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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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High-tech visions of loveliness abound

CANNES, France -- Bimbos and convergence. Those are the two topics that come to mind for your Cannes correspondent. I will see nine movies this weekend and hope to have some good ones to write about in my next dispatch. But . . . convergence! I have been talking about nothing else.

First the bimbos. Ever since Robert Mitchum was embraced by a topless starlet in 1949 and put Cannes on the map, young women have flocked to the Riviera during the festival to frolic in the surf and be photographed. The theory is that this will make them famous.

I cannot remember the name right now of any starlet who actually became famous in that way, but they must get a rush - a frisson, as the French put it - simply by walking out to the end of the Carlton pier, dropping their bathrobe, and being surrounded by several dozen baying paparazzi, who knee and elbow one another in their eagerness to record on film the sight of a well-filled bikini, since such a sight has not been previously seen by anyone on Earth more than several thousand times.

Do the starlets think their likenesses are whisked by wire around the world? I have never seen a single cheesecake shot from Cannes on the Associated Press wire.

Yet bimbo eruptions are expected again this year. I learn by the trade papers that Hugh Hefner is expected to arrive with a bevy of Playmates, including no doubt Mandy and Sandy, the twins he is dating. Mike Myers, whose new Austin Powers movie will open in June, will be here with the Fembots. I am not sure what they are, but I predict the emphasis will be on fem and not on bots.

Convergence! I was at a cocktail party thrown by the Bravo Channel and Independent Film Channel for the operators of important American cable systems. Last year, the French movie star Gerard Depardieu attended the dinner and thrust his tongue down the throats of several startled cable tycoon's wives (and/or cable tycoonesses). "Did he kiss you?" I asked a woman who was recalling her experience. "If you can call it a kiss," she said, "when he bends over you so far that your hair is sweeping the floor." This year, I found myself talking to a woman who is working on the merger between MediaOne and AT&T. And to a man who wants to combine cable with pay-for-view and put it all on the Web. And a woman who told me that Realtors are being asked by clients if new houses have fiber-optic Web access.

I even saw an old friend, Milos Stehlik, founder of Facets Multimedia in Chicago. The first time I met Milos, he was showing Werner Herzog films on a 16mm projector in a deconsecrated church (patrons were advised to bring their own pillows, as the pews were hardwood). Now Milos, too, is being Converged. Because Facets is the largest single source of specialist, foreign, art and silent video on the world, he is being courted by the Bravo/IFC people as a consultant and collaborator on their new Foreign Film Channel.

Convergence! What does it mean? It means that the telephone, television and Internet will all come into your home in the same way, from the same provider, and be used more or less interchangeably. You will make phone calls, watch TV, buy or rent videos, send e-mail, play video games, manage your portfolio and buy at retail, all with the same integrated technology, which will appear on a computer monitor, a HDTV set, a wall-size screen or on the insides of your eyeballs.

"Imagine this," said an enthusiastic MediaOne executive, after saying no to three trays of canapes. "Imagine it is the last year of the 19th century, and you are being offered the opportunity to combine the gas company, the water company, the electric company, the telephone company and the post office - all into one emerging utility!"

"There would be money to be made?" I guessed.

"How about instead of a $35 phone bill today, we could bill the same consumer $150 a month for phone, cable, Internet, pay for view, everything?"

"Sign me up!"

She sighed. "The problem is that the entire nation needs to be wired with fiber optic cable," she said.

Walking back to my hotel, I passed the old harbor, where yachts have rocked at anchor since time immemorial. My mind was filled with a vision for the future. Of a time when one could walk into any room of the house, flick on a remote control device no doubt surgically embedded in a fingernail, and summon up wall-size 3-D Internet images of Mandy, Sandy and the Fembots. And hear them. Or perhaps it would be enough to see them.

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