The primary difference between a Detroit car convention and Cannes is that here, the people promoting products are not models, but celebrities.
Such as Meryl Streep, due here Saturday night for the screening of A Cry in the Dark, for which she is expected to win best-actress honors. Handicappers have given the early lead to Streep, the Greer Garson of the '80s, because her face is ubiquitous. She graces the covers of the May editions of French Vogue and Studio magazine, not to mention the many billboards lining the seaside promenade.
This not-so-subliminal advertising may give her the advantage over such contenders as Nastassja Kinski, star of Jerzy Skolimowski's Torrents of Spring, and Ruby Dee, the lead in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, a film inspired by the 1986 incident in the Howard Beach section of New York City in which a group of white teenagers beat several black men, causing one to run onto a highway and be killed.
Among the 10 judges rating performers and films is frequent Streep competitor Sally Field, who won Cannes' 1979 acting honors (not to mention an Oscar) for Norma Rae. This year's jury president is Wim Wenders, a 1984 Golden Palm winner for Paris, Texas.
Danielle Heymann, culture editor of the Paris newspaper Le Monde and a jury member in 1987, confidently predicts that Mickey Rourke will win best-actor honors for his performance as St. Francis of Assisi in Francesco, a film by Liliana Cavani. Rourke is hugely popular in France, says Heymann, "where he is frequently compared with Jean-Paul Belmondo." (Lucky for Rourke that he is not compared with that other French favorite, Jerry Lewis.)
Heymann believes Rourke's chief competition will come from international heartthrobs Gerard Depardieu, star of Bertrand Blier's Too Pretty for You, and Marcello Mastroianni, who plays the lead in Ettore Scola's Splendor.
Cavani's Francesco and Jesus of Montreal, by Canadian director Denys Arcand, are expected to incite religious furor in this predominantly Catholic country, where Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ provoked riots last fall. Director of the notorious 1974 film The Night Porter - about a sadomasochistic relationship between an ex-Nazi and the woman he used to abuse
sexually in a concentration camp - Cavani told journalists to expect an unorthodox St. Francis. He will not "sing to the birds," she promised, referring to St. Francis' celebrated sermon.
Arcand, whose 1986 film, Decline of the American Empire, frankly addressed sex and drugs, takes as his subject in Jesus of Montreal the decidedly profane life of an actor who portrays Christ in a Passion Play.
Another orthodoxy will be challenged at this year's festival - that of glamour. Expect the Roseanne Barr aesthetic to prevail. Marianne Sagebrecht, stout star of Sugarbaby (1985) and Bagdad Cafe (1988), will be here as the lead of Percy Adlon's Rosalie Goes Shopping. And Susan Ruttan look-alike Josiane Blasko steals Depardieu from Carole Bouquet (the Chanel perfume model) in Too Pretty for You.
Among all the challenges to orthodoxy, most refreshing is that American independent productions have a higher profile than do their studio counterparts this year. Along with Lee's Do the Right Thing, in the official competition are Jarmusch's Mystery Train, and rookie filmmaker Steve Soderburgh's Sex, Lies and Videotape, the American indie with the loudest buzz.
In the Director's Fortnight, the Cannes auxiliary event where Lee's She's Gotta Have It (1986) and Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise (1984) made their premieres, are American independent filmmakers Bigelow (Near Dark) and Wang (Chan Is Missing), represented by their new films, Bigelow's Blue Steel and Wang's Eat a Bowl of Tea.
Among the many American films in the International Film Market,an event that is to movies what the Toy Fair is to kiddie novelties, is Paul Bartel's Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, a comedy starring Jacqueline Bisset and Bartel regular Mary Woronov. You might think this is the funniest title at Cannes, but you would be wrong. That honor belongs to Lobster Man
From Mars, an exploitation movie starring Tony Curtis and Billy Barty.
Probably you also think that the Cannes Film Festival is a day - more properly 12 days - at the beach. Again, you'd be mistaken. Let's debunk some popular myths about the festival.
Myth No. 1: The weather is beautiful.
This might have been true when the festival was held in September. But once the event - created to attract tourists to the Riviera - became a success, organizers switched it to early May, a slow time for area hotels and restaurants for good reason. May is strictly umbrella weather here.
Myth No. 2: The cuisine is delectable.
During the festival, when Cannes' year-round population of 35,000 virtually doubles, this might be the only place in France where routinely you get soggy fish and soggier vegetables. There is a saying that the dream Europe would be a place where all the cooks were French, the constables English, the lovers Italian, the physicists German and the bureaucrats Swiss. And the nightmare Europe would be a place where all the cooks were English, the constables German, the lovers Swiss, the constables Italian and the bureaucrats French.
During the festival, Cannes is the nightmare Europe. The food tastes English, the police are bullies who barricade the streets, and the bureaucrats are decidedly French: You need accreditation just to get in the building where accreditations are handed out.
Myth No. 3: The scenery is picturesque.
Only if you're partial to palm trees and pooches. Every evening at 6, the pavements are carpeted with dachshunds who walk their masters down teeming avenues where fronds sway.
Myth No. 4: This year's festival is different.
Every year, festival organizers proclaim that the lineup is a total departure from years previous. Yesterday, festival executive director Gilles Jacob announced that "Films of the 1989 Cannes vintage are lighter than last year's. . . . This will be a smiling festival."
Clearly he has not seen Shohei Imamura's Black Rain, about the post-bomb fallout in Hiroshima, or Fred Schepisi's A Cry in the Dark, the film one Parisian journalist has dubbed A Dingo Ate My Baby! Both are in the official selection.