Apparently, there are no direct French translations for some American pejoratives.
Monday, when actor Mickey Rourke used one of our more common phrases depicting sleaziness to describe film producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. at a press conference here, it didn't get a rise from the French journalists listening to a translator on transistorized headsets.
But it was a jarring moment for Americans at the press conference that was being held for Barbet Schroeder's "Barfly," a Gold Palm contender that has nothing to do with Goldwyn. Informed of the comments Monday in Los Angeles, Goldwyn laughed and spoke well of Rourke's talents as an actor.
In "Barfly," a Cannon film that has gotten a mixed response from critics here, Rourke plays a sleazy, unshaven, boozing Skid Row poet.
Rourke gives what is the hammiest performance you're likely to see anywhere this year (Cannon plans to release it this fall in the United States), talking like W.C. Fields and walking like Quasimodo.
It was in answering a question about his preparation for this role that Rourke jumped on Goldwyn, the producer of Rourke's last film, the still-unreleased "A Prayer for the Dying."
Rourke, who arrived 20 minutes late, wearing black from his shoes to his stocking cap, said he had little time to prepare for "Barfly" because of problems on the set of "A Prayer for the Dying," a film made on a low budget in Britain.
Asked to elaborate, Rourke said "Oh boy," then blurted it out.
"There's a guy in the United States called Sam Goldwyn Jr. who's a . . . and he lied," Rourke said. "I thought we had a deal with a handshake. I was making a small movie that I hoped would make things clearer about what's going on (in Northern Ireland).
"He wanted to turn it into a big commercial extravaganza-type thing."
Goldwyn, reached later by phone in Los Angeles, declined to discuss problems on "A Prayer for the Dying," but he said he has never met Rourke or had a conversation with him.
"I won't say the experience (of making the movie) was terribly happy," Goldwyn said. "But it's a good picture and he is very good in it."
Asked about being blasted, Goldwyn laughed and said he didn't want to fire back at the actor.
"I don't believe in commenting on people I haven't met," Goldwyn said. "I'll just say his only problem is he's an erratic personality. But a lot of talented people are."
Rourke was to have done separate interviews after Monday's press conference, but when American reporters arrived at his hotel, they were told by a publicist that he had changed his mind and would not speak with any Americans.
Why? Because he was upset with the way Michael Cimino's "Year of the Dragon" was trashed by critics nearly two years ago.
Rourke had starred in that film as a detective rousting Chinese underworld figures in New York's Chinatown.
The actor finally agreed to be interviewed by Doug Armstrong of the Milwaukee Journal, but only after Rourke's publicist assured him that Armstrong had written a positive review of "Year of the Dragon."
Reporters and critics in Cannes endure a lot of attempts by publicists and film makers to flavor their copy, some attempts more subtle than others. But Rourke's stand--write nice things and we'll talk--adds a bold new dimension.
The advance word on Rourke was that he doesn't like to talk about his work anyway. Based on his past films and given his newly stated prerequisite, things are going to work out fine.
"Barfly," based on real-life Skid Row writer Charles Bukowski, who also wrote the script, may have been the strangest American movie in competition for the Gold Palm here, but not the strangest overall.
That honor goes to either Jean-Luc Godard, for his genuinely incoherent adaptation of "King Lear," or Norman Mailer, who wrote and directed "Tough Guys Don't Dance."
"Tough Guys" was described by Boston Globe critic Jay Carr as "a classic bad movie; you can't walk out on it."
The problem most observers had with Mailer's attempted black comedy is that you can't tell when it's supposed to be funny. At his press conference, Mailer acknowledged that about a third of the laughs came at moments which surprised even him.
"King Lear" and "Tough Guys" were shown as official festival selections, but were not in competition. Woody Allen's "Radio Days" and Lindsay Anderson's "The Whales of August" were two other American-financed films receiving unofficial gala screenings.
"The Whales of August," starring Lillian Gish and Bette Davis as sisters in their declining days in their childhood home, was a huge hit with its premiere audience. "Whales" will be released this fall in the United States by Alive Films.
The most popular U.S. film in competition was Paul Newman's "The Glass Menagerie," a faithfully claustrophobic adaptation of Tennessee Williams' first Broadway play.
Joanne Woodward, a veteran of the stage play, is regarded as one of the contenders for the festival's best actress award.
"Shy People," Andrei Konchalovsky's story of colliding cultures (Jill Clayburgh stars as a ditzy Cosmopolitan writer who goes into the Louisiana bayous to interview a long-lost relative), was poorly received by most critics.
A panel of international critics have been rating the competition films daily in the daily trade paper Screen International here. In recent years, the panel's collective favorites have closely paralleled the choices of the official festival jury.
The critics rate the films from one to three stars. If you count the stars as points and total them, you get a fair comparative ranking.
As of Monday, the four screenings of "Barfly" and the closing-night film "Aria," a third film from Japan and a fourth from France, were tied for last with the minimum of 12 points. And two--"Black Eyes" and "The Family," both official Italian selections--were tied for first with 30 points.
"Shy People" had 15 points. "The Glass Menagerie" had 23.