Cannes you remember your first time on the Croisette? John Boorman can
In town to plug what he says is his last film, ‘Queen and Country’, 25-time Cannes veteran John Boorman goes on a four-decade Riviera reverie, and reveals a few long-kept festival secrets along the way
Take a bow: John Boorman, whose new film, ‘Queen and Country’, may be his last. “Well, I certainly said it would be when I was making it. But one is tempted.” Photograph: Valery Hache/Getty Images
Caleb Landry Jones and Vanessa Kirby in ‘Queen and Country’
Billie Whitelaw and Marcello Mastroianni in ‘Leo the Last’
Brendan Gleeson and Jon Voight in ‘The General’
‘I was first at Cannes in 1970,” John Boorman reminisces. “Since then I have been back maybe 25 times. “I have had films in competition. I have had films out of competition. I have been on the jury a couple of times. It has been very much part of my life.”
It’s true enough. There is no better man to ponder the Cannes experience than Boorman. Now 81, he has won the best director prize at the festival on two occasions – for Leo the Last and The General – and, in 1981, received a Best Artistic Contribution citation for Excalibur. They like him here and he likes them.
This year, Boorman’s Queen and Country, a kind of sequel to 1987’s Hope and Glory, plays in the prestigious Directors’ Fortnight strand. He has threatened to retire (though some backtracking will be done later in this conversation) and, if this really is his last time at Cannes, then there is a neatness to the experience. In 1970, following up Hell in the Pacific and Point Black, the young British film-maker secured a place in the main competition with the angular satire Leo the Last. That film starred Marcello Mastroianni, the great Italian actor, whose face, with delicious serendipity, adorns the 2014 Cannes poster that currently occupies every flat surface.
“Yes, that’s right. That’s right,” he says. “I loved that man. He was a wonderful, charming man. He was like a factory worker. He would come in on the morning, you’d turn on the camera, he’d put on the costume and you’d shoot all day. When the whistle blew at six he’d get into his own clothes and never think about the film until the following morning.”
A characteristic chuckle rises in the Boorman throat.
“He was always in a love affair. But every day, without fail, he would phone his wife. He was as devoted to her as he was to all his lovers.”
John Boorman has always had a good way with an anecdote. Then again, he’s accumulated plenty of fine material down through the years. After starting out in TV documentaries, he began his feature career with a barmy –but still watchable – comedy starring the Dave Clark Five entitled Catch Us If You Can. Then came the peerless US thriller Point Blank, starring his great friend Lee Marvin, and, bringing Marvin together with Toshiro Mifune, the tense Hell in the Pacific. The journey continued with Deliverance, Excalibur and The General. Along the way, Boorman moved to Wicklow and became an ornament of our own nation.