SEX, SAND AND CELLULOID
THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL IS A 12-DAY CARNIVAL OF GLAMOR, ART AND COMMERCE
Her stiletto heels poked into the sand at the edge of the Mediterranean. Wearing a striped cotton blouse and a black micro-skirt, she struck a sultry pose for the horde of photographers surrounding her, who included flak-jacketed professionals, tourists with Instamatics and pornographers with telephoto lenses. Sylvie Martin was an unemployed 26-year-old from a village near Cannes. It was her first time in the public eye, and she was doing her best to look like a model in a magazine. She unbuckled her broad leather belt and let it drop to the sand. She removed her blouse to reveal her breasts. Photographers shouted “Bravo,” and shutters clicked furiously. Then, she wriggled out of her tight skirt, but drew the line at photographers’ pleas that she take off her white bikini briefs. A wave washed over her high heels, and, as she began to get dressed, the cameras quickly
sought out fresh female subjects.
It was another day of disposable fame at the 43rd annual International Film Festival in Cannes, France, which ended early this week. Stripping for the cameras is a traditional sideshow at Cannes, the movie industry’s 12-day orgy of glamor, commerce and art. It is the world’s most important film festival. And while the sex and glamor are traditional elements, in recent years the festival crowd has become increasingly obsessed with work and money. When producers discuss “negative pickups” and “high back-end” deals at champagne-drenched parties on the beach, they are talking business, not pleasure. Still, the champagne trail leads from black-tie premières to private yachts, from the casino to the disco. And sex remains an operative metaphor, even if there is little time for the real thing. David Overbey, a Parisbased programmer of Toronto’s annual film festival, has been going to Cannes for 20 years. He calls it “the circus whorehouse of cinema—every-
body and everything is for sale.”
Exclusive: The festival serves as a mecca for a wide cross section of society, from the superrich who park their monster yachts in the bay to the gypsy pickpockets who work the crowds along the Croisette, the town’s beach-front promenade. Sighted there on a warm evening last week: men in tuxedoes marching briskly to a gala screening, a beggar woman using a small child as a prop, Africans selling watches, a moonwalking mime artist, a fast-talking publicist on a cellular phone, musicians, prostitutes, transvestites, a man with a sandwich board announcing the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and an Andy Warhol impersonator wearing whiteface and a fright wig.
But, for all its distractions, Cannes is also a critical movie showcase. It attracts Europe’s top directors and some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. This year’s visitors included Clint Eastwood, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stal-
lone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lauren Bacall, Anthony Quinn and Mick Jagger. Some of them came to promote their movies. Others came to be seen—if only by each other. The major stars stayed far from the Croisette’s crowd, a halfhour drive down the coast at the exclusive Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc, a 19th-century château where a room with a view costs $1,000 a night. Lunch for two at the Cap can easily exceed $500.
Fireworks: The hotel’s spectacular Eden Roc restaurant, perched on terraces overlooking the sea, served as the site for the festival’s most extravagant party. Carolco Pictures, an independent U.S. production company, spent an estimated $1 million entertaining just 300 guests. Stallone and Schwarzenegger put on a show, dancing arm in arm to live music by The Gipsy Kings. Jagger sat beside girlfriend Jerry Hall. The party climaxed with a massive fireworks display spelling out the titles of a dozen new movies, along with the names of their directors and stars.
Despite the displays of Hollywood glamor, Cannes mostly celebrates movies that are beyond Hollywood's grasp. The festival serves as the international summit of independent cine-
ma. And this year, its official competition featured new movies by such old masters as Italy’s Federico Fellini, France’s Jean-Luc Godard and Japan’s Akira Kurosawa. There was also a provocative slate of films from newly liberated Eastern Europe—including the previously banned Interrogation, a movie by Polish filmmaker Ryszard Bugajski, now based in Toronto (page 47). For film-makers working outside the
Hollywood studios, success at the festival can make or break careers, sex, lies and videotape, made for a modest $1.2 million, became a major hit after winning last year’s grand prize at Cannes. And in past years, the festival has helped establish such Canadian film-makers as Denys Arcand, whose Decline of the American Empire (1986) and Jesus of Montreal (1989) were both acclaimed at the festival.
