While Roman Polanski’s new film (Venus in Fur) doesn’t premiere at the Cannes Film Festival until Saturday, the rarely seen legend—who has been forced to avoid North America for decades due to legal problems—was on hand yesterday for a small screening of Frank Simon’s Weekend of a Champion (Grade: B-). Long forgotten, this newly restored documentary from 1971 deals with the Monaco Grand Prix and British Formula One driver Jackie Stewart. A close friend of Polanski’s (who produced the film and appears onscreen throughout), Stewart was also present at the screening, as were several other notable drivers. As Polanski walked down the aisle to introduce the film, the festival’s extreme star presence was made evident once again when he twice stopped to embrace stars of his films who were seated in the audience: The Pianist’s Adrien Brody and Carnage’s Christoph Waltz.
While many of the journalists covering the festival will be gone before Polanski’s new film debuts (myself included), we did have an opportunity to watch a simulated Polanski film in director Sebastián Silva’s Magic Magic (Grade: B+). Starring Michael Cera—in his most pleasingly peculiar (and bilingual) performance to date—and Juno Temple, this unsettling oddity deals with a group of friends who witness the psychological deterioration of a friend while staying in an isolated Chilean cabin. Combining delusion with a genuine sense of torment, this film brings Rosemary’s Baby to mind (during the Q&A, Silva confirmed the influence), but supplements its paranoid, highly subjective vision with a warped comic sensibility all its own.
Earlier in the week, Polanski also made a brief appearance onscreen in James Toback’s out of competition documentary, Seduced and Abandoned (Grade: C). Teaming with Alec Baldwin, Toback traveled to last year’s Cannes Film Festival, in order to explore the challenges of film financing. (Cannes doubles as a massive film market, where hundreds of companies buy and sell films.) Although this documentary is filled with illuminating observations and classic film clips, Toback’s approach is far too undisciplined, carelessly jumping from one topic to another with no rhyme or reason. In the film, he attempts to raise money for a project starring Baldwin and Neve Campbell, but this undertaking is too ludicrous (the title: Last Tango in Tikrit) to inspire any serious interest.
HBO has had a prominent presence at this year’s festival. In addition to Toback’s film—which the company acquired last week—and Behind the Candelabra, HBO brought Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight (Grade: D), a clumsy, patronizing dramatization of the boxer’s battle to get his draft dodging conviction overruled by the Supreme Court. Another in a long line of naïve, self-congratulatory historical dramas about white men joining forces to assist embattled African Americans, this simple-minded film (directed by the wildly inconsistent Stephen Frears) is also crippled by an overstated score, stilted dialogue, and a simple-minded vision of its characters and themes. In the world of television, HBO may be the gold standard, but their offerings pale next to the best of Cannes.