Roulette on the Riviera

Brian D. Johnson May 15 2000

Roulette on the Riviera

Brian D. Johnson May 15 2000

Roulette on the Riviera


Films Cannes

Moviemakers and ingenues gamble for high stakes at the casino known as Cannes

Brian D. Johnson

Every year in May, a pretty town over-looking a strip of beach on the French Riviera tries to upstage Hollywood for 12 days. Cannes is the mother of all film festivals.

It’s where Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren first caught the eye of the world. It’s where the French New Wave went tidal and where Steven Spielberg launched E. T. It’s where Francis Ford Coppola unleashed Apocalypse Now and Quentin Tarantino ignited Pulp Fiction. The Cannes International Film Festival (May 10 to 21) is the Olympics of cinema, a circus that celebrates both high art and Hollywood glam-

our with the kind of pomp and circumstance only the French can pull off with a straight face. Cannes is the world’s largest annual photo opportunity, with 4,000 members of the media in attendance. It is also the movie industry’s biggest crapshoot—a casino where a director’s career can be made or dashed in a twinkling.

When the 53rd Cannes festival closes on May 21, an unknown actress from Montreal, 18-year-old Jessica Paré, will stare down a phalanx of cameras as she climbs the red-carpeted stairs of the Palais des Festivals. As the star of Stardom, the festival’s closing-night gala, Paré will undergo a rite of passage not unlike the one experienced by her character in the film—a girl who is catapulted from small-town obscurity to become a supermodel. Directed by Quebec’s Denys Arcand, Stardom is the first Canadian movie ever honoured with a closing-night gala in Cannes.

Like many of Canada’s leading filmmakers, notably Atom Egoyan and Patricia Rozema, Arcand owes much of his success

to past triumphs at Cannes. The sensation created by The Decline of the American Empire, which was part of the festival’s Directors’ Fort-

night program in 1986, took him all the way to the Oscars. And in 1989, Jesus of Montreal cemented Arcand’s reputation when it premièred in official competition. But Stardom—the director’s second English-language feature—is out of competition, which makes it ineligible to win the coveted Palme d’Or and robs the première of some suspense.

Arcand, however, does not seem to mind. When he heard that festival president Gilles Jacob had his heart set on closing the festival with Stardom, he was “a bit taken aback,” he says. “Closing night is usually a big studio film. Maybe he chose it because it’s a comedy, though it’s a comedy with serious overtones. You don’t see a lot of comedies in competition at film festivals or winning a lot of Oscars. In any case, I’m free of all the pressure. Nobody will expect me to win anything.” Stardom coproducer Robert Lan tos concurs. “It’s a safe way to go. You get tremendous exposure, and I can save my sweat for the sun.” Essentially, Arcand is getting to play with the house money at the Cannes casino. And as a film about fame and fashion, Stardom should provide an acerbic comment on the kind of “starlet” glamour that is the lifeblood of Cannes. The only other Canadian feature programmed is Les Fantômes des trois Madeleines, a Gaspé road movie about three women from three generations looking back on their lives. Marking the debut of Quebec director Guylaine Dionne, it will première later this week in the Directors’ Fortnight.

The festival opens with Vatel, a French epic shot in English by Roland Jofle, co-scripted by Tom Stoppard (,Shakespeare in Love), and starring Gérard Dépardieu and Urna Thurman. The 19 movies in official competition are dominated by fare from serious international directors, ranging from Denmark’s Lars Von Trier to Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai. The Hollywood studios, often burned in the past, now tend to be leery of the competition. But the Merchant-Ivory team will serve up The Golden Bowl, a Henry James period piece with Nick Nolte. And the Coen brothers {Fargo) are contenders with a black comedy, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, starring George Clooney and John Goodman.

One way or the other, the stars keep finding their way to Cannes. Sitting on juries this year are actors Kristin Scott Thomas, Jeremy Irons and Mira Sorvino. Guests of honour include Gregory Peck and Sean Penn. And while the golden age of Cannes may be long gone, there is still a sense at this festival that anything can happen, that in the Riviera twilight, a star can be born literally overnight.

1939 Opening with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and attracting Mae West and Charles Laughton, the first Cannes festival is cancelled right after the première: that day Hitler invades Poland. The festival does not resume until after the war.

