'Satan' Booed At Cannes Religious Allegory Voted Best Film; Hershey, Mastroianni Best Actors

Posted: May 20, 1987

CANNES, France — A jeering black-tie audience hooted Palme d'Or winner Maurice Pialat as he stood on stage last night at closing festivities of the 40th Cannes Film Festival.

Director Pialat's film Under the Sun of Satan was honored as the best movie of the festival - the first French film to win the festival's top prize since A Man and a Woman won in 1966. Under the Sun of Satan is an oblique religious allegory featuring a devil-worshiper, played by Gerard Depardieu, and an atheist, portrayed by Sandrine Bonnaire. Although presenter Catherine Deneuve demanded that the director of the French entry be allowed to make his acceptance speech, the besieged Pialat replied, "If you don't like me, I will not say any more," then raised both his fist and his Palme d'Or trophy to the audience in a gesture of Pyrrhic victory.

The hisses for Pialat contrasted with the ovations for best actress Barbara Hershey (Shy People), best actor Marcello Mastroianni (Dark Eyes) and best director Wim Wenders (The Heaven Over Berlin).

Actor Yves Montand, president of the jury that included American novelist Norman Mailer, French journalist Daniele Heyman, Polish-born director Jerzy Skolimowski and six others, warned the audience at the ceremony's start that his group, like all democratic committees, had to make choices that "seemed cruel and arbitrary."

Eight films from as many countries won awards in an occasion not unlike closing-night bonfires at an international summer camp, where someone from every nation wins a trophy. Though most of the competing entries were about the family, movies with spiritual and political overtones won top prizes.

Repentance, the Soviet film favored to win the Palme d'Or, earned the Special Jury Grand Prize, an award given last year to Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice after compromise choice The Mission took the top honor. Directed by Soviet Georgian Tengiz Abuladze, Repentance is a parable of Stalinism that poetically depicts cruel acts committed in the name of eliminating enemies of the state. Another Soviet Georgian film, Robinsonade (My English Grandfather), by Nana Djordjadze, won the Golden Camera Award for debut film.

Two other movies with religious themes split the jury prizes: Rentaro Mikuni's Shinran, a Japanese entry telling of a Buddhist monk who brings faith to the poor, and Souleymane Cisse's mythical Yeelen, a film from Mali about a young man who uses mystic power to fight his father.

Stanley Myers, composer of the music for Prick Up Your Ears, an English entry, got the award for best artistic contribution.

A pair of Soviet-born brothers, Andrei Konchalovsky and Nikita Mikhalkov, had films in the festival competing against each other. Each film won an an acting award. Barbara Hershey, co-star of Konchalovsky's Shy People, accepted her award from a long-haired Richard Gere, and Mastroianni, star of Mikhalkov's Dark Eyes, took the plaque presented to him by Rosanna Arquette, who looked as if she were poured into her Lurex sheath.

Much to the audience's delight, Federico Fellini won the Special Prize of the 40th Anniversary for his film Interview. Because so many of the surrealistic films at Cannes were under Fellini's obvious influence, it was a festival high point to see the genuine article.

Special homages were paid to actresses Jean Simmons and Jane Russell, English lady and American dame, both of whom accepted graciously and apologized for saying "thank you" in English.

Winning a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival doesn't guarantee box- office gold in the United States. Last year's laureate, The Mission, did moderate business in the States; ditto 1984's prize-winner, Paris, Texas. If they achieve American distribution at all, many foreign-language Palme d'Or winners (for example, 1983's The Battle of Narayama, from Japan, and 1985's When Father Was Away on Business, from Yugoslavia) are generally seen in the art houses of only a dozen or so American cities.

The film festival, however, was golden for the local economy: According to Michel P. Bonnet, the festival's secretary general, a record-breaking 22,000 festivaliers were in Cannes this year, spending an estimated $300 million francs (about $55 million) in the region. Contrast these figures with the 600 who attended the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946 and the 10,000 in 1970.

Although box-office and tourist dollars are two ways to measure the festival's success, neither takes into account that Cannes is a religious ritual for true believers in cinema. So enough said about how much was collected when the plate was passed: Let's talk about the substance of the proceedings.

Topically, 1987 was the year of the family under siege. No fewer than 13 films of the 25 officially screened depicted families torn by jealousy, repression and the tyranny of old age.

Two of these were comedies shown out of competition - Joel and Ethan Coen's Raising Arizona and Woody Allen's Radio Days. The former is about how a baby bonds together a husband and wife; the later suggests that during the '40s, radio was the shared ritual that kept the family together.

