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An Encounter with Norman Lloyd and Jean Renoir

The closing night film of the section of Cannes known as Un Certain Regard is Gilles Bourdos' portrait of an artist fighting against the ravages of time. 

Michel Bouquet plays Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir and Vincent Rottiers plays his son Jean, home from the first World War having been wounded in action. It is during these days that Jean encounters his father's latest model, Andrée, who will become the younger Renoir's muse and wife as he begins his career as a world famous film director and one of the icons of cinema.

As I watched Rottiers play a young Jean Renoir, I was reminded of the great French actor Jean Gabin, though they hardly looked alike in reality. Seeing the filmmaker at 21 reminded me of a talk I attended at Cannes a few days before, with Hollywood star Norman Lloyd. Billed as an encounter with the 94 year-old actor, Lloyd (as expected) told stories of many of the icons of the movies, including Renoir fils himself.

Lloyd was interviewed by veteran film critic Todd McCarthy with film expert and man about Cannes, Pierre Rissient. McCarthy started off the proceedings by reminding Lloyd that they first met at the Los Angeles home of Jean Renoir, where the auteur would show16mm copies of his films to some friends every week. And Lloyd and McCarthy went along for what must have been a glorious ride: Renoir films in his cozy home every Saturday!

The conversation with Lloyd went beyond Renoir, of course, but it kept coming back to him. Lloyd started his career on stage with all the progressive companies of the day: the WPA Theater, John Houseman and Orson Welles' Mercury Theater (which staged an iconic production of Julius Caesar) as well as Joseph Losey's Living Newspaper

There was much about Welles and his theater ideas; and Bertolt Brecht, one of a number of European refugees including, of course, Renoir, but also Otto Preminger, Thomas Mann and more who, Lloyd said, formed  a 'great intellectual community' in Hollywood. Of Brecht and his plays, Lloyd spoke at length about Galileo, calling it "one of the outstanding plays of the 20th century."

Talking about work ethics, Lloyd remarked on Renoir's admiration of Hollywood filmmakers' direction of Westerns, speaking of Budd Boetticher, particularly. Boetticher (and others) would shoot the film and be done. "They came to do a job," Lloyd said. Hearing this, I go back to the film Renoir. At one point, Jean (who is only 21years old) tells André that his father Auguste saw himself as a worker more than an artist. And so director Renoir views himself in the same light. 

Renoir saw this same work ethic in the films of Charlie Chaplin, with whom he became friends. Lloyd related that Renoir once said that if there had been no Chaplin, there would be no movie business. Can we say if Auguste Renoir had not been a painter, then Jean wouldn't have become a film director? 

Don't know about that; however, watching the film Renoir carefully, there are hints. As Jean helps his arthritic father mix colors, he suggests black. 

Auguste snaps back that a Renoir would always make things colorful. Sure, but naturally Jean's first film efforts in the 20s and 30s were black and white: think Boudu Saved from Drowning, for one.

It is interesting to point out that Renoir was one of just a few films actually screened in 35mm. So many films are now on DCP - digital cinema projection - that I couldn't help noticing the marks at the end of the reels and the changeovers themselves. In fact, it was a pleasure to watch it!

Back to the here and now and the conversation. And back again to those Saturday screenings chez Renoir. Lloyd recounted how many said, when Jean started to make films, he was afraid that people would say he was just putting his father's paintings on celluloid. And certainly Jean Renoir was his own man in that area.

However, as he looked back at all of his films, on 16mm (Lloyd said it took a while for all of them - Renoir, Lloyd, McCarthy - to see all 50 or so films; IMDB lists 41 films by Jean Renoir, including some shorts), Renoir told his friends that he now realized he had, in fact, spent his entire career imitating his father! 

That may just be a son's observation, and an audience may see it differently, but only at Cannes can a cinephile play their own game of film history by seeing a biopic, as it were, and getting the real dirt from a filmmaker's contemporary at the same time. This is the life!

Fin de Cannes 2012

The Festival de Cannes ended tonight as it usually does, with the awarding of the prizes in the main competition. One final trip up the red carpet to the Lumiere Theater for the glitteratti, while the press observed a live feed in the smaller Debussy Theater just next door.

Watching from the Debussy, the media assembled there tried to guess who would win which awards as various film teams walked the carpet: The festival will invite prize winners to come to the closing ceremony so they know they've won something; they just don't know what.

The Palme d'Or went to Amour by Michael Haneke, who won the same award just three years ago for his stern drama The White Ribbon. This time the two lead actors in the film, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, were brought onstage with Haneke to accept the award, which made perfect sense.

