May 11, 1992 12:00 PM

by Cari Beauchamp and Henri Béhar

No wonder most of us perceive the Cannes Film Festival, which opens this week (May 7), as mere frivolous display. As far back as 1954, we were made aware of French starlet Simone Sylva delighting paparazzi (and startling the adjacent Robert Mitchum) by baring her breasts; in 1991 we beheld Madonna, in her pointy bra, creating an avalanche of publicity for Truth or Dare.

But business, not bosoms, is what this May fortnight is truly about. Seventy percent of U.S. film revenue can come from overseas markets, say the authors, and Cannes is the No. 1 international marketplace. Within “a 10-block strip bordering the Mediterranean, 30,000 people [converge] to see and be seen, buy and be bought, sell and be sold, review and be reviewed, promote and be promoted.”

Beauchamp and Béhar, both seasoned in public relations and entertainment journalism, appear to have interviewed, year after year, most of those 30,000 annual visitors—actors, producers, publicists, exhibitors, reporters. The resulting flood of facts and reminiscences reveals the frenetic forces at work in Cannes: the deal-making, star-hyping, film-and juror-picking and the judging process itself.

Hollywood on the Riviera offers more gossip than most readers may want. A 1967 scandal (juror Shirley MacLaine “embarked on a very public, torrid love affair” with Bekim Fehmiu, star of the year’s Grand Special Jury prizewinner, I Even Met Happy Gypsies) is a major item, and it is of some interest that “marriages and long-term relationships that have started in Cannes [include those of] Rita Hayworth and Aly Khan. Olivia DeHavilland and Picric Galante. Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin…Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier.”

But does anyone need to know that Mary Beth Hurt, shopping for her baby, found “trés cher but trés chic outfits at the children’s stores,” that the Globe and Mail’s film critic Jay Scott “always stocks up on French underwear,” that actor Nick (Wild at Heart) Cage’s publicist “was desperate to find a place for him to buy a leather jacket”?

Hollywood on the Riviera’s lengthy appendices—festival rules, year-by-year lists of jurors and winners—are of value to serious film buffs. Fun seekers are advised that this book is like a collection of gossip columns. It reads best just a bit at a time. (Morrow, $25)

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