Film Review: ‘Seduced and Abandoned’

Shot almost entirely against the glamorous backdrop of the 65th Cannes Film Festival, Oscar-nominated director James Toback’s Seduced and Abandoned (2013) sets out to lift the lid on the world of movie financing before ending up at an all too familiar hypothesis: the film industry is exactly that – an ‘industry’. With Toback’s friend and co-narrator Alec Baldwin in tow, the mischievous pair stalk the Croisette to find backers for Last Tango in Tikrit, a rehash of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1972 film, whilst actually compiling the documentary now before us. For Jimmy and Al, it seems, there is such thing out there as a free lunch.

We begin with the duo lamenting the current state of cinema, where artistically minded projects are nigh-on impossible to get off the ground and actors become typecast for the rest of their careers off the back of one standout performance (for Baldwin, his own millstone came from playing Jack Ryan in submarine thriller The Hunt for Red October). “Seduced and abandoned” by the silver screen before comeback roles in TV’s 30 Rock and subsequent Woody Allen offerings – including this year’s Blue Jasmine – Baldwin, alongside Toback, targets the “mean-spirited” Cannes Film Festival (as described by Francis Ford Coppola) in order to expose the greed and sycophancy that has seeped into the industry. That was his aim, at least.

Throughout this orgy of opulence we’re privy to chin-wags conducted with actors Bérénice Bejo, Jessica Chastain, Ryan Gosling, Diane Kruger plus directors Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese, each seemingly more bemused than the last in the face of Toback and Baldwin’s grating “we’re all friends here” schtick. There’s a decent investigative doc here buried beneath the filmmakers’ egotistical ramblings; a coherent argument in favour of risk-taking over number-crunching cinema-by-committee – the latter superseding the cinéma de papa with the cinéma de résultat. Unfortunately, Seduced and Abandoned quickly descends into its antithesis – a backslapping salute to Hollywood’s reappropriation of Cannes, where poor, helpless arthouse offerings by the likes of Oscar-winner Michael Haneke are apparently saved from obscurity by the latest Madagascar film.

Despite the best efforts of Gosling’s puppy dog visage, Baldwin and Toback’s pointless promenade along the Côte d’Azur isn’t seducing in the slightest. Hugely self-indulgent and at times just plainly ridiculous, the most eye-opening aspect of Seduced and Abandoned is the very level of talent wrangled into contributing, with Coppola and Scorsese far and away the biggest coups. Gorging on expensive dinners whilst feinting enthusiasm in securing a $20-30 million budget for the laughable Last Tango in Tikrit, the nonchalant decadence of Hollywood’s annual May jolly is laid out for all to see. Was it perhaps Baldwin and Toback’s intention to join the party, satirising from within? Almost certainly not, but that doesn’t stop them from making the most of their time in the sun.

Daniel Green