Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #1 - The Ridiculous Royals

by Harlan Jacobson

May 11, 1996

Bon jour Good Buddy, is what the 30,0000 film industry professionals and journalists from around the world are saying to each other here on the Croisette, the seaside drag in Cannes.

The 49th Cannes Film Festival opened Thursday night, May 9, as it customarily does with a French film, "Ridicule" by Patrice Leconte. It was both incredible and ironic to see this star-studded - at least for France star-studded - cast headed by Fanny Ardant and Jean Rochefort ascend the red carpeted stairs into the Grand Palais before the throng of cheering peasants. That's because "Ridicule" is about silly Royals amusing themselves while the public is dying from malarial swamps, which could be drained if the blue bloods would stop amusing themselves and pay attention.

"Ridicule" is a costume drama, which always means that it is hiding a contemporary question: So, "Ridicule" asks, "in the face of a public health crisis, itself a metaphor for the public good, has anything changed in 200 years for the better? In interviews, Le Leconte is enigmatic on this point, insisting he isn't pointing any fingers, just telling stories. One man's Louvre is another man's trough.

Cannes this year is a display of serious stories, auteurist films made by great established directors, or young ones who are trying to make a point more than they are a buck .The 20-plus films in competition for the Palmes d'Or are being judged by a good jury, headed by Francis Ford Coppola, last here for "Apocalypse, Now" in 1979, when he shared the Palme d'Or and a piece of his mind about the press. It also includes cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, the actresses Nathalie Baye and Greta Scacchi, and Canadian wunderkind director Atom Egoyan, among others. They are all serious people here to judge serious films trying to find their way against all odds into your neighborhood sixplex.

Thus far the big hit in the competition for the Palme d'Or has been British director Mike Leigh's "Secrets and Lies", which returns Leigh to the family turf of previous films like "LIfe Is Sweet", and marks his last film, "Naked", as the atypical jeremiad that is was. "Secrets and Lies" concerns the return to a white, working class London family of a baby given up for an adoption 28 years earlier and now all grown up - and black.

"Some people close to me have relevant experiences," Lee admitted, "but I can't say any more than that." For better or worse, Leigh has neutralized the race question in order to concentrate on other matters: the film is a metaphor for the present day search for - maybe even mania over- identity.

At a lunch meeting with journalists, Saturday, Leigh said he'd never work for Hollywood and other royal pains in the ass, and then went on to relate a recent Buckingham Palace conversation he'd had with Queen Elizabeth. "What took place was not you call a conversation. As she pinned a medal on my chest, she leaned forward and asked, 'So, what is it exactly that you do?' And I said, 'I make films, Mum.'" "Tebbly difficult, isn't it," quizzed the Queen?

Leigh then said that he'd gotten the protocol that, "When the Queen shakes your hand firmly, that means that's the end of what you would call conversation. So I walked backwards and fell over," he recalled. "She helped me up and invited me to come 'round." The Queen, it should be recalled, has been more attentive to her children in the recent years coinciding with Leigh's career ascent, who seem to be passing through some of the very same difficult stages as Leigh's characters (what psychologists term Adjustment Reaction to Adult Life). Possibly she wants to talk about it with someone more balanced.

Falling over backwards, you see, pretty much describes how audiences here reacted to the film.

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