CANNES DIARY / Snow, smoke and some great movies: Sheila Johnston on clashes between sexploitation and political correctness, fairy tales and crisis

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
It was the year it snowed on the Croisette (a publicity stunt for Stallone's Cliffhanger). It was another year of silly projects. One British lawyer told me he was brokering a deal for a film about a vigilante teddy bear and another explained a financing scam - correction, scheme - involving something called a double tax agreement with Hungary. Among its traditional slate of trash, Troma Films was selling the first Hungarian- shot sexploitation movie, Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy. But it was also, ominously, the year that only one East European film made the official selection, a woolly first feature from Russia called Dyuba Dyuba.

It was a year of political correctness, when even Menahem Golan announced a slate of fairy tales which included the revisionist Jackie and the Beanstalk (but was also peddling Emmanuelle's Seventh Heaven and Death Wish V). There was a rash of non-smoking offices and - a recent innovation of French law - restaurants, but determined puffers were placated by packs of Death cigarettes plugging the British Film Institute's Psychotherapy.

Joel Schumacher's Falling Down, in which Michael Douglas runs amok through LA's ethic minorities, got ticked off, but Schumacher was unrepentent: after all many people who think PC don't really feel it in their bellies. 'Pretty soon, we'll only have films about nice lawyers in three-piece suits because we're afraid of offending anyone,' he said. 'And you won't like those movies either.' There were only two American films in competition, but both, for a change, were worth watching - the other one was Steven Soderbergh's King of the Hill, with which the man who stormed Cannes four years ago with sex, lies and videotape then laid a giant egg with his follow-up film, Kafka, came back with a small but beautifully crafted piece about a young boy's view of the Depression.

It was the year the Brits made a big splash. Stephen Frears' The Snapper got the Directors' Fortnight off to a roaring start (it played on British television a couple of weeks ago, but will now be re-launched theatrically). Mike Leigh's Naked, the competition's first hit, is still a front runner for a major prize. On its heels is Kenneth Branagh's bright and sunny, Tuscan-set Much Ado About Nothing, which few are likely to claim as an epoch-making version of Shakespeare's play, but which was seized upon eagerly as much needed light relief in a festival short on comedy.

Splitting Heirs failed, alas, to confound the UK and American critics who had already panned it, and reaped a harvest of blobs, x's and nul points except for some French eccentrics (the same ones, probably, who worship Jerry Lewis as a great film auteur). Ken Loach's Raining Stones, a simple and powerfully direct comedy-drama about life on the dole, played right at the end of the festival, but not too late for Loach, a Cannes favourite, to be a strong contender. But this was also the year that the British company Rank announced a dollars 75 m investment deal - with the American company Gladden, to the huge disappointment of British producers.

Jane Campion's The Piano is still the favourite for a Palm (it has since opened in the Paris area to excellent business, proving its mettle as more than a festival hit). Chen Kaige's Farewell to My Concubine offers stiff competition and either film would be a worthy laureate.

This was the year I could have had myself filmed walking up the steps of the Palais for a small consideration of 149 francs (about pounds 20), an offer which bore all the marks of a company desperate for business. Film Francais reported market activity down by about 25 per cent under the headline 'Is Cannes broke?', while people wandered around in T-shirts forlornly proclaiming Consume Mass Quantities (for a forthcoming film of Saturday Night Live's Coneheads). It was not a year of astonishing first features and exciting discoveries. But 1993 was - and this can't be taken for granted - the year we saw some outstanding movies.