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Cannes: Yacht parties, Faulkner, and cannibal families

CANNES, FRANCE — Cannes parties come in several varieties: rooftop, beach, bar, yacht. Hell, tonight one could even attend a soirée whose entrance hall was filled with Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry from "Cleopatra," which is screening at the festival for its 50th anniversary.

The yacht party probably sounds like the most exotic category. But the first thing to know — if you're lucky enough ever to be invited to such an event — is that the boat is usually docked. Don't expect to be out in the Mediterranean experiencing your own version of "
The Talented Mr. Ripley." More likely, you're stepping a few feet off the pier, perhaps checking your shoes as if preparing to go bowling.

Monday night the shoreline played host to a shindig for James Toback's "Seduced and Abandoned," a documentary shot at Cannes last year. (Check out Michał Oleszczyk's interview with Toback here.) In the movie, Toback ("Fingers," "Black and White") and Alec Baldwin seek funding a movie they allegedly plan to film: a revamp of "Last Tango in Paris" set in Iraq, starring Baldwin and Neve Campbell as lovers in the grips of a torrid affair. Spoiler alert: no one is keen to give them much money.

Part Borat-like stunt, part inquiry into the state of independent-film financing, part Toback and Baldwin gabbing with Scorsese, Coppola, Bertolucci, and many others about the biz, "Seduced and Abandoned" has garnered a wide spectrum of responses. How you take it depends on your patience for this sort of gadfly bullshitting.

But it is exactly the sort of movie that conceptually justifies a yacht party, and last night's was filled with trays of fancy macarons, candy, and wine. The topmost of three decks — the one with the best view and a jacuzzi — remained relatively empty for the hour I was present, as I chatted with critics about the day's screenings. Toback could be spotted holding court on floor two. The crowded lower terrace slowly filled up with socialites, eventually reaching moshing-room-only levels. Around the time I was leaving, I learned Paris Hilton had joined the fray.

William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying"? Not a party book. But Toback's event was said to be competing with a bash for James Franco, who — as a director — had just premiered a dream project, an adaptation of the author's 1930 novel.

To render multiple perspectives, Franco presents the movie in near-constant split-screen, a distracting device that's perhaps not the closest cinematic correlative to Faulkner's prose style. (A colleague noted that the project looks and feels more like a gallery installation than a narrative work.) Even so, the film is an unusually dense and ambitious take on a work that can't truly be translated to the screen. I plan to give it another look down the line, outside of the festival madness and after a fresh reading of the book.

Another sort of free adaptation, Jim Mickle's "We Are What We Are" played today at Directors' Fortnight. A remake of Jorge Michel Grau's well-received 2010 Mexican film of the same title, the movie is an object lesson in how to revamp a worthy template while making it your own.

Both films concern a family of secret cannibals, but the tone of each is markedly different. The splatter-heavy Mexican version courts a state-of-the-nation allegory, while Mickle's slower, more portentous reboot is pure potboiler, dripping with Southern gothic atmosphere. Starring Ambyr Childers as the most conflicted member of the cannibal clan and Michael Parks as the town doctor who's on to them, Mickle's film takes a while to get going, but it's more interested in suspense than shocks, and it works a few clever variations on the original premise. Call it a draw.

Ben Kenigsberg

Ben Kenigsberg is a frequent contributor to The New York Times. He edited the film section of Time Out Chicago from 2011 to 2013 and served as a staff critic for the magazine beginning in 2006. 

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