Shot mostly during the fest’s 59th edition but arriving just in time for the 60th, “Bienvenue a Cannes” is a roundly entertaining tribute to the grande dame of film festivals that, in the hands of Time critic Richard Schickel, also becomes an expression of purest movie love. A broad array of interview subjects — thesps, directors, bizzers and journalists who regard the event with varying degrees of awe, affection and mild exasperation — makes this dishy divertissement a solid primer for the uninitiated and, for Cannes veterans, an enjoyable trip down memory lane.
Early on, Schickel shows an appreciative eye for the modern-day glamor and clamor of the event, and he lets his talking heads fill in some of the nuttier details: Director Alexander Payne and Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart both riff on the finer points of red-carpet formal wear, while Schickel’s Time colleague Richard Corliss breaks down the class warfare that rages among journos, depending on which color press badge they’ve been assigned.
But while there’s pleasure to be had in mocking the ritualized pomp and pretension of Cannes (mercifully, the privileged, insiderish tone never becomes smug), the docu deepens into a brisk but detailed history lesson that puts both the festival and the films themselves in context.
Recalling the dominance of European auteurs like Rossellini, Godard, Truffaut, Fellini, Bergman and Fassbinder in the ’50s and ’60s, docu evinces a real nostalgia for the days when Cannes was not a global media circus but an idyllic paradise for cinema lovers — one so intimate and low-key that Kenneth Turan, reporting for the Washington Post, could simply knock on Jack Nicholson’s hotel-room door and get an interview.
But the storied creative renaissance in American filmmaking during the ’70s (which saw such Palme d’Or winners as “MASH,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now”) inevitably drew the attention of the Hollywood studios. Subsequent positioning of Yank celebrities on the Croisette, leading to moments like the classic photo of Robert Mitchum and a topless Simone Silva, fueled the growth of an increasingly rabid press corps.
The result, the docu suggests, was a combustible mix of serious cinephilia and eye-popping but mostly irrelevant glamor that still characterizes Cannes today. (Oliver Stone nails the disjunction when he recalls trying to talk about Vietnam in conjunction with “Platoon,” while Charlie Sheen cavorted with starlets in the background.) But according to artistic director Thierry Fremaux, the fest is defined as much by its celebrities as by its auteurs — and, for that matter, its journos (repped here by critics like Michel Ciment and Derek Malcolm) and its bustling market (Dino De Laurentiis weighs in on presales).
Doc’s later stretch looks back at more recent moments in festival history, from the disastrous reception of Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny” to the rich Cannes legacy of then-Miramax topper Harvey Weinstein. Juicy archival footage of Quentin Tarantino announcing the Palme d’Or victory of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” is reason enough for “Bienvenue a Cannes” to exist.
Schickel’s approach brims above all with love for the films and directors under discussion. Unfolding breathlessly in chapters with cheeky film-referential titles (one of which, appropriately enough, is “Breathless”), docu moves at a one-thing-after-another clip that feels digressive yet true to the too-muchness — the sensory overload — of Cannes itself.
Tech package is rough but resourceful, befitting a project lensed mostly in and around a frenzied 12-day event.