U.S. stars still rule red carpet

CANNES — Will there ever be a real Euro star system? Cannes is the best place to pose the question, but perhaps the most depressing place for Euro film producers to face the inevitable answer.

Despite all of the Euro government-funded panels, seminars, think-tanks and workshops on how to build a Continental star system that will drive box office (and from Barcelona to Berlin, I’ve personally attended more than my share), I think the sad truth is quite clear when you look at the paparazzi on the Cannes Film Festival red carpet.

Hollywood stars get the photogs’ eyes bulging as paparazzi calculate the rewards of real money shots. Mere actors and actresses draw drooping eyelids and knitting of brows as the camera jockeys ponder how to make their Vespa payments.

Cannes will again remind the world that while film art is good for the souls of those inside the Palais, movie stars drive hit movies and the crowds outside the Palais will be fighting to glimpse the stars of “Star Wars,” “Sin City,” “Match Point,” “Don’t Come Knockin,'” “Broken Flowers,” etc., not the Bulgarian director of a film that has sent critics’ pulses racing.

Why have all the best intentions of the film Eurocrats failed to establish a star system?

Rome-based casting agent Shaila Rubin says the problem is that “government agencies and other sources of money aren’t quick to back the talent. Paddy Considine is great. You can see it. But how do you make him a star if the money is waiting until he’s a star? It’s chicken-and-egg time.”

According to Euro industry pros like RAI Cinema chief Giancarlo Leone, the list of Euro stars today who can drive global box office is shorter than a French starlet’s skirt. “Benigni is the only actor in Italy — but he’s also an auteur — who is able to have extraordinary international appeal.”

According to other Euro industryites, the magic star list probably includes Gerard Depardieu, Monica Bellucci, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, with Juliette Binoche, Bruno Ganz, Fanny Ardant, Javier Bardem, Jean Reno and Catherine Deneuve also capable of getting the paparazzi’s lenses uncapped. Eyes may also widen a bit for Paz Vega, Daniel Auteil, Franke Potente and Daniel Bruehl.

How does this paucity of eye-popping talent affect the prospects for producers to prosper?

“Americans can afford to make a totally crap film and it will still make tons of money, if the right stars are in it. We can’t do that,” laments producer Riccardo Tozzi, topper of Italo indie stable Cattleya.

German producer-director Eckhart Schmidt says Europe has “a name system, not a star system. Names bring in money to help you make your films, but the name doesn’t really drive any admissions.” Or cause any flashbulbs to pop.

Will Europe stop with the star system seminars already and start growing a fresh crop of stars and then begin caring for and feeding them?

That may be a tough question to answer, but an easier conundrum is the one raised every night in front of the Palais.

“Who do we shoot?” ask the snappers.

If the answer is — as it inevitably is — “Shoot the Americans,” be assured that has nothing to do with politics.

(Nick Vivarelli in Rome contributed to this column.)

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