Arts Express: The Cannes Film Festival Reports 2013, Annette Insdorf On Location

Annette Insdorf is the correspondent for Arts Express at this year’s Cannes Film Festival 2013. We are honored to feature her coverage, which will also include breaking news announcing the winners at the end of the Festival.

Annette Insdorf is the Director Of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University, and the author of Indelible Shadows: Film And The Holocaust, and other books on cinema. Professor Insdorf is an internationally renowned educator, and her works are hailed as the definitive texts on their subjects. She has also been a jury member of numerous international film festivals.

Ari Folman’s The Congress

Professor Insdorf has reported from Cannes for over a quarter century, previously co-anchoring with the late Roger Ebert for Bravo and The Independent Film Channel. Her knowledge and insight about cinema, past and present, is a veritable treasure trove of film history and culture. And we’re extremely proud to have her on Arts Express, as our correspondent reporting from Cannes this year.

The Cannes Film Festival Reports

By Annette Insdorf

What was the smartest thing I did in preparation for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival? It wasn’t doing research or watching screeners in advance, but packing my elegant waterproof boots and a new compact umbrella. The constant rain for four days since the cinematic extravaganza began on May 15 not only dampened the usually sizzling atmosphere, but left many wet and gelid toes in its wake. At least I was able to walk to screenings and parties with happy feet and relatively dry black-tie attire.

Seduced and Abandoned,

Alec Baldwin, James Toback and Roman Polanski

The Fest got off to a raucous (if drenched) start with “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic re-mastered by Baz Luhrmann. As in the U.S.-where the blend of 3D and literary voice-over opened May 10-critics were less enthusiastic than the audience, which cheered the cheeky juxtaposition of jazz-age story with rapper Jay-Z’s sounds.

This was hardly the first adaptation of the novel. In addition to the well-known 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, “The Great Gatsby” was translated to the screen in 1949, starring Alan Ladd. And in between was the 2000 TV incarnation for A&E, starring a very fine Paul Rudd as the narrator Nick, alongside Mira Sorvino as Daisy and a miscast Toby Stephens as Gatsby. There was even a Broadway production of “The Great Gatsby,” which played 112 performances in 1926, staged by the future movie director George Cukor.

Opening Night included the presentation of the Jury, headed by Steven Spielberg. The selection of clips-including “E.T.” which (in 1982) received the most passionate reaction I recall at a Cannes screening-preceded a lengthy standing ovation for the filmmaker who said, “The Festival is 66 and I’m also 66, so I grew up with the Festival.”

Leonardo DiCaprio was the star not only of “Gatsby,” but of Cannes’s Opening Night, matched perhaps by the appeal Jury member Nicole Kidman (who had starred in Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge,” the glitzy Opening Night selection of 2001). The rest of Spielberg’s Jury consists of:

Vidya Balan (Indian actress)

Naomi Kawase (Japanese director)

Lynne Ramsay (British scriptwriter/director/producer)

Daniel Auteuil (French actor/director)

Ang Lee (Taiwanese director/producer/scriptwriter)

Cristian Mungiu (Romanian scriptwriter/director/producer)

Christopher Waltz (Austrian actor)

Cannes continues to maintain a vital equilibrium between reverence for the cinematic past and a heady discovery of new talent-between classic Hollywood and indie upstarts. Where else would a cinephile have to choose between seeing “Vertigo” in the presence of Kim Novak, or Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”? Between the restored “Cleopatra” (introduced by Jessica Chastain) and “We Are What We Are” (Jim Mickle’s horror film based on a Mexican thriller of 2010)? Between the hommage to Jerry Lewis (including his new film “Max Rose”) and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”?

The pronunciation of the latter provided challenges for the Frenchman introducing the Sundance hit at the Cannes “Critics Week.” It sounded like “Ent Dem Bodies Sents” before he brought the stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara onto the stage. (The French title seemed easier, “Les Amants du Texas,” or “Texas Lovers.”) The second French presenter offered one of the most pungent lines of the evening, suggesting that David Lowery’s film would be the result if Bonnie and Clyde had a child.