But, for the first time in 12 years, not a single Canadian feature was selected for this year’s official program, which included 38 features from 29 countries. Notably absent was Bethune-. The Making of a Hero, the troubled epic starring Donald Sutherland as Dr. Norman Bethune, the Canadian battlefront surgeon who died in the Chinese Revolution. Still, the Montreal-based producers of the $ 18-million movie—the most expensive in Canadian history—travelled to Cannes and gamely screened a finished print of Bethune for distributors in the festival’s International Film Market (page 46). In all, about 250 members of the Canadian movie industry showed up to buy and sell films.
A vast bazaar open to anyone with the money to rent a booth, the market attracts the best and the worst of the
A CIRCUS WHOREHOUSE OF CINEMAEVERYBODY IS FOR ’
world’s independent production companies. They advertise their wares up and down the Croisette with giant billboards. Some companies work out of hotel rooms. Others set up a stand in the basement of the Palais des Festivals, the headquarters of coral-pink concrete that is nicknamed the Bunker. In the bowels of the Bunker, there are those who sell lowbudget movies by the pound. Often, neither the buyers nor the sellers bother to watch the products they are trading.
Playboy: In the beach-front Carlton Hotel, there are producers selling movies with such titles as Frankenhooker, Macho Woman and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell. The poster for Frankenhooker, a comic horror movie produced by the New York City-based Trauma Inc., includes a quotation allegedly from comedian Bill Murray: “If you see only one movie this year, it should be Frankenhooker.” When a visitor dropped by Trauma’s office in the Carlton Hotel, marketing director Steve Gaul pounced on him like like a rug merchant. “Sure, we’ve got imitators,” he said, when asked about the products of a competing producer. “All kinds of people are out there selling titles. But what you’re looking at aren’t just titles. We’re actually selling movies.”
Between the basement of the Bunker and its red-carpeted outdoor staircase that leads the black-tie crowd into the festival’s 2,400-seat
Cinéma de Lumière, there is an intricate class structure based on money, image and power. When Canadian Robert Lantos made his first trip to Cannes 16 years ago as a novice producer, he had to start at the bottom. “At the age of 24,” he recalled, “I didn’t have a clue what goes on here, how to get a hotel room or a party invitation.” Lantos found a hotel five kilometres from the Croisette. He knew almost no one at the festival. But he had a tantalizing product to sell: The Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival. He found that there was a killing to be made at Cannes in soft-core pornography. Meanwhile, he crashed the parties. He met women on the beach. And over the years, he carved out an unrivalled reputation as the playboy prince of the Canadian entertainment industry. Said Lantos: “I had a ball.” Romance: Now, Lantos is chairman of Toronto-based Alliance Entertainment Corp., Canada’s largest film and TV production company. And last week, he occupied a lavish comer suite on the top floor of the Carlton. Near the hotel entrance was a billboard promoting Beautiful Dreamers, a Canadian movie that Affiance’s distribution arm is marketing internationally. A sweet but sexless tale of American poet Walt Whitman’s visit to London, Ont., Dreamers failed at the Canadian box office. Its saccharine newspaper ads promoted it as a movie about romance and poetry. In Cannes,
the Alliance poster for the same movie showed a man and a woman leaning against a tree, his knee in the folds of her skirt. The caption: “Voices of sex and lust ... he understood her perversity.”
But Alliance is also showing signs of class. This year Lantos plans to shoot a $ 12-million screen version of The Black Robe, Irish-born novelist Brian Moore’s brutal tale of Jesuits and Iroquois. And to direct, he has signed Bruce Beresford, the Australian director of the Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy. Meanwhile, Affiance is setting up new offices in Paris and London. And to celebrate its expansion, it staged an extravagant lunch for about 50 guests at the Gray d’Albion, the only four-star restaurant in Cannes. The seven courses ranged from langoustine to violet asparagus.
Glamor: Lantos sat with Mark Damon, the Los Angeles-based producer of the erotic hits 9V2 Weeks and the current Wild Orchid. They discussed favorite actresses. Britain’s Greta Scacchi “has one of the world’s great bodies,” declared Damon. Lantos said that he was hoping to hire French star Isabelle Adjani for a movie based on Delta of Venus, the erotic writings of Anafs Nin.
Later, the two producers swapped stories of real on-camera lovemaking. Damon revealed how Mickey Rourke and co-star Carré Otis decided to go all the way in Wild Orchid, which is obvious only in the X-rated version. Lantos told of hard-core sex between Carole Laure and Lewis Furey on the set of T Ange et la femme (1977).
