“They call me classless, I heard that. I second and third that.” Eminem
The thing I love most about Cannes is not the way the sun cascades down the sides of Monet-colored buildings in the afternoon. It isn’t the way the streets smell like wine somehow, or the way old Hollywood glamor has carved its thumbprint over the whole festival. Remnants of classic Hollywood chic have mostly faded (even in Hollywood), but wisps and traces still survive here, lingering in the impressionist rendering of our movie industry and the gods and goddesses we gifted them so long ago. And no, it isn’t the delicious array of tarts, baguettes, croissants, strawberries so plump and sweet they sing the song of a thousand Sundays laying in an imaginary field of Lavender, somewhere in Provence — me in a peasant dress, lying back and tasting those strawberries. You can’t eat just one because the fantasy demands you eat the entire basket all at once. No, it isn’t the coffee that comes in impossibly tiny cups. It isn’t the romance of this place — and maybe it isn’t even romance at all. Maybe it’s something more tawdry that resolves itself in the morning light amid discarded champagne bottles left in tunnels, abandoned condom wrappers, crinkled cigarette packs smeared with lipstick.
No, what I love most about Cannes are the dogs. Dogs are everywhere at film festivals and my camera always wants to find them and photograph them. They are so naturally themselves, with sunny dispositions (unless they’re being mistreated), dragged along by some strange person who might be a collection of failed dreams of futility but what they have is a dog. And that makes them better people. I usually seek out the dogs and then glance upwards at their owners. They are often simpatico, the dog knowing so much more about their owner than even they realize. So yes, it’s the dogs here that give me moments of happiness that far surpass everything else.
My morning screening was one of great disappointment. Atom Egoyan’s Captives. Such an almost-good movie that it was made all the more disappointing that it didn’t come off in any way that made any sense. It was two or three movies at once. Directly afterwards I went to the wi-fi room to tap out a hateful review. I found Steve Pond there. He and Hitfix’s Gregory Ellwood had been invited to the How to Train Your Dragon gala event. I’m fairly sure I didn’t get an invite to that — but it’s possible I did and it got lost in the quagmire that is my inbox. But very likely I did not. I’ll roll with that. For that reason I went to see Dragon earlier in the day. For the second time in six years at Cannes one of the security people asked me to check my backpack. Her reasoning was that I had a laptop in it. I could have just been compliant and checked it but something in me wanted to debate with this poor woman. It made no sense to me that I was being asked to check this bag when everybody else took theirs in without challenge. I always have my bag with me, at every screening. I sneak my camera in because it’s a hassle to go back to the coat-check and retrieve it.
But this woman was glaring at me. Her eyes bore into me. We stood there, our eyes locked in fury. The more I said the more she glared at me angrily. Tallish with red hair and round blue eyes. Otherwise Nondescript. This was the moment I confirmed to her how irritating Americans are. You see, she was thinking, they’re so entitled aren’t they? And it was my moment to sum up what I hate about the French. As they can sometimes be. Snobs. Mean. Awful. “You’re going to make me check my bag,” I said at last, to break the gridlock. “Yes,” she said through clenched teeth. I made a big show of huffing and puffing as I dug out my cell phone. None of them had any sympathy of this red-faced American having such a public fit. The French don’t care, you have to remember that. They are polite and kind and if you are polite and kind back you will never see their dark side. But if you confront them, look out. They will reduce you to a tiny puddle of fluids within minutes.
I tried to shake it all off as I found my seat. The theater was only half full. I guess no one really wanted to see an animated film at Cannes, despite how the festival had rolled out the welcome mat to Jeffrey Katzenberg and Dreamworks. Later that night, in an unprecedented move, the cast and crew of How to Train Your Dragon 2 took to the stage at the Palais introduced by Thierry Frémaux himself. This never happens, a press release informed us.
After the film I was supposed to attend a lunch honoring Mike Leigh and the cast of Mr. Turner, my favorite film so far at the festival. But by the time I made my way down the street all of my time had run out.
The Croisette was full of Cannes regulars. I followed a blonde woman in short shorts with half an ass-cheek hanging out. She was arm in arm with a dark-skinned lover. They kept bumping hips and walking quickly like they were escaping a crime scene. Going to get laid or coming away from getting laid, I couldn’t tell. But French woman are, in addition to being cauldrons of hate and fury, extremely beautiful in that effortless way that American women know not from. We’re awash in shame and anxiety about everything from wrinkles to cellulite to a positive attitude… French women though? They glide along through life like a gust of cool air hitting the back of your neck.
