Seduced and Abandoned follows actor Alec Baldwin and director James Toback on their journey to raise financing for their next feature film at the Cannes Festival. This documentary provides a unique insight on the bittersweet relationship filmmakers have with Cannes and the film business, as well as appearances by prominent figures in the movie industry (directors Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski; actors Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain amongst others).
Seduced and Abandoned pretends to be a documentary but it’s really a comedy drama about two pals who wanna make a movie. One of them is a name brand in film and TV but he is no longer young and thus no longer hot; that would be Alec Baldwin. His director buddy, that’s James Toback, who was once considered a contender in the auteur of note sweepstakes after his 1977 debut Fingers, nevertheless wants to cast Baldwin in the lead in his new project allegedly inspired by Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972). In the jaded parlance of the biz, the ‘package’ they want to flog – which significantly does not have a ready screenplay – sounds utterly improbable (I’m talking marketplace, not plot). It’s a sex drama about a jaded CIA operative that becomes enraptured by the erotic allure of a left-wing journalist while stationed in Iraq. They want to make it for say, US$20m. Neve Campbell is the co-star and they are hoping that no one will notice too much that this attractive Canadian actor has been below the radar since Party of Five wound down nearly 20 years ago. Toback, who directs here, wants the proposed movie, which he dubs ‘Last Tango in Tikrit’ to have the visceral, psychological and emotional shock value of Bertolucci’s pic. To make the point, he lavishes Seduced and Abandoned with memorably ‘wow’ clips from Tango: Brando demanding to be digitally stimulated by co-star Maria Schneider for one, and the notorious scatological/misogynist coffin side monologue for another.
Never destined to be a picture any Hollywood studio would find attractive, Baldwin and Toback look to foreign pre-sales and independent financiers for their Tango. Loaded with bravado and a fine line in talking funny-sounding shit, the pair troop off to that place that Martin Scorsese – here part of a rich support cast – calls ‘The Valhalla of Cinema’, The Cannes Film Festival, in an effort to raise the cash. Once there, they encounter what Paul Schrader, with characteristic fierce acuity, called ‘the denizens of the deep’ who inhabit the yacht and cocktail world of film finance. Our heroes take meetings with folks who seem to have too much time and money on their hands, like Taki Theodoracopulos, an aging Greek billionaire who wonders aloud why the majority of people resent the tiny minority of people like him who have so much cash, and like I said, time. Then there’s Jean ‘Johnny’ Pigozzi, who made his fortune in car manufacturing and treats all things movie with gleeful condescension and as a certain bad bet.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Seduced and Abandoned is a bit of a piss-take and it’s a lot of fun if you go along with the gag. There’s probably a fine and insightful hard-boiled documentary to be made about the inner workings of ginormous international film festivals like Cannes and the intricacies and subtle politics of film investment but this ain’t it, and I doubt whether Toback ever had that as an ambition in the first place; this is something more personal and definitely idiosyncratic.
It has the relaxed ambience of delightful dinner conversation amongst learned friends and colleagues as they contemplate the absurdities and career incongruities of a life in movies; a feeling aided and abetted by the fact that a lot of the chat here takes place over espresso, drinks or supper in luxe settings. (Most of the pic was shot at the Cannes fest in 2012.) Here Coppola and Polanski remember the collegial daring of the ‘60s, and Bertolucci and Scorsese reminisce about the career jolt Cannes gave them in the ‘70s. Alas for Coppola, the magic soured long ago when Cannes became like a ‘bullfight’ where mean spiritedness reigns.
In an effort to illustrate the realities (or surreal-alities) that influence the conditions that govern the making of movies in the 21st century, Toback gathers interviews with the market players like producers Jeremy Thomas, Mark Damon, Avi Lerner and HanWay Films’ Thorsten Schumacher (amongst many others), who collectively tell him he’s barking up the wrong decade (in style and sensibility) with the wrong cast.
This gives Toback an alibi to bring in a stellar ensemble of current ‘hotties’ including Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger (whose ‘ya gotta be kiddink’ look after Baldwin subjects her to the pitch is one of the film’s many priceless moments).
The structure feels random and the style is jumpy and discursive but maybe it’s a metaphor? Spend time talking to anyone who has ever tried to raise money for a movie (even with a completed screenplay) and they’ll tell you it can get messy very quick.
But the knock-down, drag-out highlight in describing the delicious agony of what it is to be in both the show and business of movies has to be Ryan Gosling’s interview here. In an elegant monologue, he talks about the ideal of acting, where authenticity and immediacy are core values, ones constantly compromised by the very process of making a movie. It doesn’t come off as self-pity but ironic self-appraisal.
Seduced and Abandoned has been dissed as indulgent. I don’t think so it all. It’s a mutant form of autobiography, a meta-fiction, a sad fugue about faded talent and soured aspirations, a homage to the history of Cannes (glossed here with elegant ease), great filmmakers and great performances (alas, pointedly there are no ‘great deals’ celebrated). Besides, Baldwin and Toback are fine company and very funny.
I think Toback knows it’s a privilege to make movies and be where he is at, at 70. Why else would he include Gosling’s remarks here about how LA is full of Don Quixote’s where all are sharing in the same dream that has a 99 percent rate of failure but they do it anyway because they don’t know whether it’s a premonition or a delusion? This seems to be Toback’s real subject. He begins the film with a famous quote from Orson Welles: “I look back on my life and it’s running around trying to raise money to make movies and 5 percent actually making them. It’s no way to live.” For those that know that life, know there’s no suffering here; they have to do it because they must.