1953 In a blaze of flashbulbs, 18-year-old Brigitte Bardot lets her raincoat slip from her shoulder to reveal a painted-on dress as she poses with Gary Cooper aboard the USS Midway of the Sixth Fleet.

1954 An obscure French starlet takes off her bikini top and throws her arms around Robert Mitchum, inaugurating a Cannes tradition of linking sex to the cinema.

1959 The New Wave is christened with the triumphant launch of François Truffaut’s 400 Blows.

1961 With Two Women, Sophia Loren steals the show as a bombshell who proves she can act up a storm.

1962 Hollywood couple Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood tear apart their room at the Carlton Hotel.

1968 During the May strikes, protesters swing from the curtains at the Palais, the festival is closed and, as a result, the Directors’ Fortnight, a forum for more radical films, is born.

1969 Jack Nicholson shows up with Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider and realizes, for the first time: “My God, I’m a movie star!”

1977 Beefcake on the beach. Arnold Schwarzenegger flexes in a swimsuit for his screen debut in Pumping Iron.

1979 Francis Ford Coppola rents the biggest yacht in the harbour for the première of Apocalypse Now.

1982 With no advance buzz, a movie by a little known director creates a sensation on closing night.The name is Spielberg.The movie is E.T.

A retrospective of fortunes won and lost over the years: 1985 Robert Lantos fulfils a dream of climbing the red carpet with the première of Joshua Then and Now, its star, James Woods, takes a break in an interview to exchange sexual favours with the woman interviewing him; his leading lady, Gabrielle Lazure, learns at the last minute that her voice has been dubbed by another actress.

1986 Denys Arcand’s career gets a second wind with the success of The Decline of the American Empire, a sex comedy described by one critic as “The Big Chill with a PhD."

1987 Patricia Rozema comes out of nowhere to win a 10-minute standing ovation for her debut feature, I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing.

1987 Diana, the Princess of Wales, fidgets through the première of Prick Up Your Ears, and at a royal dinner David Puttnam scandalizes everyone with a tirade about the sad state of the British film industry.

1989 Spike Lee is a sore loser when Do the Right Thing is snubbed. But fellow American Steven Soderbergh hits the jackpot with his first film, sex, lies and videotape, which wins three prizes. “Well, I guess it’s all downhill from here,” says Soderbergh as he accepts the Palme d’Or from Jane Fonda-11 years before making his smash hit, Erin Brockovich, with Julia Roberts.

1989 Jane Campion is reduced to tears when the audience practically boos Sweetie off the screen.

1992 In competition with Léolo, Quebec director Jean-Claude Lauzon sabotages his chances when he grabs jury member Jamie Lee Curtis on the terrace of the luxurious Hotel du Cap and horrifies her with a lewd comment.

1993 Jane Campion bounces back with The Piano, which wins the Palme d'Or and best actress for Holly Hunter.

1994 Atom Egoyan makes a breakthrough with Exotica, and becomes a regular Cannes favourite; Quentin Tarantino wins the Palme d’Or for Pulp Fiction, later voted by critics the most influential film of the 1990s.

1996 David Cronenberg’s Crash scandalizes the festival; as a member of Coppola’s jury, Egoyan successfully lobbies to give it a special prize for “audacity, daring and innovation.”

1997 The 50th anniversary. At the openingnight premiere of The Fifth Element, model Milla Jovovlch-linked with co-star Bruce Willis -upstages his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Demi Moore, by showing up half-naked on the red carpet; Egoyan triumphs with The Sweet Hereafter, which wins two prizes on the road to receiving two Oscar nominations.

1999 Egoyan is in competition with Felicia's Journey, but Cronenberg, who heads the jury, doesn’t return the favour his compatriot extended to Crash-, instead Cronenberg’s jury snubs Egoyan and gives the prizes to the most obscure movies in competition.

2000 Almost half a century after Brigitte Bardot seduced the cameras, another 18-year-old ingenue, Quebec’s Jessica Paré, braves the spotlight with Arcand’s Stardom.

Cannes’s golden age may be gone, but in the Riviera twilight, a star can be born literally overnight