Though Henry Jaglom’s Festival in Cannes unfolds in a Euro-paradise at movie-harvest time, it thankfully goes easy on the reel/real world dichotomy that he pursued with such enervating determination in Venice/Venice (1992). The director’s talk-into-the-camera method, a trademark irritant, is in remission, as is the self-congratulatory attention he pays to women, not to mention omphaloskepsis in general. The setup is pure farce: parallel movie deals—one tiny, one huge—on a collision course. Actress-turned-screenwriter Alice Palmer (Greta Scacchi) wants to direct her own film—a “very normal story” about a “woman who has a real life”—and gets to pitch it to screen legend Millie Marquand (Anouk Aimée), thanks to the unwanted intrusion of Kaz (Zack Norman), a perma-smiling producer of dubious pedigree. Meanwhile, a paunchy Hollywood mogul (Ron Silver) needs to sign Millie to a new Tom Hanks movie, for a remunerative bit part. Unable to commit to both (Hanks has a “small window”), she seeks advice from grizzled old flame Victor (Maximilian Schell), whose words are as sage as they are mutable.
Early on, Alice is given advice on her pitch: “Keep it light.” Festival in Cannes has shades of such oleaginous insider-treading as The Player and Celebrity, but the mood, like the lighting, is altogether sunnier. (A brief shot of festival billboards at dusk serves as shorthand for cineplex hell: The Mummy, Stigmata, Entrapment.) The light turns the mercenary amorous, for the most part, and the art of the deal and the pressures of fame melt into air.
The issue-laden women in Jaglom’s Eating pass a slice of cake around and around, as if it were poison; Miss Wonton threatens to upset the conventions of ethnic-food film by having its title character, an immigrant restaurant worker named Ah Na (Amy Ting), prepare rotten grub for her rich (and married) paleface ex. As genre comeuppance, this might have been nasty fun, but the movie barely makes sense, with its unbelievable naïveté and arbitrary flashbacks. When Ah Na discovers a secret wing of Grand Central, where white men cruise for gussied-up women of color, it’s as if the Hogwarts launching pad, Platform 9 3/4, had been overrun by respondents to a “Meet Asian Singles” ad.