Robert De Niro
 26th Montreal World Film Festival

By Jerry Tallmer

©Photo by Lois Siegel

Jerry Tallmer
New York City Journalist and Critic
 One of Founders of “ The Village Voice”
 Created the Obie Awards (Off-Broadway Theatre) in 1956

©Photo by Lois Siegel
Robert De Niro
Montreal World Film Festival, 2002

It was Mr. Robert De Niro of Tribeca, New York, who saved the honor of the 26th  Montreal World Film Festival. So said "La Presse," the Montreal daily, in French, and the "Toronto Globe & Mail," in English.

"Nine-tenths of life, Woody Allen once said, is just showing up."

Jean-Luc Goddard, who was supposed to come from Paris to deliver two lectures as the intellectual star of the entire nourishing 10-day fête, never showed up. At the last minute, pleading illness, he crapped out. And as a vast assemblage at a scheduled "City by the Sea" press conference on the afternoon of August 27, midway through the Festival, held its breath, it looked like maybe De Niro was going to be a no-show too.

Twenty minutes past the appointed hour - no De Niro. Thirty minutes. Forty minutes. New York would have gone from rhythmic stamping to tearing the joint apart. But here in Montreal, a city that truly loves good movies- witness the block-long pre-9 a.m. lines for virtually every entry of every year's MWFF - press (a good 100) and public (perhaps 2,000, on balconies around an atrium) sat or stood patiently waiting, and hoping.

At 45 minutes past the hour, a cannibalistic roar went up - "Roberto! Roberto!"  -- from the photogs and TV cameramen packed front and rear.  "I love you, Bob!" and "You're the best!" came cries, in English, from afar, as Serge Losique, the Festival's founder and indefatigable chief, took to the mike to introduce "le plus grand acteur de l'Amerique."

Sporting a short salt-and-pepper beard beneath a ribbon of moustache, and all the more handsome for it, le plus grand acteur de l'Amerique, with a broad smile gave an acknowledging gesture of the hand and took his seat. A tan sports jacket topped his open-at-the-neck white shirt.

What had got him here at all, if 45 minutes late, was a jet from the Bombardier aerospace firm. Not,
one hopes, in direct consequence, the business section of that same day's "La Presse" carried the
headline: "Les Profites de Bombardier Plongent de 65%."

What had also brought him here, of course, was the Canadian premier at this Festival of "City by the
Sea," the movie directed by Michael Caton-Jones based on a true-life Esquire article by the late
Mike McAlary about a New York cop named Vincent LaMarca, whose father was electrocuted at Sing Sing for kidnap murder, while all these years later the cop's own son is a junkie who has also (in a knife fight) committed murder.  The son is in turn the father of a baby boy who is LaMarca's unexpected grandson.

Straightforwardly, without adornment, De Niro said: "You always use some part of yourself.  The little boy was adorable. I have kids myself, so I can relate to the whole thing."

In the film, Vincent LaMarca, long and bitterly separated from his wife (Patti Lupone) has a sometime bedmate named Michelle (Frances McDormand) downstairs from his lonely apartment. A question that brought down the house, or at least the answer to that question, was:

"Mr. De Niro, your colleagues Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas, when they make love in films, it's
usually with teenage girls. It always looks ridiculous. You're with women in films who are
usually around your age, and it becomes believable. Are you that secure in your sexuality? He was asked if he - "who's not terribly fond of public appearances" - was turned off by such appearances and, specifically, by having to go to film festivals.

"No, I enjoy film festivals. We started one in New York," said the co-creator of the Tribeca Film
"You have to make appearances all the time." Pause. "Not all the time, but sometimes . . .
That's okay."

Related question: "How's New York these days, as we head toward the first anniversary (of 9/11)?"

"It's picking up . . . Things are coming slowly back to normal." Pause. "But the fact is, what happened, happened. It's always there." Pause. "That's it . . . "

What would be De Niro's dream role, someone else asked.

"I dunno . . .  I don't . . . " Breaks it off, thinks. "If something really good comes along, you
could say  that was the part I've been waiting for all my life. But I haven't thought about it."

Loudly, from the rear: "Mr. De Niro, can we hear a line or two from 'Taxi Driver'?"

Pokerfaced:  "No, we can't."
They asked him about independent films ("I'm not qualified to answer because I don't see many, but yeah, it's essential to have independent films"); about acting in European films ("It's different, and good, just another style, but it's fine"); about a certain unnamed Hollywood director who feels that movie people should be more politically outspoken than they are these days ("Well, I guess he's right in some ways . . . to stand behind things . . .he's right in some ways . . . I don't know how else to answer").

Then The Villager/Downtown Express thought to ask a question of its own, knowing how painstakingly Robert De Niro prepares for a part, even putting on 40 or 50 pounds, for instance, to play Jake LaMotta. Had the actor met the real (retired) cop in the real story, Vincent LaMarca, and what had transpired?
The answer was unexpected. After what in the theater would be called two beats - a short interval - De Niro said: "I did meet him the other day for the first time." Another two beats. "It's interesting," said De Niro in a tone of puzzlement. "I don't know why I never met him before, because I always like to meet the person the script is about."

He stopped, contemplated, then went on.

"I think there was so much there in the script (by Ken Hixon) that I just didn't think of getting
together with the actual guy." Four beats.

"I missed out on that one. I could have learned . . . even if some of the things in the film [like
LaMarca's retirement] are not accurate to the story, that's one I missed.

"I can't figure it out. I don't know why."

For all that, "City by the Sea" is not a bad movie, quite gripping, even if it goes over the top on the father/son stuff, and even if some of the visiting press corps in Montreal liked it considerably less than this viewer did.
It was, you have to remember, but one of some 400 works in that  big buzzing fecund Off-Broadway of film festivals, a great many of the flicks, this year as every year, far more than worthy to engross, chill, perhaps thrill an audience as distant from Montreal as Tribeca.


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