Oops, I did it again.
I swore I wouldn’t go, but I did. After last year’s maiden voyage to Cannes, I decided it was not a necessary destination for a nascent screenwriter. With some arm twisting, however, I ended up there. And without regret, though I could have done just as much business behind my computer at home as I did there. After all, what is Cannes other than spring break for Hollywood?
And in the end, who can resist? Where else but in Cannes would a rogue’s gallery of names be revered like the seating chart for the Last Supper? Where else could cradle-robbing directors bask in accolades? And what better place to debut a documentary about one of the most notorious producers in Hollywood whose aquiline nostrils still flare at the mention of Ally McGraw and Steve McQueen in the same sentence?
Just for a moment, put away those Excel spreadsheets bearing the piddly budget numbers for your indie debut. Stop pretending you didn’t get into this business for the trash, glitz and kitsch. Forget about those “important” festivals that evoke images of horses, snow-capped mountains and aw-shucks American artistry.
For fifty-five years, The Cannes Film Festival has held court and all of cinema’s subjects have requested an audience. And while Cannes’ importance as a film festival has diminished just slightly over the years, the legend is enough to draw thousands of stars, filmmakers, aspiring “whatevers,” parasites, charlatans and other miscreants to the sunny beaches of the Riviera in search of critical acclaim, fortune and the free cocktail.
The rogues ruled this year. The tanned and ornery Robert Evans premiered “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” a documentary adapted from his searing autobiography. Roman Polanski presented what some thought to be a life’s work. And for it, he walked away with the Palm d’Or. Woody Allen, yet another admirer of youth and beauty, opened Cannes with Hollywood Ending, a middling comedy that is doing just that at the box office.
The presence of one absent rogue was still felt, although I dare not mention his name. The increased security, tiresome purse searches and more regimented atmosphere suggested his “artistic” influence on this year’s festival. May he be damned to perpetual screenings of “Invisible,” wherein all the exit doors are bolted shut.
The Diva du jour this time around was radiant juror Sharon Stone who seems to have found some comfort as the movie star without a movie. For what seemed like an eternity, little miss “sans culottes” posed for the paparazzi and gave this year’s otherwise bland Cannes a little sparkle.
As usual, getting into the parties became an Olympic sport for some, even those who, in years past, may have effortlessly swept beyond the velvet ropes. Budget cuts and security scares had MGM executives begging for passes to the MTV party. A smarmy lad in Armani said just as much during a cell phone conversation to his assistant on the train from Juan les Pins to Cannes one morning. But then if he’s staying in Juan les Pins, who the hell is he anyway?
Michael Winterbottom’s “24 Hour Party People” party boasted fist fights and the ambience of London’s nightclub scene. Apparently not many people yearned for a bit of London while on the Riviera, least of all Leonardo DiCaprio who stood at the door for ten minutes before bolting elsewhere. (By the way, ’70s disco and nightclubbing movies like this one are, I hope, on the wane. While fun and frothy, it’s rake thin subject matter and about as amusing as a rerun of Mystery Science Theater 3000.)
Perhaps the most civilized and elegant soiree was the annual luncheon thrown by the Mayor of Cannes for press and jury. The scene might have been borne from the pages of Flaubert. As the official festival cars climbed higher into the hills and delivered us to the cobblestone courtyard of a church overlooking the Mediterranean, we walked under canopies of flowers held over our heads by townsfolk in 18th century costumes. When we reached the top of the stairs, we were received by tuxedo clad servers with an array of cocktails for our choosing.
The long tables were draped in colorful tablecloths and adorned by fresh lavendar, bottles of wine, spring water, fresh vegetables, pates, and Provencal finger foods. We feasted on cod fish and potatoes while nearby Ms. Stone smiled between bites for photographers.
From this hillside respite from cinema madness, we basked in the gentle rays of sun and watched the boats in the harbor. The shabby charm of pink and terra cotta houses surrounded us, clean laundry on clotheslines blew in the breeze. Was this really Cannes?
Sure was. And I loved it more than a million movie premieres.
After appropriate digestion, I made the trek on foot back to festival area. The walk was like a descent into hell as I came closer to the flaming red carpet, blinding lights and lies, lies, lies. After a while “send me your script” sounds as suspect as “the check’s in the mail,” and everyone has a project in development, including the teenage Algerian breakdancers on the Croisette.
You begin to ask yourself what you’re doing in such a completely ridiculous place. You have that epiphanous moment when you realize that party schmoozing will not get you a movie deal and that it might actually subtract credibility from your project.
Then you wonder, what was “Murder by Numbers” doing there next to “Sweet Sixteen” — the latest by Ken Loach, darling of the dour French socialists? How do the women walk in those complicated Blahniks? Who the hell is this Swiss businessman and why does he think I can get him into the Vanity Fair party? When will I sell this damn script so I can retire to a house in the woods and buy a really good entertainment system?
And then you catch a whiff of lavendar in the breeze and your shoes click on the cobblestone. Suddenly you realize that Cannes is more than this spectacular trade show featuring enjoyable schlock to and great cinema. And you forgive yourself for coming all this way. You understand that the festival is a necessary right of passage. You regard your first Cannes as a deflowering; your second an attempt at becoming a better lover.
But after that, I’m afraid, it’s just whoring.
Oops, I did it again.