"Festival in Cannes" is an acid valentine to the Cannes Film Festival - that sun-drenched, glamorous cinema fortnight on the Riviera - from independent movie director Henry Jaglom. Jaglom is a guy who loves great films, beautiful women and old French pop songs, especially ones by Edith Piaf ("La Vie en Rose") or Charles Trenet ("Boum!"), just as he hates big Hollywood pictures and deal-making. In "Festival in Cannes," he's able to vent all these tastes and distastes with stinging candor and bittersweet romanticism, focusing on a mazelike set of deals and double-crosses taking place at the festival.
The movie is graced with actual views of the 52nd Cannes fest in 1999 - with Jaglom showing us the famed beachside walk, the Croisette, and the palatial seaside Lumiere Theater. And it has another of Jaglom's all-star casts, topped by the gorgeous Greta Scacchi, the regal Anouk Aimee, the acerbic Maximilian Schell and the glib Ron Silver. And, like most of his films, it was shot in an improvisatory style that owes something to John Cassavetes and even more to Method-acting exercises and the '60s French New Wave.
Like all 13 of Jaglom's films, "Cannes" has moments that are marvelously fresh and alive and others that seem a bit half-baked. But the film has a resonant subject: a casting conflict between a major, $80 million Tom Hanks super-production - packaged by high-powered studio player Rick Yorkin (Ron Silver) - and a little labor-of-love drama that would mark the writing-directing debut of 40ish British leading lady Alice Palmer (Scacchi). Both films are vying for the services of 60ish French icon Millie Marquand (Aimee), and, for complex and unlikely reasons involving tax shelters and Hanks' window of availability, no cooperation is possible.
The men in the film tend to be predators: smooth, tense Yorkin, who wears black and operates out of the elegant Hotel du Cap; his gabby young assistant, Barry (Alex Craig Mann); and abrasively manipulative Cannes con artist Kaz Naiman (played by Jaglom "Sitting Ducks" cohort Zack Norman), who works with a cell phone and endless chutzpah. Alice and Millie, on the other hand, are beautiful victims. So, to a degree, are two more actresses pulled into the fray: Italian bombshell Gina (Camilla Campanale) and sensitive American unknown Blue (Jenny Gabrielle). And so, to some degree, are two older directors, each offered the Hanks project, played by real life filmmakers: actor-director Maximilian Schell as Millie's ex-husband and onetime cinema great Viktor Kovner, and Peter Bogdanovich as Milo, an American auteur somewhat like Bogdanovich himself, with a petulant girlfriend played by Bogdanovich's wife, Louise Stratten.
These creative people are shown as sometimes obstreperous tools of the deal-makers, who keep spouting the jargon of cinema lovers while they weasel and lie to keep their deals alive: Yorkin an operator at the highest level, Barry his "All About Eve"-style pretender, and Kaz the total bull artist. Kaz is the movie's top comic creation, and it almost deflates the film when Jaglom switches him in the second half from conniving to romance.
Jaglom begins "Cannes" with a black-and-white photo montage of the fest's history - from the startling mid-'50s shot of Robert Mitchum and a bare-breasted Italian would-be starlet that made the fest notorious, through a gallery of film deities that includes Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Sophia Loren and Liv Ullmann. Years ago, Jaglom wanted to film another movie story backdropped by the Cannes fest - and he might have gotten it made had he not insisted on a climactic scene where prospective star Gene Kelly walked down the beachside Croisette without his toupee - a scene Kelly wouldn't do. That movie was about the reality behind glamour. Here, his subject is the loss of both, with commercialism and idealism ending up locked in a dance (to "La Vie en Rose").
When the film is good - as in Kaz's con games and the edgy courtship of Yorkin and Alice, it gives us a sense of the ambivalence of the movies: their extraordinary appeal and their backstage compromises. So do the actors. I love watching Scacchi, who has the same earthy, shining-eyed beauty she had in her 20s in "Heat and Dust" and "The Coca Cola Kid." Silver has oily ease and the bite of a ferret; Aimee and Schell offer a bit of poignant magic. All the actors, in fact, have good moments, but some of these moments aren't grounded. "Festival in Cannes" makes compromises itself, but only because of its small budget and its director's mixed dark-and-rosy vision, at once cynical and sentimental. Yet at least it has a vision - of both life and cinema. In the end, we don't see enough of Cannes and maybe too much of Kaz. But you have to accept or reject Jaglom as you might a walk on the Croisette, taking the bitter with the sweet.
2 1/2 stars
"Festival in Cannes"
Directed, written and edited by Henry Jaglom; photographed by Hanania Baer; costumes designed by Jo Kissak; music by Gaili Schoen; produced by John Goldstone; co-produced by Judith Wolinsky. A Paramount Classics release; opens Friday, March 15. Running time: 1:39. MPAA rating: PG-13 (brief strong language).
Millie Marquand - Anouk Aimee
Alice Palmer - Greta Scacchi
Viktor Kovner - Maximilian Schell
Rick Yorkin - Ron Silver
Kaz Naiman - Zack Norman
Blue - Jenny Gabrielle
Barry - Alex Craig Mann Milo - Peter Bogdanovich
Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune movie critic.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times