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The Way They Were: Classics at Cannes

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Seeing the word “classics” applied to a film festival program would have you believe you will be seeing a bevy of old films, perhaps restored. But Cannes regards those involved with film through the years to be classics; hence a collection of recent documentaries about cinema luminaries.

cinema travelersThere are cineastes you can listen to for hours, captivated by their opinions and their knowledge. Martin Scorsese comes to mind. A Journey Through French Cinema” is Bertrand Tavernier’s treatise on where we’ve come from cinematically. (And I use the universal “we,” since it really all began with French cinema.)

Although it seems like a stream of consciousness exercise, the film is very finely structured, covering many moments in the evolution of the medium. The sense in watching it, however, is of having a conversation with Tavernier over drinks in a café near the Cinémathèque Française. And if you think you know everything about French film, be advised: you don’t.

In The Cinema Travelers” Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya take a loving look at the Indian film lovers who move projectors around the country to share the experience of moving going with all, even those in far-flung locations.

They explore and investigate: getting a look at audience members, who are grateful for their time in the dark with their favorite movies. And they look at those who make it possible; particularly touching is the man who keeps old projectors going with spit and promise.

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds is a loving home movie by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens. This mother and daughter act (and they actually do an act together) let a lot hang out. They argue, they bitch and moan, but they really love each other.

Bloom and Stevens let us in on the highs and lows. And Reynolds and Fisher are particularly open to the camera. Perhaps it’s their nature, but still these are lovely moments. We see the ordinary moments, but we also see what makes them so special to us.

gentleman risGentleman Rissient” is directed by Benoît Jacquot, Guy Seligmann and Pascal Mérigeau. I have written about Pierre Rissient before, and this is not the first film about this film renaissance man. But here, the three filmmakers let Pierre have his say pretty much all the way.

Rissient has worked in so many aspects of film: Distribution, public relations and also those important parts of film that may not have a name. He has advised Clint Eastwood and Jerry Schatzberg, among others. (Regarding Schatzberg, Rissient will admit that his first three films were great, but the rest went downhill!)

Thierry Fremaux, head of the Cannes festival, refers to Pierre as “Mr. Everywhere.” And it’s true. He shows up everywhere, and rumor has it that Rissient is the only human being on earth who can walk up the red carpet in sneakers and a T shirt. Because that’s what he wears!

Filmmaker Esther Hoffenberg introduces a new generation to Bernadette Lafont, the unique French actress in her documentary free womanBernadette Lafont: And God Created the Free Woman.” This striking and talented actress had a career that spanned the New Wave and lasted to her final years.

Raised in a very free way by her mother, Lafont led the same kind of life as an adult. She had children, which caused some work problems (back in the day before birth control when she was supposed to choose film over family): François Truffaut  told her that she had chosen to have a life, so he couldn’t work with her.

It’s a lovely story, told by Hoffenberg but through the eyes, words and memories of Lafont’s granddaughters. The seamless interweaving of her career, love, and life shines a light on how many of us still could lead meaningful lives. Did she see her life the way her granddaughters did? Probably not, but it is the different views that make her life so intriguing.

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