festival in cannes (2002)

director: henry jaglom

greta scacchi, anouk aimee, ron silver, zack norman, maximillian schell

It's impossible to know just what proportion of love and hate director Henry Jaglom felt while making his latest film, Festival in Cannes. It's primarily a celebration of the famous spring film festival, which has made a quaint resort town on the Riviera the magnetic north of curdled glamour, tacky and spectacular at the same time, and a distillation of everything good and bad about the international film industry.

Jaglom, a resolutely independent director of small, intensely chatty "relationship" films, relies on Cannes to publicize and distribute his work, and his long-term relationship with the festival translates into effortless scene-setting. Like all his films, it's about relationships, and centers on a group of people whose varying degrees of self-absorption define their characters.

Alice (Greta Scacchi) is an older actress trying to make her debut as a director, while Blue (Jenny Gabrielle) is an ingenue whose first film has become the hit of the festival. They don't actually meet, but between them is a network of ambitious men, including Rick (Ron Silver), a powerful producer of blockbusters, his ambitious assistant Barry (Alex Craig Mann), and Kaz (Zack Norman), an unctuous, overbearing "mover" who has attached himself to Alice's project.

Everything hinges on Millie Marquand, a legendary film star played by Anouk Aimee, the legendary film star. Zak can get funding for Alice's film if Millie agrees to star, but Rick also needs her to play a small role in his latest project. Millie's estranged husband, played by Maximillian Schell, is a faded director whose infidelity and bad advice have hobbled her career and her life, and whose own career might be brought back to life if he believes promises made to him by Rick and Zak.

It should be apparent by now that the women in Jaglom's film are the put-upon victims of their ambitious, power-hungry men. It's a scenario that might appear a bit strident if it weren't for Jaglom's utterly certain grasp of the dynamic, the product of years of observation. When Alice and Rick, and then Blue and Barrie, come together as couples, it feels like an obvious bit of plotting, meant to advance Jaglom's dismal view of movie politics. 

But the movie business is a small world, where relationships are formed based on balances of power, within a very small pool of people. Fifty years ago, Jaglom's film might have been a lush melodrama shot in Technicolor; his decision to make it with handheld cameras and available light, in the midst of the festival itself, as well as his profound grasp of the material, makes it almost feel like a documentary.