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Reeling Through Cannes

Book early to avoid disappointment – if it’s May, it’s time for the high and the low life of the screen world to flock to a genteel resort on the south coast of France to participate in the most glamorous film festival in the world.

Cannes Palais Des Festivals, Cannes Film Festival, 1994
Palais des Festivals, Cannes, 1994

From May 12 to 23 it’s mayhem as movie starts like Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude an Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger – and up to 15 000 other movie people – try their utmost to outdo each other with bizarre gimmicks in a bid to garner publicity via the 4 000 journalists present. Among the palm-lined promenade called the Croisette, the limousines are crushed together and the outdoor restaurants are overflowing as at least 30 000 fans wait desperately to catch glimpses of their favourite stars.

To avoid the colossal traffics jams, some starts hire helicopters. Others hire luxury yachts, the most infamous of which is that belonging to David Bowie. Every year during parties on it some drunken celebrity manages to fall into the Mediterranean and another to get locked in the bathroom.

It’s only at the Cannes Film Festival that you’re likely to see Nick Nolte streak naked through the foyer of his exclusive hotel at 3 am after a party. Yes, movies are bought and sold at the film market in Cannes, and many interviews are given which bring a lot of publicity to these movies, but at the end of the day, the most important thing on most people’s minds is which party they have been invited to.

Stroll down the Croisette and you can’t fail to register the thrill of seeing your celluloid idols in the flesh. One side of this promenade is home to posh hotels like the Carlton and the Majestic where you’ll pay more for a glass of Perrier than for an entire meal in South Africa. On the other side are the private beaches with their own restaurants – and imported sand! Both sides play host to the silk tuxedo-clad movie starts and semi-naked starlets hankering for attention. But they’re not the only ones – once I watched as a tabloid journalist flung himself in front of Madonna’s car, only to report afterwards that she had tried to run him over!

Certain stars such as Arnie Sly, Sly’s ex Brigitte Nielsen and Robert De Niro have become regulars at the festival. De Niro reckons it’s the best fun he has all year.

That’s because movies are about entertainment – not to be taken seriously, point out controversial director Roman Polanski, who was president of the awards jury in 1991: “I know it’s a zoo and that the competition makes many directors, producers and actors nervous and hostile. But I love the festival.”

They say there are two types of people in Cannes: the earthworms and the glow-worms. The earthworms spend every day and night in darkness, seated in the movie theaters watching the offerings. The glow-worms are are drawn to the glitz, the glamour and the parties.

Some of these glow-worms are the saddest people I’ve ever seen. People who’ll jump on chairs and tables to get attention when they see a TV camera moving in their direction. I’ll never forget the sheer desperation of the guy who acted as Leroy in Fame, now a forgotten star, trying to hog the limelight while a TV crew was interviewing his pal, Wesley Snipes, at a party.

Most of the parties are thrown by movie companies to garner attention for their upcoming films, the most sought-after invitations being to those held at the little fortress of La Napoule out of Cannes. In Cannes itself, though, parties are held on the roofs of hotels, in clubs and on the beaches. The whole town is a buzz of revellers who talk about nothing but movies.

Dennis Davison, head of a top public relations company which has attended and hosted parties at Cannes for 24 years, parties every night until 2:30 and is up again at 5 am. He met two of his three wives at Cannes and reckons he lives there on “alcohol and adrenaline.”

Even if you’re not invited to the best parties, you’re sure to bump into a star or two at clubs such as l’Opéra, where Eddie Murphy and his bodyguards are known to have a fine time. Another guaranteed place for movie fans who can’t slip into the invite-only parties is the Petit Carlton, a not-too-great pub where the journalists and movie stars hang out after the parties.

And then of course there are the restaurants – if you can afford the food! There’s always certain to be some constellation of stars in a corner and if you’re lucky you might pick a restaurant with a star like Robert Downey Jr, who loves to jump up halfway through the meal and play the piano for all the diners.

Out on the pavements it’s a party, too. You’ll bump into a mother and daughter with their poodle, all wearing fake leopard-skin, Charlie Chaplin lookalikes and a variety of street clowns. During the day there are fire-eaters, jugglers and, of course, there’s the Mediterranean for those who want to cool off when the action becomes too hot.

This is the festival which which made Brigitte Bardot famous, and Cannes is still a dream for the many inspiring actors and actresses who long to be “discovered” there. Not to mention anyone who hopes to strike it lucky – after all, it was at the Cannes Film Festival that Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco met.

Many criticize Cannes, saying the antics of the stars undermine the true art of films… but this festival still remains addictive.

Cannes Film Festival article from Personality

PERSONALITY, May 20, 1994.

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