Maybe it’s a coincidence, but just as the 47th Cannes Film Festival was taking over the Carlton Hotel, the city’s flagship location, the International Symposium on Plastic Surgery was headed out of town.
As elegant-looking surgeons (or maybe they were patients) said their goodbys in the lobby, up went the usual massive signs for “Beverly Hills Cop III” and “The Flintstones.” Even in a year when the signs would have to substitute for the films, when studio blockbusters were noticeable by their absence, the glamorous images of Hollywood made their presence felt.
One image was especially evident, that of Clint Eastwood, the president of the Cannes jury this year, and an icon treated with ever-increasing reverence by the French. Eastwood’s chiseled face was on several magazine covers and the local newspaper, Nice-Matin, even put a photograph of him stepping off his plane and onto French soil on its front page, poetically informing its readers that the actor had arrived “on board a Grumman/Gulf Stream, the Rolls of business planes for the prince of the West.”
Whatever press coverage was not given over to Eastwood or Brazilian Grand Prix driver Ayrton Senna (whose recent death remains a big story over here) was devoted to applauding the home country’s strong showing in the festival, which by one count included three films all its own in the official competition as well as a co-producing hand in nine others.
“France in Force,” proclaimed one cover line; “France Wakes Up,” insisted another. Both featured photos of always-popular Isabelle Adjani in the most elaborate of the French films, “Queen Margot.” A historical drama set in the 16th Century and based on a typically massive Alexandre Dumas novel, “Margot” has the poor woman contending with court intrigues, three potential lovers as well as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre. No wonder it’s two hours and 44 minutes.
Even if the industry didn’t supply any blockbusters, American film is weighing in with well-placed films. Thursday night’s opening film, “The Hudsucker Proxy” (known as “Le Grand Saut” or “The Big Leap” in French), and the festival’s closer, John Waters’ “Serial Mom,” are of indisputably U.S. origin.
So too are Alan Rudolph’s “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle,” starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as the tart-tongued writer; “Pulp Fiction,” the latest from pulp-meister Quentin Tarantino, and Mike Figgis’ remake of “The Browning Version” (technically a British co-production), starring Albert Finney, Greta Scacchi and Matthew Modine. And when it comes to the sidebar events, there are five American films in Un Certain Regard, two in the Directors’ Fortnight and even one (Sundance favorite “Clerks”) in the Critic’s Week.
Aside from France, the other European country well-placed here is Italy. Especially anticipated are “A Simple Formality,” a two-character psychological drama directed by “Cinema Paradiso’s” Giuseppe Tornatore and starring Roman Polanski and Gerard Depardieu (which agreed to postpone its release date for two months to be eligible for the festival) and “Caro Diario,” a potential breakthrough film for writer-director-star Nanni Moretti, who is generally referred to as the Italian Woody Allen for reasons that are never made completely clear.
Also Italian is the inspiration for this year’s official festival poster. A tribute to the late Federico Fellini, it features one of his production drawings for “La Strada,” showing Giulietta Masina as the waif Gelsomina facing the ocean with her top hat and her drum.
Aside from respect for a great director, that poster indicates the auteur orientation of Cannes, this being France after all. Among the critically celebrated directors with pictures on display in the festival are China’s Zhang Yimou (“To Live”); Taiwan’s Ang Lee, whose “Eat Drink Man Woman” is his first since “The Wedding Banquet,” and Kryzsztof Kieslowski, whose “Three Colors: Red” is the last of his trilogy and, if press reports are to be believed, possibly his last film ever as well.
And even though the festival has barely begun, several films are already being touted as potential sleepers. Included in this group is “Muriel’s Wedding” from Australian director Paul J. Hogan, “Burnt by the Sun” by Russia’s Nikita Mikhalkov (whose brother, Andrei Konchalovsky, also has a film in competition), and two American films by female directors that deal with difficult romantic relationships: Darnell Martin’s “I Like It Like That” and Kayo Hatta’s “Picture Bride.”
Also high on everyone’s list is a rather unexpected film, a family saga from unknown Cambodian director Rithy Panh with the no doubt self-explanatory title “People of the Rice Paddies” that apparently knocked everybody out when it was screened recently in Paris.
Too bad the plastic surgeons couldn’t have stuck around for that.