At MGM’S gala party to celebrate the premiere of That’s Entertainment, Part 2 on opening night of the Cannes Film Festival, the wine was flown in from California along with such stars of yesteryear as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly (who narrate the film and dance in it, too), Cary Grant, Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron. Bringing wine from California to the South of France is the sort of nutty haute gaucherie that makes Cannes the world’s most eccentric carnival, a giddily improbable marriage of European cultural snobbery and slick American showbiz salesmanship.
But if the imported wine was superfluous, the imported glamour was not. Despite the round-the-world representation in the prestigious official competition, the festival depends on Americans for star power—a fact reflected this year not only in the opening-night selection but in the choice of Tennessee Williams as its head juror and in the award of the Grand Prix at the end of two frantic weeks to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a shatteringly violent study of an urban psychopath that is already established in North America as a succès d’estime and succès de box office.
As usual Cannes was a fortnight littered with outrage and embarrassment. The crowds who waited to ogle celebrities on the steps of the Festival Palace every night cheered faded starlets but failed to recognize Tennessee Williams. Behaving like a demented grande dame from his most celebrated plays, Williams soon fled Cannes for nearby Cap d’Antibes, where he issued pronouncements on how much he loathed all the films he was obliged to see.
For the first time in five years the festival rejected the feature entries proposed by Canada, which gave this country something in common with the Russians. Unlike the Canadians, however, the Russians then created the political furor of the season by walking out in a huif and taking a couple of satellite countries with them. The Canadians by contrast turned out in full force to promote their films abroad. At the end of the festival, there was a surprise honor in the form of a grand prize to a short film, Metamorphosis, made by Barry Greenwald, a 22-year-old graduate of Conestoga College in Kitchener, whose work had been largely ignored at home. More significantly, there were four Canadian feature movies in various festival side events—all of them from French Canada.
In the Directors’ Fortnight, La Tête De Normande St. Onge turned out to be one of writer-director Gilles Carle’s lesser efforts, with Carole Laure as a boondocks Quebec girl who sneaks her mother out of an asylum and acts out various fantasies. In Critics’ Week, Anne-Claire Poirier’s Le Temps DeL’Avant had Quebec’s best film actress, Luce Guilbault, as a middle-aged woman pregnant against her wishes. Though representing the National Film Board, an official agency of a government with two official languages, the film was shown in French without English subtitles. The most exciting of the Canadian movies was André Forcier’s L’Eau Chaude, L’Eau Frette, which depicts a tawdry roominghouse milieu of pimps, petty crooks and loan sharks in Montreal’s East End with loving accuracy.
But the object of the Canadian presence at Cannes is international sales, without which the struggling film industry can’t hope to survive. Of the 18 Canadian movies running day and night at the Vox, a commercial theatre in Cannes rented by the Canadian government, the top seller was Death Weekend, a luridly promoted exploitation picture produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by William Fruet.
Despite the overwhelming air of commercialism and vulgarity, there was some interesting new work this year, such as Henry Jaglom’s Tracks, an experimental American film with Dennis Hopper as a soldier on a train escorting the body of a Vietnam war hero, and Peter Weir’s Picnic A t Hanging Rock, based on the mysterious disappearance of several girls from a snobbish Australian girls’ school.
The big event of the festival was the world premiere of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, which runs five hours, 20 minutes, and was shown in two parts. It’s a spectacularly ambitious film which offers a vision of Italy from the turn of the century until the end of World War II through the lives of two boys—one an aristocrat who becomes a fascist pawn, the other a peasant who becomes a Marxist hero—born on the same day on the same estate. The first half of the film achieves greatness, but the second half gets bogged down in leftist cant, as if the writer-director of Last Tango In Paris saw his own stylistic genius as a form of bourgeois decadence which must be curbed in order, as he put it at a press conference after the screening, to “spread that big red flag.” Ironically, 1900—which boasts superstars Dominique Sanda and Donald Sutherland, both making a sensational impact in supporting roles—was financed by several capitalist movie companies—which so far haven’t decided how and when to release it. MARTIN KNELMAN
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