Seduced and Abandoned: Cannes Review
James Toback and Alec Baldwin -- along with Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain -- show what it's like to bring a project to Cannes.
CANNES -- “The trouble with movies as an art is that it’s a business, and the trouble with movies as a business is that it’s an art,” is how Charlton Heston once described the film industry. Such a truism is no more flagrant than at the Cannes Film Festival, where the world’s greatest cineasts rub shoulders with the back-office glitterrati of financiers, sales agents and bona fide billionaires who make their films happen. Exploring the realities behind the red carpet, director James Toback, with Alec Baldwin as his wingman, takes us on a whirlwind Riviera business trip in the entertaining and insightful Seduced and Abandoned, a movie about why movies are so staggeringly hard to make, but also about why they still matter.
Picked up by HBO prior to its Croisette premiere in the Special Screenings section, this dense, somewhat chaotic, but very watchable documentary will see plenty of fest and TV/VOD play, as well as niche theatrical in territories (particularly Western Europe) where the Cannes brand holds a certain allure. Otherwise, it should be required viewing for any director who hopes to successfully shop their project around the festival because, as the film’s title makes clear, such projects are just as easily wooed by the moneymen as they are quickly laid out to pasture.
In the case of Toback, whose filmography includes Fingers, The Pick-up Artist, Two Girls and a Guy and the 2008 documentary Tyson (which also played Cannes), the project in question is a gutsy sex drama set during the recent Iraq War -- a melange of explicit lust and existential angst that Baldwin describes as Last Tango in Tikrit. Whether or not it’s the real deal is never made entirely clear, as Toback announces from the get-go that the movie will serve as a cinematic Trojan Horse to travel to the Croisette and penetrate the inner sanctum of contemporary film financing.
But before that happens, the doc provides a quick and dirty history of the Cannes fest itself, using dozens of clips and archive photos, as well as interviews with various critics (including THR’s own Todd McCarthy) who explain why the two weeks in May are perhaps the most important of the year when it comes to movies. Auteur giants Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese all speak about bringing early works to the fest, and then appear as recurring characters throughout, candidly revealing how even the greatest directors are subject to the whims of investors and the ever-increasing bottom line.
Such a reality is probably not news for anyone involved in the business, but Toback does a great job introducing the non-initiated to the sticky job of getting a film funded outside the studio system, which in today’s world means through foreign presales and independent financiers, who all seem to have the same thing in mind: profit. (Not that the studios think any differently, as Ron Meyer and Mike Medavoy explain at various points.)
And so while the Iraqi sex thingee was to originally have Baldwin playing opposite Toback’s fetish actress Neve Campbell, the potential backers -- including film financing pioneer Mark Damon, Nu Image’s Avi Lerner and HanWay’s Jeremy Thomas -- all tell him to find a more bankable cast, for which the team meets with with Berenice Bejo, Diane Kruger, Jessica Chastain and Ryan Gosling, who’s particularly frank and funny about the realities of the acting biz.
The film’s most surreal sequences involve superrich playboys like Greek shipping magnate Taki Theodoracopulos, who half-jokingly gripes about “racism” toward billionaires (while sitting aboard his 60-foot yacht), and French automobile heir Jean “Johnny” Pigozzi, who wears a tracksuit and struts around his immense Cote d’Azur estate like Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos. Even if it’s pretty clear from the start that these folks won’t be touching Toback’s movie with a ten-foot pole, the fact that they may be the last hope for getting it made reveals just how many rings a director needs to jump through, and how they always need to keep trying. (Or, as Baldwin explains early on: “You have to become a really selfish motherf------.”)
At the heart of Seduced and Abandoned is the study of an art form that is as influential as it is expensive, which is why Cannes, with its competition screenings on one hand, and immense film flea market on the other -- not to mention all the white dresses and Lamborghinis -- is the best proof of why movies and money will forever be married, for the most part unhappily. As a veteran who grew up in Hollywood's transformative 1980s, Toback knows this as much as anyone, and he and Baldwin have delivered what’s ultimately a sharp and impassioned video of a honeymoon gone sour.
Tech credits are polished, with editor Aaron Yanes (The Bay) doing his best to hold it all together -- not always an easy task, as the garrulous Toback has a tendency to jump from one thought to another without waiting for the rest of us. Orchestral music from Dimitri Shostakovich can feel a bit self-serious at times, while dozens of clips from various movie masterpieces are there to remind us why we all endure Cannes in the first place.
Production companies: Michael Mailer Films
With: James Toback, Alec Baldwin, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Bernardo Bertolucci Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain
Director: James Toback
Producers: Michael Mailer, Alec Baldwin, James Toback
Executive producers: Morris Levy, Alan Helene, Larry Herbert, Neal Schneider
Director of photography: Ruben Sluijter
Production designer: Frederic Berge
Editor: Aaron Yanes
Sales Agent: HanWay Films
No rating, 98 minutes