Half a block later was a makeshift fashion shoot. If you’re beautiful and ambitious you show up all dolled up in hopes of people taking your picture, or inviting you onto their yacht. Everywhere you look women are stretching their limbs seductively while a camera snaps away. The arrogant American producers are everywhere talking too loudly about this deal or that deal, this starlet or that aging star, all the while tapping on their iPhone or iPad, rubber-necking every time they passed a hottie.
A woman in a turban was reading passages from the Bible aloud. An elderly woman dragged a reluctant dog down the sidewalk before finally giving up and carrying him. Clack clack clack went the round woman in the cripplingly painful fuck-me pumps. Cops everywhere keeping the rabble away from the glamorous set, readying themselves for a gala premiere. The fans staring upwards at the red steps hoping for a glimpse of somebody, any somebody. Prince’s Raspberry Beret blared from the speakers.
If your experience of Cannes was only the Croisette you would likely hate Cannes. You have to get away from the main boulevard, up the streets, up the hills, away. It wasn’t long before I cut up through the town and headed back to my flat. I picked up a kind of pizza that was layered with onion, not cheese. Oh, the French, they never fail in the food department.
The next thing I knew I was dead asleep again. Was I in a Christopher Nolan movie or was all of this real?
I woke up barely and forced myself back out onto the streets because the Weinstein Co. was having an invite-only lunch for press eager to see their lineup. This year was bigger than last year’s which was already too big. There were the poker-faced press. There were the bartenders pouring wine and gin. The journalists stuffed Fried shrimp and tiny cheeseburgers into their mouths while talking up what they’ve seen, what they’ve liked. I was covered in sweat somehow. I finally crumpled onto a chair in the sixth row and finally took off my blazer so I could air out. Balancing a glass of rosé on my lap with my camera and my computer I tried to read the room. I saw the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw who would later confront Mr. Weinstein about the Guardian’s misreporting Weinstein’s visit to Jordan. The press wants so badly for there to be a “story” around the Grace of Monaco disaster at Cannes and they somehow want Weinstein to contribute to the drama. But he’s way too professional for such things. He didn’t even insult the Guardian outright, which he could have done quite easily. Bradshaw took issue with Weinstein and wrote about it. Still, as a fan I was kind of high on the idea of being in the same room as Bradshaw.
There was Anne Thompson again. The resourceful Miss T. is everywhere at every time. There must be five of her because she always seems to be many places at once. She was sitting next to Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan. I saw Dana Harris, long and lithe with arms to die for. Jeff Wells was hanging around with Pete Hammond near the front. I suddenly realized I was slacking by absent-mindedly strolling the streets rather than getting to the Weinstein thing early to be one of the front-row eager beavers.
I was done there around 7pm so I headed once again back to my flat. Would there be sleep in my future? Craig Kennedy had finally finished his marathon of movie going, writing, photography and hunting down the latest croissant. If you haven’t been reading his own accounting of Cannes you really should — http://www.awardsdaily.com/livingincinema/
We decided to have one dinner out. Most of the time I’m here I will eat my own food — cooked with crude equipment but satisfactory. We headed down to the bustling area known as Le Suquet where the tiny bistros balance off the curve of the hill. Warm, friendly, crowded with smoking and laughing foreigners amid many French people. If you are eating among the French you kind of know you are in the right place.
We sprung for a fancy bottle of white — it was sharp, crisp and tasted like floating rose petals. We stuffed ourselves with French food and talked about the trip so far. How was it going for Craig? He seemed to be enjoying his second year at Cannes. He was worried about me, however. He thought I seemed depressed. “You just miss Emma,” he said. And he was right. Ten days away from my kid is always a lot to ask. But it wasn’t just that and I wasn’t really depressed. I was thinking about the future of the Oscars, the future of Hollywood and the future of America. All of those things tend to weigh heavy, even when the wine briefly takes them away.
So many happy faces greeted us after we walked out. A few older men stared at my breasts and made some comments people often do when it’s very late, with too much wine ingested and when there’s nothing to lose. I smiled and made my way through the crowd. Not bad for an almost 50-year-old, I thought. We take our tiny bursts of flattery where we can.
I hit the pillow still tasting that wine, worth every one of its 33 euros. Good wine takes you places. It lifts up those corners of your heart and mind that remember the loveliness of all of those days that have come and gone, all of the magenta sunsets that have passed over this fine city, centuries of lives lived here that have been shaped by the tasting of it. Another day gone here. Another night of birds talking to each other. Another morning coming soon that will give way to another, yet another beautiful beautiful day.