It‚Äôs only been five days and already I feel like a resident of the seaside community of Juan-Les-Pins. In my fantasy, I‚Äôm someone who lives outside of Cannes but commutes into work every day. I wake up around 5am, drink my Starbucks instant, which I heat in a mini electric kettle, take my shower with my sweet smelling French shampoo, am dressed and out the door by 7:15am, giving me more than enough time to make my way leisurely down to the Palais du Festival. One of the problems I must confront every day is where to park.
Imagine paying $20 a day to park and go to work. That is what it is like parking in the public garages here. You can take your chances on the street but you never know if you‚Äôre going to get a ticket or, god forbid, towed.
To truth of it is, any person with common sense would never rent a car to work the Cannes film festival. You either find a place in town or else you take the train or the bus. But I have no common sense, notoriously. That is why I am paying for a rental car, the rental car insurance (almost more than the car itself), the gas and on many days, the parking. The only reason I‚Äôm renting a car, other than sheer stupidity, is that my daughter is staying with me and I need to be able to get to her if I have to. So I‚Äôll pay through the nose for peace of mind.
Determined to cut off one piece of the financial catastrophe I‚Äôm creating here, I decided I would try to find a parking place. There is no way all of the French who commute into Cannes are paying to park. As it happened, I did wind my way up the backstreets and found a street with plenty of places to park. I then only had to walk about ten minutes down the hill to the Palais. Problem solved. Unfortunately, it was only solved that day. The next day I returned to my same spot and there were no empty places. Tiny cars lined each and every street I tried. What was different? It could have been the time. It could have been that it was a Saturday and no one was driving anywhere. So far, I‚Äôve only had one free parking day. I have high hopes for today.
Now that I arrive at the Palais so much earlier, I have come to witness a different side of Cannes. Walking down the still-dewy streets on the way in to ‚Äúwork,‚Äù the breath from last night‚Äôs activities still hangs in the air. Women stumble out of doorways dangling their tiny sweaters over their shoulder as they click clack their high heels towards a taxi, their own story of the night before now, theirs to keep, but ours to imagine.
Night clubs still have a faintly beating heart, with guests emerging now in the light of day, their hair flattened by sweat, cigarettes still at the ready. Some of them don‚Äôt seem to realize the night has come to an end and it‚Äôs time for the shopkeepers and civilians of Cannes to start their day.
I caught a few people coming out of one. As I snapped away at them, pretending to be a real photographer like I pretend to be a real journalist and a real driver and a real commuter and a real French person, I could see them getting agitated. ‚ÄúAttendez!‚Äù they shouted at me but I quickly disappeared down a sidestreet.
While others are calling it a night, those who work in Cannes are preparing for their highest season of profit. Some have yet to fully awaken and they sit still a bit shell-shocked as they sip their coffee and procrastinate the inevitable. The dutiful noise of the shops clanging open their doors and spritzing their windows must be a reassuring motivator. Those who see the sun‚Äôs rising as a hindrance will go somewhere dark and sleep the day away.
I watched a hungry pigeon debating whether or not to start in on a pile of vomit left over from the night before. He flirted with it momentarily, wondering if he could really go there. He seemed mighty hungry. What was that in there though? Was it even something he would like? In the end he backed away and found something else to eat, much to relief of the universe, I‚Äôm sure. They‚Äôre on the ball about street cleaning so no doubt that was washed away within the hour.
As the day begins to take shape, the grounds are covered with festival-goers, few of them locals. Sidewalks fill up with overdressed women and the men they‚Äôre dragging along, police men and women start guarding the streets.
The day‚Äôs activities are made even worse if there happens to be a big star event in town as there was today when Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane brought Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to Cannes.
The appearance of Depp caused such a frenzy, you‚Äôd have thought it was the President himself. Usually, when the stars arrive, one can sit in the wi-fi room and capture the stars as they make their way up to the press conference from the photo call. It‚Äôs a great way to catch them unaware. But because Depp is such a worldwide phenomenon, we weren‚Äôt allowed to take pictures of him at all from that vantage point. This caused much upset in the wi-fi room among the paparazzi, who hate being told what to do.
