'Vatel' hard to digest amid disorderly scene at Cannes

Thursday, May 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CANNES, France … Uma Thurman and Gerard Depardieu, co-stars of the lush costume drama Vatel, injected a note of class to an otherwise trouble-plagued opening of the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday as they strolled arm-in-arm up the red-carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals.

Mr. Depardieu plays Vatel's title character, the most famous chef and party planner during the reign of Louis XIV; Ms. Thurman is a member of the king's court who unexpectedly falls for the chef's charms. The chef-as-hero theme resonates in France, where preparing food is almost on a par with preparing the sacrament.

To the dismay of festivalgoers, however, the wretched excess of the unpopular King Louis XIV seemed to intrude on and even overshadow the opening day's events.

Festival organizers tried to re-create an entrance to the Palais that mimicked Vatel's elaborate sets. But they ended up blocking the main route to the theaters, leaving thousands to navigate a maze merely to see the opening day selections.

Press screenings were plagued as well, as the pounding of jackhammers and drills repeatedly interrupted early showings of Vatel and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, an Un Certain Regard entry starring Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter, Glenn Close and Kathy Baker.

In fact, as the camera zoomed in for a closeup of Ms. Hunter's face during a wrenching scene in which she has an abortion, numerous drills pounded away next door, sparking sardonic groans from the audience.

Later, during a screening of Vatel, similar interruptions led to catcalls and whistling from the audience. But in time for Vatel's gala screening Wednesday night, officials shut down construction and promised that all problems would be resolved by Thursday.

The American Pavilion, set up to welcome hundreds of U.S. journalists, was dealing with a different set of troubles. Touted as featuring the latest in technological assistance, some parts of the pavilion were without basic electrical service during the early morning.

As for the scene on the streets, it was business as usual. Police set up barricades to keep hundreds of tourists and other ``commoners'' at bay, while the world's elite sailed up and down the nearby Mediterranean in their yachts.

It was enough to make you wonder how far we've come since the days of Louis XIV.