Wandering around Cannes: the Cannes Film Festival is a name that conjures up images of glamour and stars, sandy beaches and the breezily content jet set. But that's not what it's really all about. Join reporter Chris Blake for a unique view of the happenings.
Everyone attending the festival has stories to tell. They often revolve around the question: Is that really him/her/them or it? In a small beach town, the rich and famous stick out. Having been to the festival before, I have stories to tell.
I saw David Hasselhoff passed out in the back of a limousine. He later confessed to being an alcoholic ... in rehab of course, with new projects to promote. Another time, I ran into a testy Courtney Love being escorted down the sidewalk without make-up on. It is not something I ever want to see again and you don't either.
I once spotted a woman fiddling with an electronic organiser and cockily mentioned there was a newer and better model. Her glare challenged that of anyone's disapproving mother. I didn't realise at first that it was Drea de Matteo--eye candy and mobster's squeeze 'Adriana' on The Sopranos, until her character made that unfortunate road trip with wise guy 'Silvio' and ended up taking an eternal dirt nap.
And yes, David Lynch does seem every bit as weird as the films he directs. I could go on.
Lights! Cameras! Sign here!
But business is supposedly what the festival is really about. Film industry insiders are there to make deals. Everyone is selling something. Hustling an idea, looking for a distributor, trying to sign that actor who can guarantee a film's success. Even the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made it a point to premiere their latest Indiana Jones flick (a sure-fire hit anyway) at Cannes.
Switzerland is no exception. It is represented at Cannes and those involved want you to know what they are up to. But you can't talk to them without being a festival participant or an accredited member of the press. At Cannes, access is everything.
And since my ridiculously clever and cinematic masterpiece of a screenplay has yet to sell, I went the press route has arriving late due to other commitments, but game.
Badge envy: yours is better than mine
Over 4,000 journalists were accredited: serious cinema publications, broadsheets, radio, television, magazines and tabloids, both big and small. Speaking of tabloids, I still don't know why an American claiming to be with the National Enquirer (lying mischievously on the beach in the skimpiest of bikinis) was convinced I could supply her with cannabis.
I tried not to take it personally. Regardless, I digress.
When accredited journalists first arrive at Cannes, they enter a basement at the Palais des Festivals. You receive a pretty nice bag loaded with press materials, a map (as the Palais is enormous), schedules, contacts, etc. And you also receive your badge. No item is more important at Cannes. It has your photo, states your organisation, your purpose and most importantly ... it is colour coded.
At this point angst can run amok. The colour of this badge will determine how long you wait in lines, whether you have a realistic chance to see certain films, if you will be way in back for high profile press conferences, if you will be lounging in plush areas at the top of the Palais and whether other press members will look at you with an engaging "you're one of us" smile or politely turn away from your rank, dubious self.
No comment on the colour of my badge, but suffice it to say there are bigger countries than Switzerland and better-known writers than yours truly. Still with that badge, you're in. You're not just some curious star watcher with an odd desire to burn money on insanely priced hotels. You belong!
So I headed straight onto the Palais' restricted grounds. There I found Francine Brucher with International Promotions for Swiss Films, an organisation supporting Swiss cinema. A sincere and personable woman, she watched a female visitor peruse the materials on offer. In back, a number of people sat outside talking and gazing out to sea.
"There are three major festivals around the world every year: Cannes, Berlin and Locarno," Brucher explained.
"Even if we don't have a film in competition," she said, "we have a presence at each one through this stand, where members of the Swiss film industry can schedule appointments. We make sure the Swiss film industry is visible and offer information."
The stand is jointly financed by Swiss Films and the Locarno Film Festival. But she points out "we have materials here for all festivals in Switzerland".
This year Switzerland had Ursula Meier's Home, shown for the Critics Week at Cannes. It is an allegory about Swiss isolation told via the drastic measures a rural family takes in reaction to a highway's construction around their home.
Still, I press Brucher to fess up. Even the guys in back seem to be enjoying the warmth of the sun with drinks in hand. What business? Cannes looks like one long party. "It is a very busy two weeks," she maintains. "Arranging private meetings and providing contacts. We don't have the budget for a big party. But we hosted a get together over cocktails."
She also tells me that "people from everywhere stop by, some of them very important figures in world cinema". I don't doubt this, but noting to lone visitor, still walking aimlessly about the stand, I ask Brucher what is one of the most common questions she gets.
"Can I have a hat or do you have chocolate?" she laments.
That said, she tells me the hats are all gone but does give me a Swiss Films bag.
I finally decide to brave the lines and actually see a film. Flashing my badge, I commence up the fabled red carpet. One does get a buzz doing this, glancing back at all the suckers with cameras and forlorn expressions.
Inside, the theatre looks normal, though quite posh. And this is the Debussy Theatre, not the Grand Theatre Lumiere, which is no doubt even more posh and reserved for the snootiest premieres. The film I saw, Parking, would do fine. It's a compelling Taiwanese film exploring how chance can quickly re-define your life's purpose.
There are ushers making sure you don't sit where you don't belong. The film's director and stars are there. Renowned German director Wim Wenders is attending too, as a fan.
A speaker takes to the stage and introduces the director. Big shots like Wenders take a bow. People snap photos. Everyone and everything gets a big round of applause, including the Cannes logo once the film starts.
Afterwards in the lobby, press jostle recorders and people discuss the film with a certain reverence.
In fact all over Cannes, people talk, talk and talk about films. In a cafe, two couples plotted how they were going to finance their world-changing piece of brilliance. The doubts of one woman grew with each drink and cigarette. Soon she was saying nothing, already somewhere else.
In a restaurant, another woman complained to friends that a movie was obscure, obtuse and pretentious nonsense. A guy in their group gently explained she was a hopeless idiot who should stick to simpler fare.
What was that all about?
Others were not so eager to talk. Looking for a Swiss-related summary of the festival--was it good, was it bad, that kind of thing--I called up a Zurich production company. The producer answering the phone had already left Cannes. So no meeting her for a chat in a local brassiere.
She vetted my credentials and we agreed I would call her once I was back in Zurich. Turns out she would love to talk to me, but it would be "premature to go public with their development plans".
"Ok, fine," I told her. "I just want your impressions of Cannes."
"No. No," she said, clearly alarmed. "We don't want to talk about Cannes. Not yet."
She sounded traumatised and I couldn't help but wonder what colour badge she'd had.