Planes, trains and automobiles have brought hundreds of journalists from around the world to cover the 74th Cannes Film Festival. After picking up their press badges, and checking into their hotels, they’re hungry for action. And so is the public.
Strangers on a Train
With a five-hour high speed train journey, there's more than enough time for spirited conversations in different languages with anecdotes galore. Tips are exchanged, new friends are made and there is a festive atmosphere.
I was seated next to three journalists on the TGV from Paris – a lucky strike you might say – a chance to get the industry lowdown before the action begins. Two Irish men not short of a long story and a Franco-Spanish-Algerian woman with very strong views.
Although the gentlemen have covered Cannes many times before, the young woman journalist and I were first timers.
There was a great deal of talk about the various films in competition, which ones seemed like they had a shot at a prize and who was likely to show up on the red carpet.
There was also a suggestion that the French world of cinema might be even smaller than usual this year with last year being cancelled due to Covid.
That could mean some conflict of interest; for example, would it be uncomfortable for a member of the jury to be have a close personal relationship to one of the actresses in a film in the competition? Will the international jury notice that the same French actress would appear in no less than four films, three of them in competition?
Front row seats
Meanwhile, out in the sunshine on the Croisette - the boulevard in Cannes that runs along the Mediterranean Sea - hundreds of tourists and locals are enjoying the hot sun and a chance to gawk at those setting up the finishing touches on the entrance to the Palais des Festivals, the huge ship-like building that juts out into the sea with many doors and stairs and levels.
The red carpet hadn’t been laid but this didn’t stop people from taking selfies and posing in front of the giant poster featuring the face of Spike Lee.
In fact, one group has even staked out a whole section of the closed off footpath opposite the entrance to spot the stars as they arrive. Nicknamed the “Step-ladder Gang”, every year they gather in a line a whole day prior to the opening, padlocking their metal contraptions so they can’t be removed. They even have their own FB page one man told me.
Another man passing by explained that people could only climb as high as two steps as any higher would pose a security problem. Shame for those people who came equipped with ladders!
Film on the beach
Next door to the Palais on the waterfront International Village, a row of white tents, with chairs and tables set up to welcome visitors.
For now, things are still being unpacked and set up, plastic and boxes everywhere. The makeshift studios are being finetuned and last-minute preparations are being made. It’s as if everyone is holding their breath for the grand opening. From that point onwards it will be a runaway train.
Nearby, on the public beach, people of all shapes and sizes are strutting around in their swimsuits enjoying the cool water, playing beach volleyball or eating ice creams. This is the place where the evening open-air beach cinema will be held each night of the festival, free for the public. The first screening is the 2000 classic “In the Mood for Love”, a Hong Kong romantic drama film written, produced, and directed by Wong Kar-wai.
A place in the sun
A bit further along the promenade, where umbrellas flutter to the sound of techno music, people are ogling the signs outside the exclusive beach club restaurants, where patrons can rent a seaside lounger for the fine sum of €55, a little further back from the water it’s €35.
A few steps away from there is the Cannes walk of fame with names and hand prints impressed into the cement and bordered with ceramic tiles - Tim Robbins, Wim Wenders, Pink Panther - but they are hardly visible as they are partially hidden beneath metal fences used to herd the crowds from one area to another.
And everywhere you go you see smiling faces and hear the clicking of press badges rattling on lanyards as journalists set up their interviews and meet and greet PR people and finalise interviews, fingers crossed in the hope of a scoop. I’ve been told it’s a marathon, a survival of the fittest - Lights, Camera, Action!!