It's not easy to take the temperature of this festival (or any other). But the weather outside has been cool and only intermittently sunny, and an observer with a keen eye for metaphors might well say that this largest and oldest continuously operating festival has been about the same.
One veteran seller, Frank Moreno of Almi Pictures, guessed that the population of genuine buyers this time was off by as much as half. Peter Bourne, who represents Scandinavian films in Los Angeles as both buyer and seller, found the going very slow, mostly because there seemed a scarcity of films that hadn't already been pawed over, so to speak, at the American Film Market in Los Angeles a few weeks earlier.
On the other hand, Sam Goldwyn Jr., who was here in behalf of his "The Care Bears" film, said that its available foreign territories were snapped up very quickly.
What does appear to be true is that the old days when Cannes was a theatrical film market exclusively are gone forever. As in the world of film everywhere, video sales--the cassette rights--loom ever larger in the wheeling and dealing. Moreno judges that the price he recently received for the cassette rights for "The Bostonians" ($700,000) was perhaps 10 times what he might have expected only, say, two years ago.
The festival as a festival is even harder to assess than the marketplace. With 500 films available for viewing and a dozen screenings in progress at almost any hour of the day or night, what you end up with is a blend of frustration over what you haven't seen and visual indigestion plus an aching back from what you have seen. And although most films are shown more than once, there always seems to be some demonic higher intelligence fiendishly scheduling the films you want to see against an unavoidable interview, press conference or ceremonial meal. (Most festival meals, teas and drinks are functional, if not ceremonial.)
The jury, headed by Milos Forman, announces its prizes at midday today and as usual there's an early line, as for the Kentucky Derby. An influential French critic, Henri Chapier, was saying at the weekend that he would place a few francs on "Birdy," if asked. Juries tend to try for geographic distributions, so there is not likely to be an American sweep, though "Birdy" does indeed seem a candidate for the Palme D'or (best picture), best director (Alan Parker) or possibly best actor, for Matthew Modine.
However, another strong candidate for best actor is Klaus Maria Brandaur in Istvan Szabo's "Colonel Rebl," the fourth screen version of the true turn-of-the-century story that was also the basis for John Osborne's "A Patriot for Me," about a homosexual officer driven to suicide.
My own choice for best actress would be Norma Aleandro, an Argentine actress who stars in "The Official Version," itself a short-odds candidate for the Palme D'or. Drawn from real events in the recent Argentine past, the film centers on Aleandro as a schoolteacher and mother whose growing suspicion is that her adopted daughter is in fact the child of one of the "disappeared," the political prisoners of the military dictatorship. The lawyer husband is an important figure in the governing junta.
Her suspicions prove well-founded; her marriage is violently sundered; her political complacency is shattered. It is a terrifically moving work, and will open in Los Angeles and a few other U.S. cities in October. Luis Puento, whose first feature it is, came out of television. Senora Aleandro, the child of actors, was, she says, "born onstage" and has been acting professionally herself since she was 12, on television and in a dozen earlier films and in theater in a classic repertory ranging from Ibsen to Tennessee Williams.
As always, the festival seems torn between the big commercial, audience-pleasing films and the braver, less immediately popular works. One of the best of the latter breed was the awkwardly titled "Tea in the Harem of Archimedes," a backward student's mishandling of "Archimedes' Theorem." A tough, autobiographical look at the lives of the first-born Algerian youngsters living the ghetto life in Paris, it was made from his novel by Mehdi Charef, who had never been on a sound stage before, but was encouraged to direct by Costa-Gavras, whose wife Michelle Gavras produced the film.
Its study of fundamentally sympathetic teen-agers who can find no place in French society and turn to drugs and small crime, has echoes of "West Side Story" and other dramas of a society in change, and it is funny, tragic and authentic.
One of the minor disappointments, of which there were several was Dusan Makavejev's "The Coca-Cola Kid," which for a third of the way looked to be a fine satire on hard-line American merchandise abroad, but settled for an overdrawn battle of the sexes with underdrawn and unsympathetic characters.
While some of the French critics found Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider" too overtly commercial to be in the festival, in or out of competition, at least it works very well indeed in terms of its wide-audience attention, which was more than could be said of Mario Monicelli's adaptation of the Luigi Pirandello play, "The Two Lives of Mathias Pastal," with Marcello Mastroianni as a spendthrift who makes the easy life work. Despite some sinful goings-on, it remained a talky, static film.
The second film of San Francisco independent film maker Wayne Wang, whose "Chang Is Missing" was an art-house success, was eagerly awaited, but while "Dim Sum--A Little Bit of Hope," is a carefully detailed glimpse of Chinese life by the Bay, it is minimalist film making, teetering at the edge of tedium.
"Joshua Then and Now" reunites director Ted Kotcheff and novelist Mordecai Richler and fictional recollections of growing up Jewish in Canada. James Woods in effect has the Richard Dreyfuss part and is a Richler-like novelist finding that success merely presents a different set of problems from poverty. The direction and performances, especially Alan Arkin's as Woods' ex-boxer, small- time criminal father, are excellent. But "Joshua," in its acrid candor, raises the discomforting worry that it feeds anti-Semitism, however unintentionally.
As in literature, there seems to be unusual strength in the Latin contributions: the Argentine film, the Brazilian "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" by Hector Batenko and, from Spain, Francisco Requeiro's "Our Father," with Fernando Rey as a dying cardinal going home to his Spanish village to see his daughter and granddaughter, a witty and provocative piece indeed.
It will not go down as one of your great festivals, and no New Wave along the Cote d'Azur, but Cannes was as always a useful sampling of where Edison's toy has got to.