Henry Jaglom’s 13th feature, “Festival in Cannes,” shows a maturity that has surfaced in the iconoclastic director’s work since his 1995 “Last Summer in the Hamptons.” Leaving behind the often-exhausting self-analysis of his 1980s films, he’s moved on to group analysis as well as bigger budgets and casts, and no longer plays the lead himself. Pic, shot in Cannes in 1999, may lack the romance of Jaglom’s “Deja Vu,” but is his quickest and funniest picture in years and the most accessible. With proper handling, “Festival” stands to do arthouse biz above Jaglom’s niche norm.
In typical Jaglom fashion, pic weaves together crisscrossing narrative threads, involving a gaggle of characters hocking their wares at the world’s most prestigious film festival. There’s the American actress Alice Palmer (Greta Scacchi), who’s seeking backing for a low-budget script she’s written; aging but radiant screen icon Millie Marquand (Anouk Aimee), who must choose between a leading role in Alice’s film and a lucrative cameo in a big Tom Hanks picture; Millie’s philandering, estranged husband Viktor (Maximilian Schell), once a leading filmmaker; and slimy Hollywood producer Rick Yorkin (Ron Silver), who’s trying to woo Alice away from Millie.On the sidelines is an equally endearing bunch — the up-and-comers. Of these, newcomer Jenny Gabrielle delivers a wonderful, wide-eyed turn as Blue, the bashful starlet whose zero-budget indie pic has just become the hot-buzz item of the festival. And Jaglom regular Zack Norman steals scenes as the fast-talking, fast-walking “producer” Kaz. Norman, who was memorable in Jaglom’s caper comedy “Sitting Ducks,” is a volcanic explosion of improvisational comic energy here.
The dilemmas faced by Alice, Millie and Blue are adroitly illustrative of the delicate balance between art and commerce inherent in making pictures (and the ironic raison d’etre of a hybrid festival/market like Cannes), and pic is keenly perceptive on this divide. Jaglom remains a hopeless romantic; his movies are in love with the idea of being in love, and pine for an old-fashioned Hollywood kind of romance, where people in movies spoke wittily and intelligently about their feelings for one another.
Jaglom’s largely unscripted, unrehearsed approach can lead (and often has) to rambling digressions. But a consistent strength of his films has been the unselfconsciousness with which his characters explore their innermost feelings, something that’s become more refreshing over time.
At their worst, Jaglom’s films can seem repetitious; his markedly inferior “Venice/Venice” was also about a major film festival. But even if some moments are disorganized, with actors appearing thrown together quite uncomfortably in the frame, Jaglom has become a more savvy organizer of his improvised affairs — there’s very little “fat” in the scenes here and the picture really moves. At its strongest, his habit of cross-cutting between multiple actions occurring simultaneously imbues certain sequences with a Resnais-like energy.
Plus, Aimee and Scacchi both give luminescent perfs, particularly Scacchi, who filmed this role shortly after giving birth, and whose familiar movie star glamour is downplayed here in favor of a stunning, organic beauty. Pic is dedicated to the late, great chanteur Charles Trenet, whose tunes are well-placed on pic’s soundtrack.