The climax of the Cannes Film Festival, at least from this American‚Äôs point of view, was yesterday‚Äôs screening and gala for Terrence Malick‚Äôs Tree of Life. It started out being the most anticipated title, and it ended up being the most talked about, and most ‚Äúimportant‚Äù film to screen here. Some might even describe the 64th annual fest as, ‚Äúthere was The Tree of Life and there was everything else.‚Äù
But the night before the 8:30am screening, my podcasting partner Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com sent me a text, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm on a train to Juan-les-Pins. Let‚Äôs record the podcast from out there.‚Äù Jeff Wells has been coming to the festival going on ten years now. He is the hardest working blogger on the beat, producing five or six stories per day without fail. He is more motivated than anyone else I know – he has admitted, more than a few times, that when he dies he‚Äôd like to have it all end hunched over a keyboard somewhere. And he was on a train already. Where was I? In my pajamas with my second glass of wine, laptop resting on my thighs, my daughter also on her computer. For us the night would have ended in about one hour from that moment. But we knew if Jeff Wells was coming to Juan-les-Pins. It was time to get ready.
Get ready for what? The hurricane Wells throws down whenever he enters your orbit. I mean this in the best of ways. You have to hit the ground running because you really have no idea where you‚Äôll end up, and he doesn‚Äôt like to wait around. The next minute I get another text, ‚Äúthe train overshot Juan-les-Pins so I‚Äôm in Antibes. It‚Äôs pretty here. We‚Äôll find a place to record here.‚Äù
I knew that by ‚Äúfind a place‚Äù he meant ask someone if we can use their wi-fi. The thing Wells taught me is that if you want something you have to ask for it. And if you don‚Äôt get it you have to try harder. And if you still don‚Äôt get it you have to be a pain in the ass. Asking people for things is not my strength, to put it mildly. I‚Äôm much more the cower-in-the-corner, ashamed type. But we‚Äôd already gone almost a week without doing a podcast so we knew we had to get on it, no matter what it took.
So, we threw on our clothes, I grabbed my computer bag and we headed out into the night. The road to Antibes is very short from Juan-les-Pins, maybe eight minutes. It took a few frustrated phone calls from Wells before we all finally met in the tourist section of Antibes, Picasso‚Äôs old haunt, which is much prettier than I‚Äôd imagined. This was the place to stay, I concluded, if you weren‚Äôt going to stay in Cannes. Cobblestone streets, a giant harbor, the Picasso museum – Antibes has everything you could want in a quickie getaway from the madness around the Croisette.
But we couldn‚Äôt find wi-fi anywhere. So we do what the French do — we had some more wine and wandered around Antibes. We figured we‚Äôd record back at our hole-in-the-wall hotel. The sun was low in the sky, draping the seaside town in a sheet of golden light. This little city seemed to know how the light would fall on it and was built in tribute to it.
Once it got dark, we made our way back to Juan-les-Pins with Wells once again riding shotgun. I‚Äôd already terrorized him with my driving up to Saint-Jeannet when we began our trip. In my defense, I am driving a stick shift for the first time in 20 years. Riding the clutch, grinding the gears, rolling back – it‚Äôs covered. At the end of that drive he turned to me and said, ‚ÄúI really do think you‚Äôre a good driver. I didn‚Äôt mean to react so violently.‚Äù
By the time we parked back in Juan-les-Pins I realized I‚Äôd left my money purse all the way back in Antibes. Somewhere. Panic set in as we zoomed back to Antibes, Wells trying to remain calm in the face of my driving. One-way streets, U-turns – It‚Äôs sort of fun to break the law in a city where you can pretend you don‚Äôt know the traffic laws.
Even our illusions about the nice people in France didn‚Äôt mean that the money purse would be where I think I might have left it. The scary truth of it was that I had no idea where it parted ways with my hand. We went to the police station but at some point I just had to face it: the $120, two debit cards and my driver‚Äôs license were gone for good. By the time we recorded our podcast from the hotel it was going on 10:30am. By the time I got back from driving Wells to Cannes it was 12:30am. I was now worried I wouldn‚Äôt be able to stay awake for The Tree of Life at 8:30am in the cool darkness of the Lumiere.
Monday morning I got a tweet from Hitfix‚Äôs Drew McWeeny wondering if I could swing by and pick him up on the way in. He was staying in Golfe-Juan, which is just up the road a piece and on the way to Cannes. Sure, I tweeted back, over-confidently. I‚Äôll just Google-maps your hotel. 7:15am I left the hotel and headed down the beach road toward Golfe-Juan. McWeeny had already missed a screening, due to train scheduling, for The Artist, so he was already gun-shy about missing an important one. ‚ÄúHell,‚Äù I thought. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll never miss Tree of Life if we‚Äôre leaving this early.‚Äù
About half-way to his hotel my Google-maps on my iPhone said ‚Äúroute cannot be accessed from your location.‚Äù It was too late for me to contact McWeeny and tell him that I would be late. He would have already been standing on the curb. As the clock ticked down I knew we had to be on the road in the next ten minutes or we were going to get stuck in that terrible traffic jam leading into Cannes. I drove up and down the beach road but couldn‚Äôt find his hotel. My hands started to shake. My heart was pounding. Oh god. I was going to be the person who made Drew McWeeny miss the most important screening of the whole festival, never mind the fact that I too would miss it.
