The cast list of Richard Martini's Cannes Man is intriguing--the front cover lists such draws as Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, John Malkovich, and Dennis Hopper. Ha ha, joke's on you. Fourth-billed Depp has the most screen time of the bunch (about five minutes, I'd guess); the others have a minute or two each. The film, a would-be The Player for the indie set, was mostly shot on the fly at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival; most of the scenes with actors you've heard of appear to have been organized and improvised on the spot. Harvey Weinstein is photographed through a long lens, telling an unrelated story to star Seymour Cassel, as voice-over narration puts words into the then-Miramax head's mouth. Surely I'm not the only person who will watch this scene and think of Bowfinger.
If I had to guess--which I have to, since Cinema Libre's new Blu-ray of Cannes Man includes zilcho bonus features to explain the film--I would surmise that the presence of an icon like Cassel was what got actors like Depp, Malkovich, and the rest to agree to appear in the film; a member in good standing of the Cassavetes company, Cassel is a living legend, especially in indie circles. However they pulled it off, the fact that they got some names into this (apparently) no-budget throwaway is impressive. It doesn't do much to help the movie, however.
The story begins at the funeral of Cassel's character, a famed flim-flam man/low-budget producer named Sy Lerner. Sitting at the funeral, Frank Rhinoslavsky (Francesco Quinn) recalls how they first met: at the Cannes Film Festival, where dopey, movie-loving cabbie Frank was working as a courier for Troma. Lerner and a producer buddy, discussing whether the festival is all hype, make a bet: Lerner says he can turn any schmuck into the toast of Cannes. Frank is selected; when he sits at their table, he immediately leans back in his chair and falls over. Har de har har!
Could Cannes Man have worked? Perhaps. The trouble isn't the concept, it's the execution. The satire is tepid and flaccid, in spite of a couple of funny scenes; Frank Whaley just about steals the picture with his dead-on parody of actorly hyperbole, while Johnny Depp and Jim Jarmusch's scene, in which Sy and Frank interrupt their meditation for a pitch ("We're floating," Depp intones. "Jim and I are above you"), is amusing--particularly when their high-minded spirituality is derailed by catty arguments over "points." But little else lands comically, primarily because so much of the humor rests on the unsteady shoulders of Quinn, whose performance amounts to a collection of Italian caricature tics. He's like a guy doing a bad Joey Tribiani impression. When Frank and Sy fight and separate in the third act, leaving Quinn to carry the picture alone for fifteen minutes or so, it goes particularly deep into the toilet.
The filmmaking is embarrassingly clumsy as well, from the photography (there are numerous out-of-focus shots, and even a scene with a chunk of dirt on the lens) to the credits (which misspell Whaley's last name as "Whalley" and Menahem Golan's first name as "Menacham"). The film is structured as a mockumentary, sort of; real producers, directors, and agents are interviewed (making Quinn's interviews seem al the more false), but that format makes zero sense if examined in the context of the film's ending ("so this is the movie we made!"), and there's no stylistic consistency. Dialogue scenes between actors playing characters are shot in conventional style, with over-the-shoulder close-ups and the like, but the grabbed scenes with famous faces are shot handheld. We even glimpse a sound man and second camera in the first Jarmusch-Depp scene, but nowhere else; one gets the feeling that they didn't dare throw out one second of that footage. Shooting in an on-the-fly style is fine, but for God's sake, shoot your entire movie in the same style. (A startling entry in the end credits may explain this disparity--an entire separate director is listed for the Cannes scenes, which encompass about half the running time.)
Put simply, the 1080i MPEG-4 AVC image is terrible. The film, shot on 16mm film, looks considerably older than its 15 years; it's a soft, ugly image, and the transfer does it no favors. Scenes are frequently washed out, and compression artifacts abound--particularly the medium-wide shots in the screening room (where the interviews are conducted), which looks like it was shot on tissue paper. I'm not sure who thought this image would benefit from an HD transfer, but they were dead wrong.
Audio is similarly unimpressive--there are 2.0 Dolby Digital and 5.1 LPCM tracks, but neither offers much in the way of separation or depth. It's a thin, frequently tinny disc, and dialogue is often a struggle to decipher, since festival scenes were shot at loud parties in restaurants and hotels. Background noise also frequently shifts from shot to shot, sometimes to a point of distraction.
No subtitles are included.
None--not even a menu. Depp outtakes and a filmmaker intro were reportedly included on an earlier standard-def release, but are nowhere to be found here.
As a curio, Cannes Man is occasionally diverting; it is, for example, fun to see young Bryan Singer and his actors Benicio del Toro and Kevin Pollak at the '95 festival with that Usual Suspects movie of theirs. But aside from the occasional opportunities to gawk at celebs, Cannes Man is a flat, one-note, unfunny picture. That famous faces were roped in indicates ingenuity on the part of the filmmakers, similar to those one and two-reelers that Mack Sennett would throw together around a parade or local event. But while taking advantage of a situation may make a film clever, it doesn't make it good.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.