1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #2: Im Memory of Marco Ferreri
May 10, 1997--The Italian film director Marco Ferreri died Friday
night, May 9, in Paris. He would have been 69 on Sunday. The Festival
is dedicating the 50th Anniversary festivities that day to his
Very few movies are as solidly, uncompromisingly subversive as his
"La Grande Bouffe" (1973) in which a group of friends decide to eat
themselves to death. Mike Figgis may have taken some inspiration for
"Leaving Las Vegas" - in which Nicolas Cage's character decides to
drink himself to death and proceeds to do so - from Ferreri.
I think if it were possible to do yourself in by watching too many
movies, the Croisette would be littered with bodies. As I charge
through the celluloid jungle of my tenth Cannes, I find it
encouraging to spot the diminuitive Spanish gentleman with the thick
glasses who has attended ever single festival since the beginning.
Sometimes he uses a cane, sometimes a younger companion holds his
arm. An inspiration.
Eight of Ferreri's films were presented at Cannes and three of them
won prizes. I have two personal memories in connection with Ferreri.
One day, perhaps thirteen years ago, my husband and I were eating at
an excellent sushi restaurant on rue Monsieur-le-Prince just a few
blocks from our apartment in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. There
were only three or four sushi joints in the neighborhood then - now
there are dozens - and most non-Asian Parisians considered sushi a
waste of perfectly good fish that was meant to be grilled or steamed
or baked and served adorned with a squeeze of lemon.
Ferreri came in with the French actor Michel Piccoli (one of the
bursting at the seams bon vivants in "La Grand Bouffe") and the two
men ordered the costliest item on the menu: le bateau. It was as
close as an assemblage of raw fish can come to qualifying as
In a wooden boat that was just the right size to "dock" at their
table were arrayed dozens of delicacies. The two friends plucked
sushi and sashimi and trimmings off the prow, bow and mast. They
traded chopstick maneuveurs. We saw how much fun they were having -
two grown men playing with their food - and decided that we, too,
would order "le bateau" one day.
As luck would have it, Iroha Sushi want out of business before we
ever got around to letting our edible ship come in. When I walk past
that spot (there's an Indian restaurant there now) I sometimes feel a
slight pang of regret.
I would spot Ferreri walking down the street now and then. I'm told
he lived on rue Saint-Sulpice. I've always had an inexplicable,
violent reaction to Amish beards. Mr. Ferreri wore one and I think
his is the only one that didn't turn my stomach.
My other personal memory in connection with Ferreri's work involves a
trip to the airport in New York in 1984. I was one of three
passengers in a collective cab provided by an outfit called Group
Ride. We all started talking to pass the time and when I said I wrote
about movies and spoke about them on the radio, the elderly gent in
the front seat told me he was in showbiz too, as an actor and
stand-in for Lee Strasberg, the famed teacher who took the occasional
screen role, most notably in "The Godfather, Part II" as the "simple
businessman" who thinks he's immortal but meets up with a bullet
This fellow was certain I wouldn't have seen any of his work, but it
turned out he'd been in Ferreri's "Reve de Singe" (loosely: monkey
dream) in 1978. The film, known as "Bye Bye Monkey" was shot in NYC ,
in English, and was left off of every list of Gerard Depardieu's
English-language credits I ever saw when American journalists started
writing about him around the time of "Green Card." Anyway, my fellow
passenger exclaimed, "You SAW that? I've never seen it. What was it
like? The giant monkey, the chimpanzee, Marcello Mastroianni, I
couldn't make head or tails of it. I can't believe you've actually
I told him it was one of those movies creative Europeans tend to make
when they switch to English - it "looks" like it's taking place on
location in New York but the only place the narrative could ever
comfortably dwell is in the director's own mind. Emir Kusturica's
"Arizona Dream" is another example. The actors and locations may be
authentic, but the composite result is as far from American geography
and recognizable social patterns as the Hale-Bopp comet.
With the sudden death, at age 59 of graphic designer, painter,
illustrator, writer, playwright, song writer, filmmaker and
television innovator Roland Topor in Paris on April 16 (those were
Topor's drawings in the animated feature "Fantastic Planet")
Europe - and the wider world - has lost two of its most dedicated
iconoclasts and provocateurs.
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