I stopped and asked a very nice Frenchman if he knew how to get to this hotel. He didn‚Äôt know but he gave me good enough directions that I figured out there was a whole other street across the train tracks and that had to be where Drew was. Sure enough, after I slammed on the gas and sped illegally down that road, there was Drew, patiently waiting for me. He hopped in and we just barely made it. Finally. The Tree of Life.
Poor Drew was slightly under the weather. With a fever of around 103, he was still heading in to see the Malick. That‚Äôs devotion for you. But he would need a ride back to the hotel directly afterwards, with a quick stop at the pharmacy. It was touch and go for a while as we wondered just how sick he really was. But a nap and some pills seemed to put him back on track.
If Johnny Depp‚Äôs appearance at the Croisette was like the President of the United States, one might say Brad and Angelina‚Äôs presence was more along the lines of the second coming of Christ. Brad Pitt himself nearly shut things down when he appeared solo for the photo call and press conference. But everyone knew Angelina Jolie was going to dress up and come to the gala that night. Cars lined up for miles as fans packed into Cannes. They crowded the street, climbed up on benches, stood for hours in the blazing hot sun all to catch a glimpse of two very beautiful primates.
For the fun of it, I‚Äôd dragged my daughter out for the night so she could get a look at how it all works down here in Cannes when a celebrity makes such an appearance. On TV everything looks so much bigger than it is. The red carpet seems to go on forever. Cannes appears like a giant, impossible city – something like Miami Beach maybe. But when you are here, though, it is much smaller, maybe more like Santa Barbara. The red carpet outside the Lumiere is only about one block long, if that.
When Brad Pitt finally arrived, the crowd heaved in his direction, as if he gave off such a force of magnetism it seemed to lift the crowd momentarily, like a heat pocket. He smiled and waved. The nobodies with their point-and-shoots up in the air, their faces sculpted into masks of ecstasy maybe did feel like they were having a real experience with Brad Pitt. His radiance was one thing, but it was Angelina who drew audible gasps from the swell of people. Each time she turned her perfectly symmetrical, wide-jawed-doe-eyed face in their direction it was like seeing, well, a double rainbow.
Brad! Angelina! Brad! Angelina! They called their names and when they did, Brad who is ‚Äúthe nice one‚Äù would wave in our general direction. All the while a giant TV screen lets the people see them up close. Two beautiful, elusive stars captured in memory for the briefest of moments might amount to all the magic left in this world to a few of the waiting and the watching.
As for my daughter and I, our pictures were kind of a mess. I couldn‚Äôt get a decent shot of them — the best I could manage was a blurred photo of them descending the staircase, apparitions in their formal wear. She, a stick thin party doll plucked off of some wedding cake. He, right out of a Disney movie about a handsome prince.
After the stars went inside the crowd dispersed, better for having glimpsed two of God‚Äôs finest creations. My daughter and I spent some time in the sand, out by the dock behind the Cannes film fest. With auspicious timing, the full moon rolled out a shimmering carpet from the horizon to our feet where the waves lapped the shore. That’s a pageant Cannes hosts year-round, whether there are movie stars or not, whether there are twinkly lights blinking at us from the yachts in the bay, whether there are lit-up buildings with hard-working journalists typing and photo editing into the night.
People were just starting to find their seats for that night‚Äôs cinema ‚Äúsur la plage,‚Äù or on the beach. If you wonder where all the romance for going to movies has gone – it‚Äôs moved to the beaches of Cannes. It is an exclusive experience, of course. It‚Äôs not for the masses. But it should be. They‚Äôre the ones who need it most.
After the Tree of Life screened for its gala premiere, where Terrence Malick was rumored to have attended, the stars once again made their way out and down the red carpeted stairs into the waiting limos. Once again, it was difficult for us on the fringes to get any worthy photos of Brad and Angie. Maybe they aren‚Äôt meant to be so casually caught, but only to be admired and longed for from afar, like fireflies.
With just one more day left before we must leave, the Cannes Film Festival has once again left its mark on me. The mistakes I‚Äôve made will fade in memory and the nostalgia for this beautiful place, which enters your senses and leaves its physical traces, like a lover you can still smell, taste and feel for days afterwards.
The thing about Cannes, though, is that no matter what you‚Äôre doing at night, whether its chasing down a podcast or playing paparazzi with movie stars, you still have to set that alarm and wake up again the next day. You still have to keep your eyes wide open for that 8:30am screening. It feels like it will never stop. Until, of course, it must.