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