Jacob's Ladder


CANNES -- He'll be 79 years old in June and still manages to climb the red-carpeted stairs in front of the Grand Palais with understated ease. After 32 years as president of the Festival de Cannes, the traditionally tacit Gilles Jacob is looking back over his tenure in a new memoir, recently published in Gaul to coincide with the start of the 62nd festival.

Jacob's "La Vie Passera comme un Reve" (Life Will Pass Like a Dream), subtitled "Citizen Cannes," is a 400-page ode to cinema. The book, dedicated to Jeanette, his wife of more than 50 years, recounts what Jacob refers to as his double life, namely "my biological life and my cinematographic life." These two simultaneous lives "meet each other and don't just balance each other out, but feed off of one another, like two twin sisters," he says.

Born in Paris in 1930 into a bourgeois Jewish family, the young Jacob was forced to take refuge in Nice at age 9 with his mother and brother to hide from the Nazis after his father was imprisoned. He hid with his brother in a Catholic school in the Alps to avoid the Gestapo. Seventy years later, Jacob was standing at the top of the world, on the steps of the Grand Palais, waiting to shake hands with world-renowned directors, actors and politicians.

Jacobs takes his readers from Paris to Cannes to the U.S., blending moving stories about his family and tough times with humorous anecdotes and memorable encounters with the stars.

After surviving the Holocaust, a heart attack and an earthquake while lunching with Clint Eastwood, Jacob has decided to relive his memories in this tell-all saga.

Jacob has turned the movie of his life into a book, divided by mini-chapters: Chapter 14 "Sharon," Chapter 34 "For the Love of Hitchcock" and Chapter 47 "Seducing Scorsese."

Yet the tell-all book also reveals Jacob's most unglamorous and painful moments, such as Francis Ford Coppola refusing to share his Palme d'Or prize with Volker Schlondorff and saying bitterly "I got a half-Palme," or being verbally berated by Gerard Depardieu when the actor wanted Nick Cassavetes' "Unhook the Stars" in the lineup.

"One night in '96, Gerard Depardieu yelled at me like I've never been yelled at before, even by my own father," he recalls.

Jacob also remembers the moments that made him smile, with a bit of humor. "I remember Emma Thompson walking the red carpet barefoot, in jeans and a blazer, who offered me a box of dry cakes that I saved without opening," he writes. "I still have it; I wonder what state those cookies are in?"

He managed to persuade Francis Ford Coppola to show an unfinished "Apocalypse Now" in 1979, proved everyone wrong when Isabelle Adjani did indeed show up for jury duty in 1990, and ensured that French President Jacques Chirac's visit to the Riviera went smoothly. He has seen legendary filmmakers Jane Campion, Lars von Trier, Wong Kar Wai, the Coen and the Dardenne brothers, Woody Allen and Jean-Luc Godard, among other legendary directors, through numerous visits to Cannes. He looks back on his life and remembers everything from being stung by a bee at age 4 to saying goodbye to Francois Truffaut at 54.

Jacob doesn't want readers to forget who's boss on the Croisette. As he told Ernst Goldschmidt in 1979 when he asked Jacob to add Allen's "Manhattan" to the lineup: "My dear, when we don't have any more room, we make more."

In a section titled "Dying With Clint," Jacobs remembers a lunch in Los Angeles with Clint Eastwood during a major earthquake. As everyone screamed and panicked around them, Jacob recalls: "I looked at Clint. He showed no signs of worry." He remembers thinking: "To die with Clint Eastwood would do me a lot of good!"

As Jacob writes, "One thing is sure: I've loved the cinema." And, 400 pages later, readers will discover that the cinema has loved him back.