From Billy Wilder with "Sunset Blvd." (1950) to Robert Altman with "The Player" (1992), a lot of filmmakers just can't resist the temptation to make movies about what they know best: moviemaking. Henry Jaglom, writer-director of "Festival in Cannes," has a particularly severe case of infatuation with his own field, previously having given us several flicks about flicks, including "Last Summer in the Hamptons" (1995) and "Venice/Venice" (1992). In the latter comedy, he actually filmed himself making a film.
Perhaps experience counts. Because Jaglom's latest is his most mature work to date, one with fresh insights into the people who decide what we experience at our cineplexes. Though he shot his film in his favored cinema-verité style during the 1999 festival, this is not a documentary. Jaglom introduces us to an eclectic collection of fictional haves and have-nots, people who must use their wiles to ply their cinematic wares. The neediness of each character quickly becomes intertwined with that of the others, professionally and -- often -- romantically.
Alice Palmer (Greta Scacchi) is an American actress who hopes to sell her straight-from-the-heart screenplay about mature womanhood despite its dubious commercial viability. "Kaz" Naiman (portrayed with verve by Zack Norman) is a fast-talker who vows to come up with the millions to get her film produced, even though he seems to have no track record of success (or even a business card).
Rick Yorkin (Ron Silver, in a role tailor-made for his short-fused acting style) is a brusque but nervous Hollywood producer; his hope of landing Tom Hanks in a $100 million deal is about to go down the drain because Kaz is clogging the works. He must dissuade Palmer from going forward with her picture, but his plan to seduce her into submission goes awry.
Then there's Millie Marquand (Anouk Aimée), a grand dame of international cinema who has reached a stature where she could choose her roles carefully, if only there were any good roles for a woman her age. Suddenly, Marquand finds herself courted by most everyone in the story. Even her estranged husband, director Viktor Koverner (Maximilian Schell), rekindles his flame for her.
The antics involved as the characters cross paths are quite amusing, and it's fun to watch the integration of the fictional folks with actual stars who have come to Cannes for serious hobnobbing. Kaz can't stop fawning over the "great" Faye Dunaway; Viktor hugs William Shatner, but then inquires as to whom he is.
While "Festival" is a send-up of the entertainment industry, the characters are not caricatures. The mostly veteran cast paints unusually affectionate portraits of people whose trips to dreamland have taken a toll. Silver's Yorkin craves love as much as success but he may not be able to trade one commodity for the other. Aimée's Marquand, her star fading, and Schell's Viktor, still smitten by starlets, display a world-weary wisdom that provides anchorage for their passionate younger peers. As an ingenue, Jenny Gabrielle is riveting as she discovers that the stardom she coveted already is strangling her.
An engaging director, Jaglom lets his actors breathe, and the result is a breath of fresh Mediterranean air.