'Illuminata,' 'The Dinner Game'
Summertime independents offer cool alternative filmgoing
August 9, 1999
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- In the summer months, box office behemoths rule the movie houses. But among the Jedi and the giants this season, a pair of independent films -- "Illuminata" and "The Dinner Game" -- offer options to the big popcorn pictures.
Actor John Turturro -- who's appeared in films including "Barton Fink" (1991), "Unstrung Heroes" (1995) and "The Big Lebowski" (1998) -- got behind the camera this time as director. His previous directing-acting credit was on a drama called "Mac" in the early '90s.
He says he's been working on writer Brandon Cole's screenplay for "Illuminata" since 1993.
"There were times that I was going to just give up," Turturro says, "but I'd look at it again and say, 'You know, I really, really want to do this because it's about what we all go through as people.'"
"Illuminata" takes place in the lusty, ego-filled world of the New York theater at the turn of the previous century. It's a riotous, sexy farce outside, with a soft romantic center. "Illuminata" received a nomination for the highest award at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palm d'Or.
How to play the dinner game
One of France's powerhouse filmmakers, Francis Veber, is the screenwriter behind the original "Le Cage aux Folles" (1978). His 1998 comedy "The Dinner Game" was a huge hit in his home country, but despite winning three Cesar Awards -- the French equivalent of the Oscar -- it has an uncertain fate in its current U.S. release. Veber says he remains optimistic.
"I was very encouraged," he says, "by the fact that a man like (Roberto) Benigni, with his 'Life Is Beautiful' (1997 -- released last year in the United States), had a brilliant opening with his film."
The "dinner game" in question turns out to be a rather perverse pastime for rich French sophisticates.
"The game is to invite the biggest jerk you know to a dinner," Veber says. "So everyone brings jerks, and the best one wins."
Actor Jacques Villaret's character François Pignon looks like a sure winner, but his unwitting entry into the game leads to disaster and retribution.
For moviegoers, however, both "The Dinner Game" and "Illuminata" may turn out to be welcome guests.
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