The remainder of the festival's "family films" listened to the static interfering with familial communication.

Yeelen, by Mali's Cisse, and Repentance, by the Soviet Union's Abuladze, frame family struggles in terms of patriarchal repression. In Cisse's austere, mystic film set in pre-colonial Africa, a young man fights the force of his diabolical father. The sensuously symbolic Repentance indicts the patriarchal regime of a Stalinist mayor for splitting apart the family of a religious painter.

From the United States, Paul Newman's The Glass Menagerie and Lindsay Anderson's The Whales of August are adaptations of plays about family feuds set in one claustrophobic room. These self-contained worlds are war zones in which domestic blitz is stayed momentarily by visits from gentlemen callers. The movies share a vision of family as an embattled fortress.

Two Italian entries, Ettore Scola's The Family and Soviet-born Mikhalkov's Dark Eyes, address the long-term effects on the households of patresfamilias who would be philanderers. In these sympathetic portraits, Vittorio Gassman and Mastroianni are effective walking the line between bon vivant and buffoon. These movies, like a third Italian entry, Francesco Rosi's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, see infidelity as the act that most threatens the family.

Creative life is the destruction of family life in two British entries, Stephen Frears' Prick Up Your Ears and Peter Greenaway's The Belly of an Architect. The former is based on the notorious lives and deaths of playwright Joe Orton and his murderer-lover Kenneth Halliwell, who may have been more jealous of Orton's success than of his promiscuity. The latter stars Brian Dennehy as a workaholic American architect in Rome, who is as jealous of his wife's pregnancy as he is of her affair with a Roman. The two British films see the demands of work and family as irreconcilable.

Although at Cannes, variations on the theme of family varied along national lines, the leitmotif of displaced persons was a constant in films of almost every nation. Diane Kurys' A Man in Love told the story of an American movie star who falls in love in Rome. Djordjadze's Robinsonade is a comedy about a British telegraph engineer who works in the Soviet Union during the 1920s. In Rosi's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, an Englishman's travels to Colombia trigger a chain of tragic events in a small village. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Good Morning Babylon tells a story of two Tuscan artisans who emigrate to the United States and end up working for filmmaker D. W. Griffith. The displaced-person films are very much in the spirit of the Cannes Film Festival itself: examinations of the effects of cultural cross- pollination.

Given these trends, the surprises among films shown were Wenders' The Heaven Over Berlin, Fellini's Interview and Barbet Schroeder's Barfly - all of which are unclassifiable. The luminous Wenders picture, about angels yearning to be mortals, recalls such fairy tales as The Beauty and the Beast. In Fellini's self-interview, he conceals his cinematic sleight of hand while conjuring images from his classics, such as La Dolce Vita, The White Sheik and Nights of Cabiria. Barfly, based on the cult novel by legendary drinker and poet Charles Bukowski, is a black comedy about alcoholics, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway as the kind of drunks who are not looking for truth at the bottom of a glass but for money to buy another round.

Excluding these three films and Repentance, the official competition here this year was distinguished by the fact that it showcased exceptional performances in otherwise unexceptional pictures. Mastroianni is masterful both in Dark Eyes and Fellini's Interview; ditto Gassman in The Family, Hershey and Jill Clayburgh in Shy People and Bette Davis and Lillian Gish in The Whales of August.

As has been the case for the past decade, the films at Cannes breaking new artistic ground were shown in a sidebar event, the Director's Fortnight. Watch for Patricia Rozema's I've Heard the Mermaid Singing, David Leland's Wish You Were Here and John Sayles' Matewan, all of which showed in the Fortnight and were as good as or better than anything competing.

Also watch for Leos Carax's Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood), about love in the future, and Gillian Armstrong's High Tide, about mother love in the present, intensely personal works that were among the best at the international film market here.

Finally, the 40th Cannes festival was more compelling for its classicism than for its avant-garde achievements: Wenders' film is a throwback to '40s romances. Fellini's cannibalizes his own career - much to our enjoyment and so much better than his lessers do it. And the festival's dramatic high point was the on-screen confrontation between the legendary Gish and Davis in The Whales of August.

It was the 79-year-old Davis, in fact, who uttered the line that may best sum up the retro spirit of this year's festival.

Asked at the Whales of August dinner - attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales - if she didn't think that the 92-year-old Gish looked just great in her close-ups, Davis reportedly snapped: "Of course Lillian looks great in the close-ups. She and D. W. Griffith invented the damned things 75 years ago!"

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