Stephen Kijak, Stones in Exile, 2010, black-and-white and color film. Photos © Dominique Tarlé.


IN 1971, about twenty miles northeast of Cannes, the Rolling Stones began recording their first double album, Exile on Main Street, in the basement of Nellcôte, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg’s rented mansion in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Thirty-nine years later, Mick Jagger returned to another Côte d’Azur subterranean cave—the theater in the bowels of the Palais Stéphanie—to welcome the audience (many of whom had stood in line for ninety minutes or more for an hour-long documentary) to Stones in Exile, presented as a special screening in the Directors’ Fortnight. Jagger, sixty-six, evoked Exile’s epoch: “Nixon est dans la Maison Blanche . . .” Though he spoke very fine O-level French, the singer, before switching to English, apologized for any syntactical errors, admitting, “I hate when I make French tense mistakes.”

Directed by Stephen Kijak (who helmed the 2006 rock doc Scott Walker: 30 Century Man), Stones in Exile traces the making of that landmark 1972 LP, first in France, where the tax-plagued band decamped before the British government could seize their assets, and then—after there were arrest warrants out for the drug-bingeing group—at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. The screening was bookended by brief testimonials from Don Was, will.i.am, Martin Scorsese, and . . . Benicio Del Toro (who, as a jury member this year, at least has a connection to Cannes, if not to the band in this movie); most of Kijak’s film consists of outtakes from Robert Frank’s 1972 Stones doc, Cocksucker Blues, and photographs from Dominique Tarlé, Nellcôte’s photographer-in-residence for six months.

Enduring a postscreening Q&A, Jagger, who executive produced Stones in Exile along with Richards and drummer Charlie Watts, explained the significance of repurposing the archival material, all from the group’s vault, for the doc’s look: “It was important that we keep it in the period—that we don’t have too many people sitting in chairs.” When asked how he and his bandmates could have worked with such quantities of drugs and booze, Jagger referred the audience to an article he had just read in the New York Times on marijuana-smoking chefs. Responding to the burning query of what he thinks about pop today, the singer was far more direct: “There’s great music and there’s shit in every era.”

Melissa Anderson