James Toback’s movie about going to the Cannes Film Festival to raise money to make a movie is a winning equation. The title, “Seduced and Abandoned,” fits the fiction film he wants to make better than the actual documentary. But the winning equation is Toback himself, along with Alec Baldwin, the actor he wants to star in his fiction film, and the world of Cannes.
This documentary opens at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Friday, May 23, and moviegoers interested in how films get made will definitely enjoy “Seduced and Abandoned.”
Director Toback is best known most recently for his 2008 documentary “Tyson,” and Baldwin’s movie credits include “Blue Jasmine,” “To Rome with Love,” and “It’s Complicated,” although he’s never shied away from TV performances, including seven years as Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock.” After choosing Neve Campbell as the female lead for their remake of “Last Tango in Paris,” Toback and Baldwin head to Cannes to find financial backing.
They’re looking for $20 to $25 million to shoot a story set in Iraq about the torrid love affair between Campbell, playing a liberal journalist, and Baldwin, playing a conservative C.I.A. operative. Toback uses bricolage to flood the viewer with images of the celebrities who people the Cannes Film Festival. He also uses plenty of interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese; Bernardo Bertolucci, who made the original “Last Tango in Paris” with Marlon Brando; Roman Polanski; and Francis Ford Coppola.
This cast of famous movie directors offer their opinions on all kinds of issues related to Cannes and moviemaking in general. They agree that what makes Cannes special is its reverence for film, along with its potency as a market for selling films. As Toback and Baldwin pitch their fiction film idea, the viewer gets to see how the business works. Neve Campbell, they’re told, doesn’t have marquee value, and Baldwin has become too much of a “TV actor” (not a praiseworthy description). Add Jessica Chastain or Natalie Portman and Ryan Gosling, and the financing will show up, because money follows the hot stars in the movie business.
Both Coppola and Scorsese talk about how they are willing to make big box office films to finance the less lucrative ones they’d really like to make. As Scorsese observes, the marketplace at Cannes is like the diamond district on 47th Street in New York. It’s where a director and actor should look for funding.
Plans for the fiction film begin to change to fit what the money people want: a local, post-Iraq setting; parts for hot properties like Bérénice Bejo of “The Artist.” Maybe even an international cast to attract foreign investment.
“They’re never going to give Neve and me the money,” an exasperated Baldwin says.
As “Seduced and Abandoned” winds down towards its finish, Toback quotes writer John Updike’s poem “Requiem.” “For life’s a shabby subterfuge,/And death is real, and dark and huge./The shock of it will register/Nowhere but where it will occur.” Film, this director suggests, conjures up similar notions of finality. After filling the viewer’s eyes and ears with interesting talk about the movie business, the screen goes black.
“Seduced and Abandoned,” Friday, May 23, and Saturday, May 24, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 ages 14 and under. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.