
and the VIP room boasted Francis Ford Coppola, Lauren Bacall, Steven
Soderbergh, Gena Davis and Renny Harlin, Sean Young, Gina Gershon and
Picasso-faced Spainiard Rossy De Palma. When I asked Coppola about his
once-ambitious plans to make a guerilla-style B&W 16mm indie adaptation
of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (open casting was held last year in New
York and L.A.), he admitted that "We can't do it anymore," and turned
his attention back to the disco-fevered French filles jiggling on the
So that's the latest from Cannes at the halfway point. Much has yet to
happen and more is still to come. Thankfully the rain has lifted and
sunshine is starting to pour though the sky once more, adding yet
another distraction to the day's busy indoor events.
[Stephen Garret is a film editor and freelancer writer for numerous
publications including MetroBeat online.]