For most mainstream audiences, the Cannes Film Festival is the glitzy and glamorous event on the French Riviera, memorable for its Hollywood A-list appearances and artistic temperament. For others, it is a marketplace for studios and financiers to snap up future movies seeking to attract funding. Seduced and Abandoned attempts to expose the commercial side of the festival, in all its shallow glory. Unfortunately, this is not as much of a revelation as perhaps the film would like.
The film opens with a quote from Orson Welles, often held up as the benchmark for artistic direction. According to the Citizen Kane director, 95% of his time was spent running round trying to raise money to make movies, calling it “no way to live”. This documentary, although director James Toback would call it something else, sets out to peel back the glossy veneer of Cannes and put on display the festivals beating heart: money.
With Alec Baldwin in tow, Toback heads to Cannes with a fictional film entitled “Last Tango in Tikrit”, a remake of the Marlon Brando film set against the backdrop of war-torn Iraq. If this sounds implausible, it is intended to be. Toback and Baldwin tour around the festival, using all the tactics they can to convince millionaires to invest in their invention. Meanwhile, the two sit down with big name directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola (who calls Cannes “mean-spirited) and Bernardo Bertolucci, as well as Hollywood stars like Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain, to discuss the business and how film has become an industry instead of an art form.
Whilst this is certainly entertaining, and at times insightful, the idea that the movie business is just that (a business) is not a revelation. For two respected figures in cinema to engage in this exercise of futility just to expose Cannes for the money-scrounging marketplace that they clearly believe it to be is just that; futile. The idea is still clever, and particularly brave on the part of Baldwin who opens himself up to harsh truths and almost ridicule from those viewing him as a star no longer worth their time or money. The premise of the doc is simply not as new and refreshing as its makers might think.
Instead, what’s left is an engaging and definitely humorous look at the film industry. Baldwin and Toback discuss the lows of the biz, with the film’s title coming from Alec’s view of the industry itself, calling it “the worst lover you could ever have”. Actors like Ryan Gosling attempt to make success seem just as difficult, expressing the negativity cinema can cause in an actor. You can be forgiven for not completely being drawn in by this, as it is difficult to feel sorry for someone who is introduced as the hottest actor in the world, but it is still enjoyable to see such candid interviews with the biggest stars of cinema.
This is still not enough to forgive the film for its own occasional back-slapping arrogance in thinking no one else has thought to question the motivations behind film finance. The consistent return to a carousel symbolising everything from how Alec Baldwin is consistently drawn back into film, to how everything he and James Toback learn leads back to money, becomes an irritating visual reminder of how these figures, who have enjoyed success and wealth, are perhaps unhappy with their industry, despite continuing to work within it.