LONDON — One face was significantly missing when Cannes director Gilles Jacob and president Pierre Viot announced their lineup Tuesday afternoon to a select assembly of journalists at the festival’s ornate Boulevard Malesherbes offices.
Where was Olivier Barrot, the artistic adviser appointed earlier this year with every expectation of stepping into Jacob’s shoes when the latter takes over Viot’s job for 2001?
When queried about Barrot’s whereabouts, Viot would offer only a smiling “no comment” and refused to budge beyond that.
But fest insiders and vet observers agreed that Barrot is definitely out, the only question being the technical one of whether he was shown the door or read the handwriting on the wall and stepped out of his own accord.
For some weeks, Paris has been buzzing with rumors that the relationship between Barrot and Jacob had not been working out.
Barrot role limited
In fact, Barrot is understood to have played an extremely limited role in this year’s final selection, which, as usual, shows all the signs of Jacob’s fingerprints. Sources confirm that Barrot saw relatively few of the movies under consideration and that even when he visited Hollywood to view a couple of titles, his one recommendation was later rejected back in Paris.
The 51-year-old film buff-cum-TV presenter was seen at the time as a convenient choice by Jacob, who had to come up with a name when his future ascendancy to the role of fest president was announced. Barrot was already known to him and, within the highly cliquey landscape of French film critics, came with little baggage attached. He also worked without a contract to hinder his departure.
Barrot himself could not be reached for comment, but informed observers in Paris and elsewhere reckoned he had already parted ways with Jacob, partly from being gradually sidelined during the selection process and partly because he knew he would not be confirmed by Jacob as next year’s director.
Nix to press conference
Indeed, it was the Barrot situation that reportedly triggered the fest hierarchy’s decision not to hold a general press conference for the first time in memory, so as to not be forced to address questions about what happened.
Barrot’s quick departure, which one longtime Cannes participant deemed “a great embarrassment,” in many respects leaves Jacob in a more difficult position, given the relative shortage of candidates for a post that requires working under Jacob’s presidential gaze while still putting a personal signature on the festival.
A natural choice, once mooted by Jacob, would be his son, Laurent, who works for the fest and has considerable influence on his father’s decisions; but observers now reckon that idea to be a nonstarter. Other names previously in the frame, such as crix Serge Toubiana and Jean-Michel Frodon, could be reassessed.
“This is clearly a festival in transition,” said one insider. There remains the outside chance that Jacob may temporarily stay in charge of programming after becoming president of the fest.
In recent interviews, he has clearly stated his intention of staying involved in the fest’s “artistic elements” and underlined that “nothing is fixed. The festival must always adapt itself in order to better prepare for the future. Little by little we’ll see how to reorganize the composition of the team.”