Coming to France is a lot like having an affair. The love at first sight turns to passion, lust and undeniable true love. Suddenly, your world back home loses its shimmer ever so slightly. You begin to compare the two worlds. But what can compare with France? Even tourist-choked, traffic-clogged, over-priced Cannes beats just about any other city in the US. That’s it, you think. I’m packing my bags just like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris and I’m exiling myself away from the capitalist nightmare, the over-medicated, over-populated, health-care-lacking, economically depressed, mind-numbingly stupid country that is America and I’m moving to France.
Yes, I’m moving to France, specifically the South of France where the people are so warm and friendly, where they always smile at you and say thank you and “Äu revoir madame,” where they do things with flour, water and salt that is all the religion you’ll ever need, where the warm sea and the warm air wrap themselves around you like a silk scarf, where children buy baguettes from the boulangerie and eat them straight out of the bag as they walk home from school. I could be happier here, couldn’t I. Yes, I damned well could.
But of course, it doesn’t take long for reality to sink in. Sooner or later it’s time to pack up the dreams and go back to where you belong. Kansas, if you must know. Or, in my case, North Hollywood. I’m an American girl at heart and I miss the comforts of home – just in case you were starting to worry that I’d run out of things to whine about. Cannes is great and all, but there’s nothing like living in a city where all you have to do is wave around money and people act nicely to you. Or maybe it’s just that we miss our cats. Either way, this will be a delightful diversion but alas, nothing more than that.
One thing I will miss about being here is just talking to people. On my way in to Cannes one morning I picked up a Belgian hitchhiker, a food photographer who desperately needed to get into Cannes. Hitchhiking is different here. It’s a fairly common way to get around where you don’t necessarily end up hacked up and stuffed into a suitcase Mr. Ripley style. We had a long conversation on the drive in about, funnily enough, the Oscars. He couldn’t understand how The Hurt Locker had won. “What was so great about it,” he asked me. He believed, as most probably do, that it won because no woman had ever won. I told him I was fine with that, considering winning an Oscar is supposed to mean something. It hardly ever means anything except capturing a sentiment in a bottle. He loved The King’s Speech, as did probably everyone in France and England and Thailand and Hungary and Brazil. When we finally rolled into Cannes proper I let him out so that he wouldn’t have to make conversation with me as we sat in the tiny-bumper-to-tiny-bumper traffic. “You’re better off walking,” I said. And he agreed. I wonder if he ended up liking his first trip to Cannes?
I happened to find myself waiting in line with a fellow yellow-badger, a reporter from Colorado. We ended up chatting for a full hour about Cannes. He was returning for his fourth year, he said. He was frustrated by his badge status the first year but quickly learned how to simply get used to it. He was there, close to the front of the line for every screening so he never really missed any. He hated the seating but in the end, for him, a couple of weeks by the beach in the South of France was more fun than he’d have sitting at home. That is what you call looking on the bright side. I was immediately filled with shame at my petty outburst demanding a badge upgrade. My diva-like ways would run me into trouble one of these times, I was sure of it. I’ve seen him a few times since my badge got upgraded and I keep meaning to wave hello to him from the blue badge line. “I made it,” I’d say. It’s what we call in the yellow-badge world “survivor guilt.” It’s so much easier to remain a yellow. Becoming a blue causes a whole new set of problems.
Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to chat with him for that hour and it occurred to me that a great many conversations have taken place with people waiting in lines to see movies. We don’t really have that kind of waiting in America anymore. In the days of Jaws and Star Wars we all waited for blocks and blocks. It had to be built into our daily planning – a whole hour of just standing there, talking to the person standing next to us.
Later I ran into Hitfix.com’s Drew McWeeny who was on his first trip to Cannes. He was there too, with his blue badge, a full hour before the screening. “What are you doing here,” I said. “You’re way too early.” “I don’t want to take a chance and miss it,” he said. He, too, was devoted enough to spend that valuable investment of time just waiting. As soon as I told him to arrive much later I realized that I should never give anyone advice ever again about what time to arrive to a screening. I have an inability to plan ahead and I infect anyone I give advice to. I hope he didn’t take mine.
His wife had surprised him at the airport to tell him she’d arranged babysitting and was going to use this time to see a bit of Europe. She would take day trips – one to Paris, one to Venice. It was such a romantic, cinematic idea, his wife showing up at the airport like that. I thought I heard someone playing the accordion nearby to punctuate the moment. But it was probably just my imagination. Running away with me.
Talking to people here is such a change from being in Los Angeles where nobody talks to anybody. We stare into our iPhones or we seal ourselves off in cars, or we try really hard to find seats in movies that are as far away from other people as we can get. But here in France, when you’re at the edge of the continent, lulled into serenity by the slow movement of the nearby Mediterranean, there really isn’t anything worth tuning out. You want to keep your head up. You want to look at things and talk to people. You want to be a part of life as it happens in front of you. And you hope you don’t start to think about your own mortality, even if every movie you see here seems to foist the issue in your face.
There are so many different levels of access here at Cannes, which makes it a great microcosm for how the entertainment industry meshes with our culture. Just when you think you’ve figured out the various levels, a whole new level emerges. For instance, you can come here as a journalist and cover the festival. You can write for a small town newspaper, even, and manage a yellow badge. That will get you terrible seats in the Salle Debussy and decent enough seats in the Lumiere, and occasionally any seats at all in the screenings elsewhere. Or you can be a blue badge journalist and get slightly better seats in the big theaters and not worry about getting in when screenings are too crowded.
Chances are if you’re a pink, and most definitely if you’re a white, you will get party invitations flooding your inbox. Some well-connected sorts even get invited when they’re blue-badged or, gasp, yellow-badged. These parties occur on yachts, or in fancy hotels or on the beach – and usually there is free food and drink to be had. Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere swears by this routine. He hates paying for food here and uses the parties as a way to mingle but also as a way to continually do Cannes on the cheap. And why not? He will give good blog to those parties, usually with pictures.
If you work an angle, as Anne Thompson advises, you can get yourself into a party. You can also get an interview or a screening invite. You have grow a pair and start agitating. If you’re not someone who likes to agitate, you will be sitting in the wi-fi room rather than strolling aboard a yacht watching the clouds roll by. It depends on who you are, what you need and what you’re willing to do. Or you could be someone like Dave Karger or Pete Hammond and people will just throw stuff your way. Me? I’m a wall-flower when it comes to stuff like this. Me and the yellow-badgers, we’re just fine here in the corner.
And then there are the star watchers or fans who line up just for a glimpse of someone famous. They wait there sometimes all night. When the stars take to the red carpet and the cameras start to flash you are in the land of La Dolce Vita and you can’t have stars without fans. We journalists feel above them, at least, because we have access to the famous people sort of. The famous people are above us and the executives and producers are above them and the buyers are above them and on and on it goes. In Cannes, you are measured and judged by the role you play in the circus. But what a circus.