This riveting story of an old couple dealing with the wife's debilitating stroke stayed with me throughout the festival, and it is a combination of the work of all three - actors and director - that makes Amour a brilliant achievement.

Other prizes included the directing award to Carlos Reygadas for his surreal story of a cosmopolitan family trying to live life in the countryside, Post Tenebras Lux, and the screenplay award to Romanian director Cristian Mungiu for Beyond the Hills.

The two lead actresses in this drama about religious devotion andan exorcism gone awry, Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan, also shared the best performance by an actress award, while the best performance by an actor prize went to Mads Mikkelsen as a kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of abuse in Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt.

Other special prizes were handed out as well: The Jury Prize went to Ken Loach for his socially progressive comedy The Angels' Share, and Matteo Garrone won the Grand Prize for Reality, about one man's quest for reality TV stardom. Perhaps these two citations can be seen as second and third place to Haneke's Palme d'Or. And the Camera d'Or, for best first feature film, went to Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, a fable of the bayou.

And then it was time to party. The Closing Night party, on the Majestic Beach, was somewhat low rent. But then, all the prize-winning filmmakers were having a private sit-down dinner a little further down the Croisette. The entrance to the dinner was crowded with hundreds of bystanders hoping for a peek at as many celebrities as possible.

Over at the party entrance, there wasn't much of a mob scene; it seemed understood that if you wanted to see the winners, you had to jostle for a spot with the masses outside the Agora restaurant. But inside the Majestic Beach venue, the party was really a let-your-hair down event, a chance for some guests, filmmakers, and festival staff to eat, drink and dance - to pop music of the 70's, 80's and 90's - which is always fun. 

As I left the party, workers were already starting to remove the signs of the festival. Tomorrow everyone else - festival guests and staff - will pack up their bags and leave town. And just a few months to breathe before work on next year's edition starts. The fun never ends.

Dinner in Monte Carlo Celebrates Ethiopian Filmmakers

ethopian filmmakersNot everything in Cannes happens in Cannes.

Last weekend a dinner was held at Villa Nocturne in Monte Carlo, which had recently been featured in Architectural Digest. The villa is the home of host Marco Orsini, filmmaker and founder of the International Emerging Film Talent Association.

The dinner was a benefit for the IEFTA and the Ethiopian Film Initiative, which works closely with Orsini's organization.

Read more: Dinner in Monte Carlo Celebrates...

Rotterdam at Cannes

cinemartCannes doesn't live in a bubble - and neither do other festivals. Just as this festival started, the Rotterdam Film Festival (IFFR) in the Netherlands sent word of a number of films in Cannes whose directors have received support from the Rotterdam festival in one of two ways: The Hubert Bals Fund and the Rotterdam Cinemart.

The Hubert Bals fund began in 1989, a year after the death of Hubert Bals who founded IFFR in 1972. Created to support filmmaking in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, it currently has an annual budget of approximately €1 million. These funds are allocated to script development, post-production and distribution and anyone from new to established filmmakers can apply. This flows seamlessly with the mission of IFFR, since in their programming for the International Film Festival Rotterdam they do put an emphasis on films from what they call "South" - a much more appropriate phrase than what used to be referred to as "Third World."

Watch the end credits for any number of films from these areas of the world and you will see the Hubert Bals Fund logo. Their reach is far and wide in the international filmmaking community. In Cannes this year Los Salvajes, by Alejandro Fadel of Brazil in the Critics' Week, received post-production funds, while La Playa DC (directed by  Juan Andrés Arango) in Un Certain Regard and Villegas by Gonzalo Tobal (mentioned previously in a special screening out of competition) received development support from the Fund.

Marit van den Elshout, head of industry at Rotterdam, told me via email the importance of other festivals, especially Cannes, to the work of the Fund: "For us it is great to see the filmmakers that we have supported in the start of their career or project succeeding," she said. She added, "with the Hubert Bals Fund we can invest in a project in a very early stage when for other financiers it is difficult to commit. It can then work as a motivation to find other financing."

The CineMart idea began 30 years ago. Back then it was a means for Hubert Bals' friends who were filmmakers to show works in progress to potential financiers and distributors. Now the CineMart model is copied by festivals all over the world. And it has become the world’s largest film co-production market for low and medium-budget projects

This year alone, Carlos Reygadas (Post Tenebras Lux) and Sergei Loznitsa (In the Fog) went through the doors of the CineMart for financing, and both of their films are here in Cannes in the official competition. To van den Elshout, their appearance in Cannes is clear. "If these films end up in Cannes Competition we have done something right," she said. "These selections also contribute to the international visibility of both the Hubert Bals Fund and CineMart."

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