This article originally appeared in the June 1, 1971 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
CANNES, FRANCE: There was a super-gala opening for the Cannes International Film Festival this year, as an unparalleled collection of great names and great namedroppers in film gathered for the 25th opening. The French Minister of Culture, M. Jacques Duhamel, was present, as were a dozen great directors honored by the Festival: Luis Bunuel, Federico Fellini, William Wyler, Rene Clement, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Lindsay Anderson, Votjech Jasny, Masaki Kobayshi and Robert Bresson (Orson Welles, also honored, was not present).
But hardly anyone noticed the star-studded gathering, for one man dominated the entire gala: a stout, smiling, white-haired figure walking slowly across the state to receive the chevaillier of the Legion of Honor from M. Duhamel. It was the greatest living entertainer in the world: Charlie Chaplin, pried by some miracle out of his seclusion to attend his first film festival. Chaplin listened gravely to the Minister’s long laudartory address, evincing surprise when M. Duhamel quoted some of the great comedian’s own past statements. Chaplin seemed at the verge of breaking up when he politely asked the Minister if he could borrow his walking stick, and in a flash the old grey figure was transformed into the slap-stick idol who entertained millions as he twirled the cane and shuffled off the platform, the audience on its feel cheering madly.
The films in the Cannes competition got off to an auspicious start the next day with the presentation of a film by a director who is a favorite here: Taking Off, by Milos Forman. This easygoing tragic-comedy of parents searching for their lost daughter was a big hit with the European audience. After receiving a long ovation, Forman told a jammed press conference that “I am not in exile. I have a Czech passport and I work in New York.” After declaring that he felt Taking Off was not a film about specifically American problems, but universal in its approach, like all his other films, Forman continued: “I started to think of this film for the first time when I read an interview in the New York Times with the father of Linda Fitzpatrick, who was murdered in the East Village four years ago. That was interesting I itself, but what really fascinated me was to read the interview with the father. All the tragedy and the comedy was in this interview, which won a Pulitzer Prize later, I am told. Everybody in this family was a nice person. There was no trouble in the family, yet they knew nothing of each other’s lives. This family was living two lifestyles in one time.”
Out Back is the first film to represent Australia at the Cannes Festival. It is a compelling look at the loneliness and desperate friendliness of the Australian back country. John Grant (Gary Bond) is a young schoolteacher in a desolate part of the inland Norht. On his way to Sydney to visit his girlfriend during the Christmas holiday, he is detained at a boomtown nicknamed the “Yabba,” where there are only two sins: not accepting the drinks constantly pressed forward, and not thinking the ‘Yabba is the greatest, friendliest town in the world. Grant falls under the influence of Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasence) who describes himself as “a doctor of medicine, a tramp by nature, and, of course, an alcoholic,: and a pair of the doctor’s rowdy young hunting-drinking companions. The film quickly becomes one long indulgent frenzy of drinking, hunting, and conviviality, like some grotesque fraternity orgy gone made over a whole town.