The tireless director waxes lyrical at the Deauville Festival of American Cinema in France.
11 Sep 2009 - 10:53 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 1:04 PM

DEAUVILLE: In presenting a tribute trophy to Robin Wright Penn on the evening of September 10th, Claude Lelouch – who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and two Oscars for his Deauville-set A Man and a Woman – said that when actors and actresses ascend to the rarefied air of true stardom "You go to see even their bad movies because you're so happy to spend two hours watching them."

Wright Penn got a standing ovation from a packed auditorium. Obviously pleased, she explained "This is very special. A) I've never been on stage except if I'm presenting something. And B) It's wonderful to be honored in France because I so admire what the French do in film; this is a country where cinema is SEEN in a way that I see films."

Presumably that means reverently, critically and voraciously.

Wright Penn's performance in writer/director Rebecca Miller's uneven but frequently compelling The Private Lives of Pippa Lee – adapted from her novel of the same name – gives a flakey character substance.

Speaking of "substance," substance abuse is a prominent subtext in many of this year's films. To name but three, there's a speed addict in Pippa Lee, Kevin Spacey smokes prodigious quantities of dope as the title doc in Shrink and Robin Williams' mild-mannered high school English teacher has a stash of weed that he lights up or bakes into brownies to cope with a stressful sequence of events in World's Greatest Dad.

A gullible foreign viewer who believed everything he sees portrayed in Deauville films to be representative of American life would reach some mighty strange conclusions about what Yanks are really like. Even I've been wondering whether the only middle-aged American NOT smoking a joint several times a day is, uh, me.

World's Greatest Dad writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait delivers a delectably sardonic film about hypocrisy. Williams plays Lance Clayton, a single dad whose 15-year-old son Kyle attends the high school where his father teaches poetry to students who think they can pass off the lyrics to a Queen song as their original work. Kyle is ornery, impatient, hooked on internet porn – and those might be his more endearing qualities. Would-be author Lance longs to write20a novel that will move readers. He finds his voice as a writer in a way that would leave viewers speechless were they not so busy laughing out loud.

The film skewers many facets of modern life, including our tendency to not only speak well of the dead but rave about them once they're gone.

"Apparently now that he's dead, everybody would let Michael Jackson be a babysitter," Goldthwait quipped.

Goldthwait is not the only funny guy to attend Deauville this year. The festival paid tribute to ZAZ: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker. Trivia fans will be interested to know that their 1977 opus Kentucky Fried Movie was released in France as 'Hamburger Film Sandwich'.

Jerry told reporters that the trio's influences growing up in Wisconsin were "MAD Magazine, the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen – and old movies. Serious ones that took themselves seriously."
Abrahams added, "We grew up at a time in the U.S. when everything was in black and white, literally and figuratively. Everything was taken seriously and we'd ask ourselves, 'Uh, do we really need to take that seriously?'"

After co-directing the likes of Flying High (a.k.a. Airplane!) and Top Secret! with his two partners, Jerry directed Ghost (1990) for which veteran French composer Maurice Jarre did the music.

"Maurice was wonderful," Jerry Zucker reminisced. "He scored Top Secret! too. He did Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia but people don't realize what a wonderful sense of humor he had. He got our jokes. And he was a romantic and 'Ghost' is romantic."

Zucker described the first production meeting for Ghost with studio producers: "They didn't know the relationship Maurice and I had. I said, 'Look Maurice, none of this crap like what you did for Lawrence of Arabia.' Everyone gasped in shock, but Maurice burst out laughing. He was an absolute sweetheart and I miss him dearly."

They say our IQ rises for an hour or so after listening to Mozart. I happen to think that listening to Steven Soderbergh hold forth has the same salutary effect.

In his fifth visit to Deauville, Soderbergh presented his new feature The Informant! As with the ZAZ parodies, that exclamation point is a prominent clue to the film's tone, even though this outing is based on a true story, that of biochemist Mark Whitacre who involved the FBI in an investigation into industrial shenanigans with more layers than a bunch of onions at a Mille-feuille convention.

Soderbergh was asked whether he met with the man played with wacky élan by Matt Damon, who gained 30 pounds for the role. "No, I didn't think it would help to meet him. The reason I did meet the real people on Erin Brokovich and tried to research Che thoroughly was that I needed to know facts, who was in the room. In this case, Kurt Eichenwald's book was enough. I wanted it to be accurate but I didn't want it to be real, if that makes sense. So maybe I shouldn't even have researched those other films," he admitted, laughing.

Reporters were curious to know whether Damon had lost the 30 additional pounds. "I have to tell you, it was scary how fast he lost that weight," the slender Soderbergh explained. "You see all these weight loss programs and I think being in a film should be one of them. Matt had to do re-shoots on Green Zone and his body had to match. There is no greater motivation for losing weight than being in front of a camera."

Steven Soderbergh image (c) Guy Isaac