Making the scene at the 51st annual Cannes Festival International du Film

By David Hochman and Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated June 05, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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They were somewhere around Cannes, on the edge of a craggy cliff, when the Bellinis began to take hold. Shortly after 3 a.m. at a point halfway through the festival, in the marbled, chandelier-lit opulence of the Hôtel du Cap, a high-class sloppiness set in, thanks to the hotel’s world-famous $25 pink-champagne cocktails. As crystal began to crash to the floor, slipping from champagne-slick hands, Winona Ryder — taking in the scene — tucked her Keds beneath her and nestled under Gillian Anderson’s protective arm on a banana-colored antique love seat, where they giggled like third graders.

In their line of vision, Ryder’s ex-fiance, Johnny Depp, sweltering in a leather jacket, chain-smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and whispered conspiratorially with director Terry Gilliam. Bruce Willis — fedora on his head, silver cross dangling from his neck, smirk on his face — strutted past Jeff Goldblum and Naomi Campbell and sauntered over to Cuba Gooding Jr. Meanwhile, Kiefer Sutherland ditched Rufus Sewell to greet Elizabeth Hurley, but stopped en route to kiss a bald, smiling Billy Zane.

Here at the 51st annual Cannes film festival, it was Hollywood business as usual. The jeans-wearing kings and sneaker-clad queens of this celebrity chessboard shared gossip and sized one another up, while studio chiefs, producers, managers, and hangers-on determined the precise moment to go in for the kill. ”Whoever needs a job the most is here walking in circles,” said one agent. ”Last year, it was Geena Davis. This year, I don’t know….” And with that, Mira Sorvino took her third spin around the room.

As always, Cannes had as much to do with late-night schmoozing and relentless, shameless posturing as with cutthroat dealmaking. Oh, yeah, and then there were the 500 or so movies shown around this ancient seaside town during these two frantic weeks, a few as part of the festival, most using Cannes as a marketplace to snag international distributors. So who could blame the Angelenos for ditching their personal trainers and reaching for another Bellini? ”Nothing can prepare you for the adventures along the Croisette,” said first-time attendee Oliver Platt, here to promote Stanley Tucci’s The Impostors, a caper that received mixed reviews. ”It’s fascinating because the glamour and history are side by side with all this cheesiness and two-faced backstabbing.”

For all the revelry, corks weren’t popping over the 22 films in competition, which centered on such marketable themes as prostitution, heroin addiction, pedophilia, and the Holocaust. Ken Loach’s My Name Is Joe dealt merely with alcoholism but proved unable to overcome major distributors’ fears about its impenetrable Scottish accents, despite a warm audience reaction and a best-actor award for Peter Mullan. ”You listen for the sound of seats going up,” Loach said of the screening in the 2,300-seat auditorium of the Palais des Festivals. ”We were lucky — there weren’t any.” Katrin Cartlidge (Naked), the star of Claire Dolan, a dark American film about a call girl attempting to straighten out her life, recognized other warnings. ”Coughing is the dead giveaway that people either love your movie or loathe it,” she said. ”I heard a lot of coughing.”

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