Fans of Depp‚Äôs were already flushed with excitement that ‚Äúhe‚Äù would be coming very close in the next few minutes. Somehow, with all of the celebrating around the mere appearance of Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Rob Marshall and Jerry Bruckheimer, everyone forgot that they were bringing Pirates of the Caribbean 4 to the film festival, probably the worst film that will show here. But it doesn‚Äôt matter because a high point in Cannes is a high point in Cannes. There isn‚Äôt time for perspective. There is only the here and the now and right here and right now a gorgeous movie star was strolling our way.
I happened to chat with one of the girls who work the festival. If you ever come here you must take the time to get to know the staff. Some of them are only temporary. But some of them have been working the festival for years. The one I spoke with today had served Johnny Depp once back in the 1980s when Depp was trailing Iggy Pop who was doing some touring. She said she didn‚Äôt know who Depp was but when he walked into the room she literally gasped at his beauty. Of course, I was more interested in Iggy Pop. What was he like? Was he nice? Was he drugged out? What did he say?
When Depp finally did make it up the stairs and down the walk where we could look upon him like an exotic zoo animal, his beautiful countenance did not disappoint. A sturdy build, a square jaw and that certain something that‚Äôs been earning him multi-millions for years – yes, movie stars are easy to spot. They‚Äôre the ones with the perfectly symmetrical faces and an aura of endless watchability.
In the movie ‚ÄúTeenage Paparazzi‚Äù the observation was made that primates like to spend time watching the best looking among them. If you can imagine, a best looking chimp or gorilla. Our great ape ancestry has continued the tradition. We like looking at pretty people. And as far as pretty people go, Depp is one of the most alluring. Penelope Cruz, not looking her best in the Pirates movie, is also a heartstopper.
It wasn‚Äôt so bad at first. But the day was going to turn into a hellish nightmare as the time for the Pirates nightly gala neared. People clogged the Croisette, reserving their spot to catch sight of the stars. The police were out in force, blowing their whistles, guiding us back onto the sidewalks and blocking easy access to the Lumiere.
Back in Los Angeles we‚Äôre kind of used to seeing celebrities, so much so that one forgets when they make public appearances it can be an almost religious experience. Back in LA we‚Äôre trained to exist among them. We know that we must pretend not to look at them, never take their picture, try to make any sudden movements for fear of scaring them off, and whatever you do, never ask them to get you a job and never tell them that they‚Äôre not as pretty as you were expecting them to be.
But here in Cannes, they are placed high atop the red staircase – they are gods. We put them there. We need them to be there. They serve the festival well and have for six decades. When people think of the Cannes film festival they rarely think of the unusual, daring films that play here, films that are judged on their quality first, profitability last.
Finding one‚Äôs way out of the labyrinth of star worship on the Croisette is no easy feat. Bodies pressing up against one another, shoving, pushing and never granting adequate space to anyone. What was once a haven for great cinema is now transformed into a full blown Hollywood publicity machine. But Cannes needs the big fish occasionally, just as it needs its steady diet of great filmmaking from all over the world. So that when they walk the red carpet and the cameras flicker in a flashbulb frenzy it will draw the world‚Äôs attention to the Cannes Film Festival.
But I was glad to be out of there, moving quickly through the backstreets, away from the frenzy, back to the parking garage where my ridiculous expensive vehicle waited for me. As I got inside of it, pressed the clutch with my left food, engaged the ignition, put the gear in reverse, and drove towards the exit, I felt again like a commuter, finished with a day‚Äôs work, leaving it far, far behind.
I drove out of the parking garage and landed in bumper to bumper, 405-like traffic. Who were all of these commuters leaving Cannes? What they do in Cannes? Where did they live? Did they see it as a fantasy world too? Did they have a real life to get back to? I knew I did. I would fetch my daughter and we take a sunset stroll to downtown Juan-Les-Pins where the French were settling in for their pre-dinner drink. They were watching the sunset. The French, they know how to live.