- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

"Festival in Cannes" squanders an opportunity to anticipate the next Cannes Film Festival in clever or intriguing ways.

Writer-director Henry Jaglom did most of his hanging-out for background purposes at the 1999 festival, to judge from such signposts as billboards that advertise "Entrapment" and "Stigmata. The material, however, could have been shot considerably earlier or later because the essence of "Festival" is to get bogged down in scenes and conversations that never get untracked.

If Mr. Jaglom wanted to declare his movie a false start and begin anew when the rites of Cannes resume five weeks from now, only the insincere would advise him to desist. "Festival in Cannes" is playing locally at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington.

Perhaps an actual writer could realize Mr. Jaglom's intention of juggling a quartet of love stories against the festival's backdrop. One subplot aims to reconcile a former European glamour girl called Millie Marquand (Anouk Aimee) with her philandering spouse, a lion-in-winter filmmaker called Viktor Kovner (Maximilian Schell). Millie is being hustled by a bogus agent called Kaz, played by Jaglom regular Zack Norman, the only reliable energy source in the show. Kaz has learned of a screenplay in progress, the labor of love of Greta Scacchi as Alice Palmer, a former glamour girl about 20 years younger than Millie.

Alice aspires to direct, as well as write. She and two pals claim to have gotten their notes down on paper, but no screenplay seems to exist. The feckless Alice agrees to let pushy Kaz make appointments for her.

He arranges a meeting with Millie, who looks supremely bored while pretending to listen politely to Alice's hapless pitch. Nevertheless, Millie professes to be enchanted by the prospect of playing a 60-year-old woman making a fresh start on romance. It's the story for which she has been waiting. A good thing, since she'll probably have to wait forever for the little detail of the script.

Alice is set up with a supposedly legit Hollywood producer called Rick Yorkin (Ron Silver), a dead ringer for Jerry Bruckheimer. Kaz gets Viktor's hooker companion, Gina (Camilla Campanale), on the rebound after Millie and Viktor patch things up.

Yorkin has a flunky named Barry (Alex Craig Mann), who blunders into puppy love with a childish starlet called Blue (Jenny Gabrielle), reputed to be the discovery of the festival in an independent sleeper titled "Fire." Mr. Jaglom declines to simulate a scene or two from this supposed eye-opener, but his own ineptitude at showcasing Miss Gabrielle is not a reassuring sign. She would be easier to believe as a farm-belt finalist in the Miss Babyfat U.S.A. contest.

Mr. Jaglom has sustained a whimsically independent filmmaking career of his own for 30 years. It has been distinguished not so much by a flair for topical or romantic comedy, his customary genre, as an aptitude for self-promotion of his work. Family money has allowed him to operate outside the constraints of the Hollywood studio system, remaining a prominent Hollywood maverick and dilettante.

"Festival" finds Mr. Jaglom killing time shamelessly until a glimmer of inspiration returns. He did much better with the Hamptons International Film Festival as a backdrop a few years ago, in a comedy of infidelities titled "Last Summer in the Hamptons."

"Festival" does have some amusing ideas rattling around, most of them associated with the impostor played by Mr. Norman. I like the way Kaz can simulate enthusiasm for every title or project under discussion without having seen or read anything at all.

A deadpan satire in the vein of Tom DiCillo's "Living in Oblivion" might be contrived around the notion of someone like Millie listening to one ghastly script pitch after another. Mr. Jaglom lets the movie go static without even deriving much scenic benefit from Cannes.

Performers stroll along the same set of rocks. The camera meanders around the same seascapes or festival outskirts. It's like the filler in made-for-cable TV movies that attempt to camouflage the absence of actual scenes, with actors exchanging purposeful remarks or gestures.

Peter Bogdanovich, who turns up in a bit role as a director called Milo another character of no consequence will be in Washington for Filmfest DC, scheduled before the Cannes bash. He'll introduce his new movie, "The Cat's Meow," on the opening night of the local festival.

Anyone engaged in writing a delightful show business romantic comedy set against the backdrop of Filmfest won't have to worry about being inconvenienced by Mr. Jaglom's excursions to Cannes.


*

TITLE: "Festival in Cannes"

RATING: PG-13 (Fleeting profanity and sexual candor)

CREDITS: Written, edited and directed by Henry Jaglom. Cinematography by Hanania Baer.

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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