It boasts swank premiere nights, oodles of ooh-la-la haute couture glamour, and most usefully, 4,000 accredited press members running through the streets, desperate to do interviews with filmmakers and movie stars. So why in le monde is the Cannes film festival — that sybaritic 12-day debauch that unfolds along France’s sparkling Cote d’Azur each May amid the sort of frenzied cell-phone patter that makes Hollywood types feel right at home — increasingly treated by the movie capital’s movers and shakers as an irrelevant appendage? You certainly won’t find the answer if you ask George Clooney, who blew into town for the 53rd fete and promptly proved the No. 1 paparazzi magnet as well as the fest’s de facto mascot, thanks to European magazine covers and posters that put his kisser on unavoidable display all over town. He was there to promote Joel and Ethan Coen’s comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the highest-profile English-language feature among the 23 flicks competing for the Palme d’Or. ”Hey, I’m just a trained monkey, going where they tell me to go,” he said cheerfully at one late-night party while making his way to what, by his own confession, quickly became his favorite French spot — the bar. Surrounded by enormous bodyguards who ne parlent pas‘ed anglais, Clooney dutifully plugged and plugged again, even as he mastered the art of simultaneously sipping his drink and smiling for the cameras.
But the Disney execs who paid the huge bill to give Brother a Cannes send-off can’t be smiling this week. The picture’s mixed critical reception and its no-show status at the awards ceremony points up the hazards of bringing a studio movie to Cannes — and demonstrates why Hollywood only does so in very special cases. ”When you have a new film and nothing is really known about it, you’re taking your chances,” says James Ivory, who unveiled The Golden Bowl (which also went prizeless) for Disney subsidiary Miramax. ”But it’s always a good thing, because there are so many press people here, and it gets talked about so much.”
Frankly, though, few individual films this year generated as much discussion as the tastes of the man who’d selected all of them, festival honcho Gilles Jacob, who plans to bow out as Cannes’ programmer next year. (He has yet to name a successor, having reportedly fired his heir apparent in April.) Before the first reel unspooled, Jacob had managed to alienate the American studios (not to mention Italy, Spain, and Germany, which were denied competition slots) by eschewing big-budget Hollywood product — with the single, inexplicable exception of Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars, which showed out of competition. Jacob’s defense has been that Hollywood is just as leery of him, thanks to the potential downside of bad Cannes reviews and the festival’s pre-summer-season timing.
”There’s no slot for a big Hollywood spectacle anymore,” says Sony Pictures Classics copresident Tom Bernard. ”They don’t seem to have that action slot like they did in years past, when things like Cliffhanger with Sylvester Stallone showed here. Something like Gladiator or M:I-2 certainly would’ve created a lot more excitement in the press.”