The Cannes of 1990 is a tamer, gentler place. Its film market used to be a haven for pornography. In the mid-1970s, more than half the films shown outside the official program were sexploitation movies. But during the
1980s, tougher regulations filtered out the hard-core features. Meanwhile, the displays of sex and glamor on the Croisette have become more discreet. Said Lantos: “It used to be a lot wilder.”
Caviar: Another Cannes veteran, Torontobased producer Bill Marshall, says that he is nostalgic for the old days. “Now, it seems everybody’s going home early, at 1 and 2 in the morning,” he said, sweating through his white suit in the crush of a champagne-and-caviar party hosted by the funding agency Telefilm Canada. “There was no such thing as a breakfast meeting,” Marshall added. “Back then, you were lucky to get lunch.” As for the naked women, they were not always confined to the beach. Edy Williams, an American who became a cult favorite for photographers, used to pose naked in fountains and hotel lobbies. And there were others. Recalled Marshall: “You’d be sitting out on the Carlton terrace, and this girl would come along wearing next to nothing and put a great writhing python on you.”
Standing next to Marshall at the Telefilm party was a colleague wearing a baby-blue tie and matching madras jacket. “We were at the Carlton the other day,” he said, “and this girl came out with a skirt riding halfway up her behind—obviously a hooker. Well, they kicked her out. Can you believe it? They actually kicked her out.”
Still, the carnival tries to live up to its image of hedonism. Rich men escort stunning women sheathed in glittering minis. With top designers favoring bordello-style fashions, it can be hard to distinguish between the girlfriends and the hired escorts. Streetwalkers strike bold, sculptured poses on corners and in doorways. And
some of the most glamorous prostitutes turn out to be men. Telefilm Canada’s cautionary guide to Cannes warns festival-goers that they may discover “the beautiful creature they have been eyeing is actually a transvestite.” Meanwhile, the prostitutes have trouble competing with the festival’s own diversions, which last late into the night. One evening last week began with a distributor’s champagne reception on rock star David Bowie’s private yacht—without Bowie. Then, it was time to move to a bigger vessel. Clutching their invitations to a party called “Hot to Trotsky,”
crowds shoved their way through a gate onto a shuttle boat headed for a big, dirty Russian ship anchored half a mile offshore. A banner for the Soviet studio, Primodessa Film, adorned the hull. The vessel was a ship of fools, jammed with guests who got lost in its maze of ladders and corridors.
Sequined women removed their high heels to clamber up gangways. Rock and rap music played loudly on the foredeck, which served as a dance floor. The vodka vanished before midnight, but the guests drank cheap table wine from the bottle and danced with abandon—a spell of plebeian relief from the astringent atmosphere of more formal affairs.
Strobe: The last stop that night, at 3 a.m., was the Studio Circus, the town’s all-night disco. A giant champagne bottle hung from a dome ribbed with pink neon. The dancers looked epileptic under shuddering strobe lights. At one point, the dance floor cleared, and a woman appeared onstage in black lingerie, which she shed to the music. She performed a precise and passionless striptease, which ended with the closing of a red velvet curtain.
At the Circus, only the rich could afford to get drunk. Drinks cost $30 each, whether beer, whisky or champagne. Prices were not much lower at the Majestic Hotel bar, the place to see and be seen at midnight, where the standard ritual is to order Pimm’s Royale, a sweet champagne cocktail stuffed with fruit and mint leaves, at $25 a glass.
But the exorbitant prices seem to have provoked a backlash in Cannes, which is becoming better known for the greased palm than for the Golden Palm, its top award. In fact, this year, many of the merchants—from restaurant
owners to streetwalkers—were complaining that business during the festival was much slower than in previous years. The buyers and sellers of movies also pointed to a disturbing slump. Said Ben Barenholz, president of Circle Distributing of New York: “The energy’s down and prices are up.” Montreal-based distributor Jan Rofekamp of Films Transit agreed. “A lot of people are fed up with the high prices and the attitude of the French,” he said.
Moreover, the Cannes Film Market is beginning to suffer from competition by the other two major movie markets—Los Angeles in February, and Milan in October. But, as Los Angeles-based publicity agent Michael Dalling said, there is no risk of Cannes going out of business. “With the socializing, the parties, the South of France—it’s something very special,” said Dalling. “Everybody comes to Cannes.” Still, they spend a lot of time justifying the expense. And a staggering schedule of movies, parties and meetings leaves many festivalgoers little time for more intimate pleasures. Maureen O’Donnell, a Toronto-based publicist, recalled that she met a man for a drink at last year’s festival after running into him at several cocktail parties. “We sat down, and he said to me, ‘There seem to be these sparks between us, but I’m very busy.’ Then, he pulled out his Filo-Fax.” Added O’Donnell: “It sort of took the romance out of the invitation.”
