A high point of this year's Cannes Film Festival was the day-long national strike. Cinemas were shuttered, crowds vaished, the sun came out for almost the first time. The pretense that the French telephone system works was quietly abandoned and, with no distractions or false expectations., everyone could get on with the real business of the festival: talking and making deals.
Festival director Maurice Bessy had already prepared us for the worst, by opeining th event with a Indicrous Italian film on Friday the 13th, and by announcing that this year's films "lacked excitement" and that the cinema was peobably dying. Many wished teh corpse could have been decently interred.
The official selections included at least a couple of films that sought to demolish the idea that the cinema exists. The French contributed 100 features of which only one - Agnes Varda's received general acclaim. The Director's Fortnight - designed as a forum for unconventioal ideas - ranged over the spectrum of political opinion from left to extreme left. Italian director Marco Bellochio stopped the projection of his new film (an exciting adeptation of "The Seagull") because the sound was out of sync.
At other screenings the sound was so loud as to drive audiences into the street. Even the jury, headed by Roberto Rossellini, struck out, overlooking the few films of real stature and awarding the Grand Prix to a stolid Italin entry. "Padre, Padrone."
The outstanding films were nearly att traditional works by established disrectors. Michael Cacoyannis "Iphigenia" is his finest in 10 years, a moving, brilliantly shot adaptation of the Euripides tragedy "Iphigenia in Aulis." Made on location in Greece with thousands of extras recruited from the army, it opens up the play, strips away the fusty trappings of most stage productins, yet sacrifices nothing of the dramatic conflict between the principal characters.
The Swiss entry, "The Lacemaker," was directed by Claude Goretta, know here for "The Invitation" and "The Wonderful Crook." Adapted from a recent French novel, it stars Issbelle Hupert, a young French actress of formidable gifts, as a painfully shy teen-ager who lives in the shadow of a promiscous girl friend. She meets a boy who is almost as shy, but more articulste. They have an affair, but when it ends she breaks down and retreats into her own private world. Hupert conveys the emotions of this fragile creature with the delicacy of a Japanese watercolorist, yet the result is never maudlin: The quality of the script and Goretta's talent for wry comedy lighten ehe pain.
The Italians have redisovered their Fascist past with a vengeance, but Ettore Scola's "The Great Day" treats politics obliqauelyQ, by way of an unvonventioal love story. The day in question is May 6, 1938, when Hitler was received by Mussolini and most of the Roman population in a bombastic orgy of fraternal solidarity. Left behind in an apartment block are an overworked housewife and a lonely bachelor, fired from his job on suspicion of being a homoseaxual and a suberslve. They meet by accident, spend the day together to the accompaniment of a deafening news broadcast, and then return to their separate lives and apartments. At the end of the day, the man is taken away to prison camp.
A British entry, Ridley Scott's "The Duellists," deservedly won the jury prize for the best first feature. It stars Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as rival army officers in Napoleonic France. The film has the picorial beauty and rich period sense of "Barry Lyndon," but adds the nearrative drive and passion that Kubrick's film lacked.
The German entries demonstrated the impact that America has had on the new generation of filmmakers there. In "Stroszek," America is seen through the eyes of an odd trio of Germans trying to escape their past and make thei fortune. Werner Herzog's poetic vivion has never found a more extraoreinary expression: Who else would turn up the world champion would turn up the world chamtion in North Carolina, a fun-fair in which live animals play musical instruments, and combine them in a weird and wonderful fable about the American dream.
No less distinctive is Wim Wenders' "The American Friend," a homage to Howard Hawks and the American film noir. Not since Jean-luc Goddars QPerrot le Fou" in the mid-60s have we seen a more sudacion European vession of an American genre picture.