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Trouble at Cannes

The golden anniversary of the film festival was an equal helping of decadence and despair

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A few days before the end of this year’s Cannes film festival, a man fell into a swimming pool and began to drown.

As several hundred partygoers sipped champagne, toasted the premiere of Warner Bros.’ cop caper L.A. Confidential, and milled about a chateau overlooking the twinkling lights of the Cote d’Azur, a squadron of medics stormed onto the terrace, right past stars like Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, and Russell Crowe. ”We thought it was performance art,” said a director who watched the poolside crisis. ”The man was bobbing up and down, and then this woman in an evening gown threw off her shoes and jumped in after him and dragged him to the surface.” Afterward, nobody was sure whether or not the man had plunged into the water by accident.

Such was the confusion that marked the 50th anniversary of the most famous movie marathon in the world. For two weeks, the Festival International du Film dished out equal helpings of decadence and despair. By night, scores of cineasts donned tuxedos and gowns and crawled from one red-carpet fete to another. By day, these same sleepless sybarites lined up for a grueling series of movies about wife beating, war, incest, addiction, madness, adultery, and genocide. (For a critical roundup of the screenings, see page 50.) Indeed, one of the films that shared the coveted Palme d’Or, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s The Taste of Cherry, amounted to a 95-minute rumination on whether a man should kill himself. Robin Williams put it best when someone asked him for a nutshell description of Cannes: ”It’s like Disneyland by Dante.”

Many got their own taste of hell even before the festival began. On Sylvester Stallone’s flight from Miami to France, the windshield of his private jet splintered, forcing an emergency landing in Maine. ”The next time I come over here, I’ve decided to fly a lot safer: I’m just going to be tied across the hood of an airplane,” quipped Sly, who was in town to promote 26 minutes of footage from Cop Land, a Miramax drama that wasn’t completed in time for the competition.

And Kevin Corrigan, the star of the indie romp Kicked in the Head, came face- to-face with the dark side of Gallic bureaucracy. As he and a friend waited for their flight to the Riviera to leave a Paris runway, a pack of gendarmes boarded the jet and arrested them for alleged drunken behavior. Though not formally charged, Corrigan and his copain were handcuffed and thrown into jail for five hours. The bewildered actor, who admitted that he’d downed a few on the plane, insisted that he had minded his manners. ”I said, ‘Look, we have a press conference to go to! We have a screening!”’ Corrigan recalled later after missing what was supposed to be, as he says, ”the greatest day of my life.”

It was supposed to be the same for any number of hungry filmmakers. But aside from a handful of surprises (including Gary Oldman’s gritty directorial debut, Nil by Mouth), few films managed to impress the deal hunters who converged upon what one called ”the most important buying festival of the year.” ”Creatively, it’s been a little disappointing,” said October Films’ comanaging executive Amir Malin. ”The films that came in with momentum leave something to be desired.” Some felt that the supercharged debauchery along the Croisette — taken to new heights by the 50th anniversary — may have paradoxically put a damper on the market. ”It’s extremely expensive and hard to find a room [lodgings ranged from several hundred dollars to $3,000 a night], so people may’ve just stayed away,” said John Travolta’s manager, Jonathan Krane, who flew to Cannes with wife Sally Kellerman to promote their independent drama The Lay of the Land. ”I wish they would just ban these parties. They just waste everybody’s time.”