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By Andrew Jack

CANNES, FRANCE, 1997  - There were the films you didn't want to see, the films your accreditation didn't give you the right to see, and the residual films which you grudgingly saw by default and then wished you hadn't.

For the much-trumpeted 50th anniversary of the Cannes film festival, the 1997 selection placed before jury and those other viewers with less heavy responsibilities was hardly worth its own Palme d'Or for judgement.

It might be going a bit far to say that the most impressive offering was the brief animation clip which preceded each projection - with a stylised version of the famous Cannes' steps and at the summit furled Palme leaves surrounding the figure 50 which transformed itself into a butterfly and flew away.

But certainly the series of short introductory films - with snippets around a chosen theme, such as "rain", from movies past - was a powerful reminder that some of the contemporary crop had regressed sharply.

Gratuitous violence was the most common thread in 1997, and one that was happily rejected by the awards panel. The youthful Matthieu Kassovitz, perhaps suffering from burn-out after his meteoric recent rise in "La Haine" and "Un Héro très discret", was a case in point.

"Assassin(s)", written, directed, edited and starring him, did little more than repulse many viewers. The one talent he has unfortunately not picked up so far is an ability to take criticism, with him sneering and snapping at one journalist who questioned him in the post-film press conference, "that doesn't merit an answer".

Hadn't it all been done better long ago - from Hitchcock to "Clockwork Orange"? The problem was that once "Funny Games", "The End of Violence", "Assassin(s)" and the rest had been removed, there was not a lot left from which to choose.

"La Tregua", based on the writer Primo Levi's journey back to Italy after he was released from Auschwitz, was touching enough and had a few profound thoughts about human dignity interspersed with some entertaining if implausible character sketches, but did not leave much of a lasting impression.

"The Serpent's Kiss" promised plenty of hidden meanings with its tale of a vain English industrialist commissioning an extravagant garden at the end of the 17th century. It ended up as a rather too straightforward story with little that was more subtle than a few scattered references to its flowers and lay-out as sexual metaphors.

"She's so lovely" may perhaps be a true description of the principal actress, Robin Penn Wright, but it certainly did not apply to the story - which was unconvincing and did little to explore the complexities of a woman torn between two men she loves. After a decade of marriage and two daughters, she shrugs her shoulders and leaves them all behind after just a few minutes' contemplation when her former lover arrives to collect her.

Nor was the inexplicable renaissance of John Travolta's career made any clearer in the film, in which his ability to show stress was limited to close-ups of him drumming his fingers and lighting innumerable cigarettes. Sean Penn put in a better performance in the same film, though whether he deserved the prize for the best male role is more debatable. At least his performance was less hammy and clichéd than his acceptance speech.

But since anyone who can watch, listen or read has already been innundated with endless details on the Cannes' selection of films in the last few days, Culturekiosque decided instead to concentrate on awarding its own prizes to some more obscure aspects of the festival.

It was a festival which, incidentally, merits its own Palme d'Or for creative accounting, given that despite the hundreds of banners and posters trumpeting the 50th anniversary, the first gathering in Cannes was actually scheduled to take place in September 1939, which proved rather bad timing, and two more - in 1948 and 1950 - were cancelled.

The Cannes jury itself receives our Palme for indecisiveness. They hardly had that many films (and fewer still greats) to choose from, yet they ended up unable to select between two winners for their Palme d'Or ("Unagi" and "Ta'm e guilass"). Their schizophrenia spread to the film shorts jury prize ("Léonie" and "Les Vacances") and the grand prix for sound and vision ("She's so lovely" and "Le Cinquième élément / The Fifth Element").

The Culturekiosque Prize for best translator goes to the ensemble of the Cannes' festival staff for both their efforts in sub-titling (even if not always perfect) and in simultaneous interpretation for prize-winners during the awards. The festival certainly has no need to be ashamed of any Gallic chauvinism in its choices, with a growing place given to Asian and Middle Eastern cinema and hardly two French choices to rub together among the winners.

Our prize for the most made-for-television spectacle goes to none of the films, but the closing awards ceremony itself which, had we (and probably many of the others in attendance) known what was coming, we would not have bothered prostrating ourselves for hours in order to get seats.

There were fascinating views of the cameras broadcasting the event, but hardly a thought for the hundreds in the audience, trussed in their dinner jackets and ball gowns on a hot evening. There was no attempt to show extracts from the winning entries, nor even to use the giant screen at one side of the stage so those of us so far away at the back of the hall could see the faces of those giving and receiving the prizes. And once the TV was turned off, the ceremony wound down in an incredible anti-climax.

The red-carpet prize for the most outrageous garb goes to Victoria Abril, who appeared to have forgotten to use the rear zip on her jacket, revealing her naked back and knickers for the photographers. A close second was Milla Jovovich, whose flimsy strings of gilt constructed by John Galliano left the impression that she had forgotten simply to get dressed at all.

The politically correct prize goes to the French actress Emmanuelle Béart, charged with presenting an award, but - having flirted her way up the steps in an expensive dress - grabbed the podium to call on all those present to fight for the "sans papiers", facing expulsion from the country.

The most colourful accreditation award for the festival goes to all those journalists sporting a pink badge with a yellow spot, to distinguish them from the uninspiring but most important white badges, and the lower grades - pink without spot, blue and yellow.

And finally, still on the awards ceremony, our prize for the best threat during the festival was that of a representative of the hoteliers of Cannes who exploded when his party was forced to wait an eternity before being allowed into the hall, saying that if he did not get in, "everyone will sleep in Juan-les-Pins next year". In 1998, he's more than welcome to my seat.




Andrew Jack is the Paris correspondent for the Financial Times and a member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com.

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