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Politics at play off, on screen

May 19, 2004|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

CANNES — From the terrace of the swanky Carlton Hotel to a revealing red carpet appearance by a possible First Daughter, a strange and rowdy brew of politics is percolating through the Cannes Film Festival this year. Naturally, Michael Moore and his "Fahrenheit 9/11" are at center stage, but striking French entertainment industry workers, politically themed films and aspiring director Alexandra Kerry and her transparent dress all are proving to be attention-getters in their own right.

Things started getting lively with an opening weekend confrontation between striking workers and police when about 100 strikers stormed the Star Cinema to "speak to the audience and distributors." After a scuffle, some workers were arrested. Protesters then marched to police headquarters to rally for their comrades' release. This time, a French television journalist got caught in the middle and suffered injuries that required stitches and left him unable to work. The TV station, France 3, said it would sue the police; local prefect Pierre Breuil offered his apologies to the wounded parties and promised the officers involved would be disciplined.

Things have been relatively tame on the labor front since then, no doubt because workers and festival organizers struck a deal last week to minimize disruptions.

That hasn't stopped Hollywood executives from grumbling about strike-related inconveniences. As they do business on the Carlton terrace, the chanting and clamor of the strikers -- entertainment artists and technicians protesting a change in their benefit requirements -- has been the daily background noise. And -- quelle horreur! -- the Hollywood execs have had to fetch their own drinks and plates of peanuts because the waiters were on strike, in solidarity. There also was complaining that the Majestic Hotel (with room rates beginning at $500 a night) did not have hot water for several days -- although, presumably, the strikers had nothing to do with that.

The workers quickly made common cause with Moore, the festival's favorite populist provocateur. They asked the Oscar-winning director to join them as they marched down the crowded Croissette over the weekend. The irrepressible director -- whose battle with the Walt Disney Co. over distribution of his movie grabbed headlines even before the festival began -- has dominated conversation here and captured the attention of just about everyone, including Princess Caroline of Monaco. The princess made the unusual gesture of stopping by the "Fahrenheit 9/11" party Monday evening to greet Moore and take a picture with the director. She left promptly after the photo op.

Other filmmakers are adding to the politically charged atmosphere.

Chilean exile Patricio Guzman's highly personal documentary "Allende" takes a look at the 1973 overthrow of democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Allende's last day in office was Sept. 11, 1973 -- the day his country's own military (backed by the CIA) bombed La Moneda, the Chilean equivalent of the White House, and Allende put a gun to his head and took his own life. Guzman, who is sympathetic to Allende and is trying to compile a biographical history of the man, filmed the bombing and the days leading up to the coup as a young man. The day after the coup, he smuggled his reels out of the country and has lived in Paris since.

"I remember Sept. 11, 1973, [a] somber day on which America instigated a coup d'etat to knock down the peace-loving and democratic revolution which had been built in my faraway country, Chile," the director wrote in notes about his film distributed at a screening here.

At the morning screening last week, journalists, producers, film buffs and acquisitions executives sat in silence as the film came to an end and Chilean poet Gonzalo Millan appeared on the screen to read his ode to memory and rewinding time:

"Horses trot in reverse. The military makes an about-face. Bullets fly out of flesh ... Officers put away their pistols. Electricity stays in the sockets. The tortured no longer react ... Concentration camps become empty. The missing reappear. The dead rise from their graves...."

The same day that most attention was focused on a series screening of Moore's "9/11," Germany's "The Edukators" premiered to less fanfare. In the film, three hope-filled youths break into rich people's homes and leave notes stating "you have too much money." In one of these break-ins, however, they run into the owner and find themselves kidnapping him.

"I'm really happy to present this film in a country where the word revolution was invented," its 28-year-old director, Hans Weingartner, told a Cannes news conference.

The Austrian-born director said the story was inspired by his own frustration at the lack of political ideals among his generation and the suffocating effect of advertising and media images.

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