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Cannes Fest Diary: Le Weekend, from Compelling 'Jimmy P.' to Toback's Doc and 'Jodorowsky's Dune'

Thompson on Hollywood By Tom Christie | Thompson on Hollywood May 21, 2013 at 10:46PM

It was a weird, wooly and wet weekend in Cannes. And it began with what has to be one of the stranger ideas ever put forward for a film: “Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” from Arnaud Desplechin (the wonderful “A Christmas Tale”). Based on a book by French anthropologist/psychotherapist George Deveraux, it’s the more or less true story of a Native American WWII vet, played by Benicio del Toro, who winds up in a military hospital suffering from post-war injuries, real or imagined. When the staff decides the problems are not physical, but don’t have a grasp on the potential mental issues an Indian might face, they call in Deveraux, who is also an expert in Native American culture.
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Benecio del Toro, Mathieu Amalric in 'Jimmy P.'
Benecio del Toro, Mathieu Amalric in 'Jimmy P.'

It was a weird, wooly and wet weekend in Cannes. And it began with what has to be one of the stranger ideas ever put forward for a film: “Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” from Arnaud Desplechin (the wonderful “A Christmas Tale”). Based on a book by French anthropologist/psychotherapist George Deveraux, it’s the more or less true story of a Native American WWII vet, played by Benicio del Toro, who winds up in a military hospital suffering from post-war injuries, real or imagined. When the staff decides the problems are not physical, but don’t have a grasp on the potential mental issues an Indian might face, they call in Deveraux, who is also an expert in Native American culture.

I found the film itself quite strange, the imagery flat, the editing choppy, many of the performances unconvincing, some of the relationships unsatisfying. Even the excellent Mathieu Amalric’s first scenes seem slightly bogus, and his relationship with the married Madeleine (Gina McKee) is bizarrely unphysical. But then Desplechin, rather like a nervous pitcher settling down into his game, slowly builds the relationship between the tightly wound, intense Deveraux and the quiet but combustible Jimmy Picard into something quite deep and memorable.

The insights into Native American culture, and how it might make a difference in approach and treatment is kind of fascinating. (Example: Whites dream about the past, Indians dream about the future.) By film’s end, as Deveraux goes his way and Jimmy meets his daughter, del Toro’s slow rhythmic intonation has begun to feel almost like a mantra, something necessary to one’s well-being; it’s an especially fine piece of work, and I didn’t want it to end.

James Toback and Roman Polanski in "Seduced and Abandoned."
James Toback and Roman Polanski in "Seduced and Abandoned."

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Speaking of one of the stranger ideas ever put forward for a film, a surprise Cannes hit was Frank Pavitch’s “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” a documentary on the Chilean-born, Paris-based filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (“El Topo”), now 84 and with his own new film receiving good notices at the festival. Maybe it helped that we had to wait 40 minutes in the pouring rain, but “Jodorowsky’s Dune” proved a complete delight, in part due to Pavitch’s professional work but mainly due to Jodorowsky’s disarming intelligence and wit.

The story in brief: in the early 1970s, Jodorowsky secured the rights to Frank Herbert’s book “Dune.”  With producer Michel Seydoux, he set out to find his “spiritual warriors,” those with whom he would make this great film. They included special effects guy Dan O’Bannon, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Moebius, and a cast that included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and David Carradine. They created a huge book to present to potential investors, including the major American studios.  In essence, all of the studio execs said the same thing: “It’s wonderful, but there’s no way.” 

Jodorowsky’s vision was massive, and all of the studio men thought his film would go over budget; they were probably right. After trying for years, Jodorowsky and Seydoux lost the rights to “Dune,” which were picked up by the DeLaurentis Company and the film was made by David Lynch. One of the bigger laughs in “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is when Jodorowsky goes to see Lynch’s “Dune” and, despite admiring Lynch, realizes with glee that the film is a failure. “Well, I’m sorry,” says Jodorowsky, “but it’s a human reaction, no?”

It is, indeed.

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Speaking of pitching impossible stories and human quote factories, that brings us to James Toback’s documentary on Cannes, “Seduced and Abandoned.”  It’s a bit of a mishmash, both in terms of style and content, at times straying far from its avowed subject to include conversations with a number of filmmakers on why they wanted to be filmmakers in the first place. But it doesn’t really matter because who doesn’t want to hear that stuff from Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Bernardo Bertolucci et al. And besides, the rest of the film, which involves Toback and Alec Baldwin wandering in and out of Cannes power meetings to try to raise funds for a film starring Baldwin and Neve Campbell about their Iraq–wartime sexual exploration, is entertaining as hell.

When one of the moneymen tells Baldwin frankly that the actor is not known for being erotic but, rather, for being a submarine guy, Baldwin suggests, “The Last Tango in the Missile Bay?” Toback quotes Somerset Maugham, who described the French Riviera as “a sunny place for shady people.” Bertolucci reveals that Marlon Brando wouldn’t speak to him for 5 years following “Last Tango.” Coppola refers to the relationship between filmmakers and the money guys as a bullfight. So it goes.

The portly Toback and the witty Baldwin have a sort of modern-day Laurel and Hardy look. They’ve made a very funny, interesting and rather distressing film.

This article is related to: Seduced and Abandoned, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Benicio del Toro, Mathieu Amalric, Cannes Film Festival, Reviews, James Toback, Festivals


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