The juxtaposition of movie history and 2013 filmmaking is nowhere more evident than in “Seduced and Abandoned,” the terrific documentary by James Toback that has been acquired by HBO. It combines the search for film financing with a love of cinema classics, using the 2012 Cannes Film Festival as the backdrop for both. (Alec Baldwin and Toback were omnipresent last year, shooting interviews with auteurs, actors and financiers.)

Baldwin is the anchor for a series of quests and questions that culminate not in the quasi-erotic narrative movie they initially pitched, but this very documentary. “Seduced and Abandoned” is reminiscent of “Argo,” as our blustery protagonists envision setting a fiction film in a middle Eastern country (here, Iraq): they present it to potential investors as a fait accompli, demonstrating more bluster than believability. This film also depicts the “bromance” of two very smart, self-confident, sardonic film artists. The title comes from Baldwin’s perception that the movie industry is the worst kind of lover, as you keep going back for more.

Their search for financing is intertwined with evocative clips as well as interviews of major directors such as Bertolucci, Coppola, Polanski, and Scorsese. They also elicit marvelous kernels about acting from Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain, Berenice Bejo, and James Caan. On the one hand, it’s hard not to feel cynical about the movie business while watching “Seduced and Abandoned”: for example, legendary studio executive Mike Medavoy acknowledges that the United Artists successes like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Dances with Wolves” were films that nobody else wanted. (And Toback includes the priceless quotation from W. Somerset Maugham about the French Riviera, “a sunny place for shady people.”)

On the other hand, breathtaking clips from films including “Last Tango in Paris,” “The Conformist,” “Knife in the Water,” “Chinatown,” “2001” and “Apocalypse Now” remind us of why we make-or go to-movies in the first place. Toback’s ongoing concern with mortality leads Baldwin to call Marilyn Monroe “the greatest example of immortality through death.” This led me to think of “The Congress” – Ari Folman’s fascinating hybrid based on Stanislas Lem’s The Futurological Congress-which opened the “Director’s Fortnight” last Thursday. Like his previous “Waltz with Bashir,” it’s a blend of animation, live-action, and “real” people. “The Congress” begins with Harvey Keitel’s voice-over to Robin Wright: he plays an agent trying to convince “the real Robin Wright” to accept an offer from Miramount Studio to scan her image.

She would be selling the rights to herself as an actor, and could never perform again. (Her character learns that Keanu Reeves & Michelle Williams have already been scanned.) Although resistant, “Robin” finally gives in to the persuasion of the studio head played by Danny Huston – “I want to make you young forever,” he says – and the cash.

The second half, “twenty years later,” takes place in a brightly colored animated world. “Movies are a relic of the last millennium,” we are told. Ironically enough, it’s the voice of “mad man” Jon Hamm that provides the sanest perspective. He plays (aurally) Dylan, who gave chemical life to the double of Robin two decades earlier, and now tries to save her. As we see the masses accepting an alternative drug-induced reality devoid of fear, jealousy or pain, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” comes to mind: the animated figures are the pods in this cautionary tale.

Since the Festival favorite thus far seems to be Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past” (in French), a trend seems to be taking shape. “The Past” and “The Congress” mark the movement of two auteurs – from Iran and Israel, respectively-to international co-production. While both lack the cultural specificity of “A Separation” and “Waltz with Bashir,” they demonstrate the fertile talent and imaginative capacity that are ultimately universal.

Finally, the Cannes parties are often as compelling as some of the movies. In addition to the ones that are mounted for individual films – there will be more on this in my next report – the American Pavilion is once again a social gathering spot. Celebrating its 25th year, AmPav offers nocturnal bashes, such as “Queer Night” May 19, hosted by Lee Daniels.

The AmPav event I am anticipating most is the special film critics panel “in honor of Roger Ebert” that I’ll be moderating, including Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Kenneth Turan (LA Times), and Eric Kohn (IndieWire). Despite his recent death, the presence of Roger Ebert continues to permeate the Cannes Film Festival-as well it should at a celebration of cinema past and present.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.