Art: The pure romance of Cannes has faded from the golden years of the 1950s and 1960s, when it was synonymous with the art and glamor of moviemaking. And although the fes-
tival still owes much of its legend to stargazing, many of those stars now seem to detest the place. After he was mauled by crowds in 1987, Paul Newman vowed never to return. Last week, Stallone made a staged appearance on the terrace of the Carlton. Surrounded by about 50 bodyguards and hundreds of onlookers, he had a drink with some colleagues. Then, as he tried to leave, the fans swarmed his Mercedes and climbed all over it, buckling the hood.
Money: Like Stallone, Eastwood and others, Donald Sutherland chose the quiet refuge of the Cap while visiting Cannes to promote a movie that he had just finished shooting in Poland. “It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” he said, enjoying breakfast on a terrace overlooking the hotel’s vast gardens. “I wouldn’t mind staying here if I didn’t have to go into Cannes.” Of course, Sutherland—and his costar Anne Archer—were staying at the Cap at someone else’s expense. Said Sutherland: “If it was my money, I wouldn’t spend a nickel to come to Cannes.”
Cannes is an expense-account city. And some of those who spend their days playing with other people’s money amid the bustle of the Carlton’s terrace spend their nights squandering their own in the hotel’s rooftop casino. The room is opulent, with chandeliers of blue-frosted glass. It bears no resemblance to Las Vegas: it is deathly quiet and no one smiles. Everyone seems to be moving in slow motion, as if in an opium trance. The players are mostly men. But a Paris-based Czech actress, who had been scraping together a living impersonating Marilyn Monroe, showed up in a tight black dress embroidered with wild patterns made of zippers. She sat at the bar with her agent after losing 100 francs ($20Can.) at roulette and another 100 francs at blackjack. The men looked up from the gaming tables and studied her with interest, weighing the odds. Nobody made a move.
BRIAN D. JOHNSON
For the most expensive, ambitious and troubled movie in Canadian history, it was an ignominious debut. Last week at the Cannes Film Festival, Bethune: The Making of a Hero—an $18-million epic about Canada’s Dr. Norman Bethune, the battle-front surgeon who became a martyr of the Chinese Revolution—was finally unveiled. It was a trade screening, by invitation only. A few dozen spectators were scattered around the theatre, many of them Canadians curious to see the end result of a production nightmare. Writers from several publications, including Maclean’s, attended, having agreed not to review the movie. But after published reports that the response in Cannes was unfavorable, the producers expressed regret about having invited the press.
Filmline International, a Montreal-based company, began shooting the movie in China in 1987, using a script by Montreal-born screenwriter Ted Allan. The production was plagued by budget problems, delays, a crew strike and conflicts with the Chinese co-producers. And a bitter feud divided the film-makers, with director Philip Borsos
and star Donald Sutherland pitted against Allan and the producers.
Originally, producers Nicolas Clermont and
Pieter Kroonenburg predicted that Bethune
would be invited to last year’s Cannes festival,
Then, they said that it would premiere at this
year’s festival. But, according to the producers, it was still not finished in time. They did, however,
bring the completed movie to the Cannes market
to drum up foreign sales. The producers excluded
the director from the final editing. In an earlier
version prepared by Borsos, Bethune’s life story
unfolded in chronological order and “it put people
to sleep,” said Clermont. The movie now skips
back and forth between Bethune’s past and his
later years in China. Borsos “just totally hates it,”
Sutherland—in Cannes to promote Eminent
Domain, a movie that he has just finished filming in Poland—told Maclean ’s that he remains loyal to the director. “I would work
with Philip Borsos again in three minutes,” he said. But, Sutherland added, “I would
never in my life work again with Nicolas
Clermont and Pieter Kroonenburg.” Suther-
land has not seen the complete current
version of the movie. He said that, although
the producers sent an unpolished video version of Bethune to the set he was working on
in Poland, he was able to watch only 20
minutes of it.
In Cannes, the producers quickly did some
damage control after press leaks from the
screening. Clermont announced that officials
of both the Montreal and Toronto film festi-
vals have invited Bethune to be part of their
programs. He added that foreign sales are
proceeding well, although a prior U.S. distri-
bution deal is in litigation. Bethune may be
finished, but its troubles are not over yet.