I'm home from the Cannes Film Festival now, after nearly two weeks of great movies, interesting interviews, and lots of conversation with many very smart film folks over dinner, drinks at the La Petit Majestic, or lingering cups of cafe au lait at cutesy cafes. This was my first year at Cannes, and I think it's now my second favorite film festival (I don't think any fest will ever take first place over Telluride in my little film-geek heart).
Your first time at Cannes can be overwhelming; there's much to learn and assimilate, and you have to do it pretty quickly. I had to get by on my shockingly limited knowledge of the French language, since I took German in high school (hey, I hung with the punk crowd, and we weren't going to take French with all the preppies). Fortunately, I had James Rocchi there to guide me and act as my interpreter; he jokes about his French being poor, but I assure you, he does quite well.
The first thing you figure out are the press badges, which operate on a caste system that no one really seems to quite have figured out. The most coveted level is the white-with-red "press soiree" badge, which gets you into everything, including the red carpet, black-tie premieres. Next after that are the white badges, followed by rose-with-pastille -- those folks get herded into press screenings ahead of the rest of the hoi polloi.
After that comes rose (which James got bumped up to this year), then blue, then yellow, then orange (photographers). Having heard many a horror tale of critics who'd been stuck with yellow badges for several years in a row, I was just thrilled to have ridden James's coattails to a blue badge. The blue badge, I found, got me into everything I wanted to see, even the big films like Che, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Indy 4, provided I got my butt into line way early.
The other thing you have to get used to are the crowds. Boy, are there crowds. Walking down the Croisette day after day, pushing your way through the endless supply of gawking tourists, frantic paparazzi and people who stop in the middle of a crowded sidewalk to text on their Blackberry or chats with friends, is beyond wearing. During the red carpet premieres, getting through the throngs just to get in line for press screenings was an exercise in futility.
Fortunately,a journalist from Holland, who's been coming to the fest for 18 years, showed me the secret back route that you can use to avoid the crowds at the front of the Palais. You wind your way through hallways that make you feel you're going to end up in some hidden nuclear-war bunker, finally emerging inside the Palais, where you can make your way to the exit nearest the press lines with nary a bump, bruise or stepped-on toe. Voila!
By the mid-way point of the fest, the film press was looking harried; by Saturday's press roundtable for Synecdoche, NY, we were looking at each other like survivors of a natural disaster, eyes rimmed with dark circles from lack of sleep (or too many drinks the night before at the La Petit Majestic), hands trembling from constantly fueling our tired bodies with the free espresso in the press suite. Fortunately, they very kindly provided us with a nice table of little sandwiches and a dizzying array of adorable little desserts, plus more espresso to ensure we stayed awake while talking to the talent. It's bad form to doze off while Charlie Kaufman is talking about his film, you know.
The previous day's roundtable lunch for Atom Egoyan's Adoration, held at the Carlton Beach restaurant, boasted the most incredible lunch buffet I've ever seen. Seriously, we were blown away by the quality of the food at this place; I have no idea how many euros one usually has to drop to eat there, but I'd imagine it's pretty damn spendy, since the Carlton is the most expensive and prestigious hotel in Cannes. Cannes trivia: The Carlton is where Grace Kelly met her Prince Charming and was the main location for shooting of Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief.
I'd been warned about how expensive Cannes is, and the value of the dollar against the euro didn't help much with that, but I found also that there are plenty of places to get a reasonably priced meal, if you know where to look. We ate so many paninis that Rocchi joked he was getting grill marks on his stomach, but we also had some great, leisurely meals with friends, most notably at La Pizza, which serves amazing pizzas cooked in their brick, wood-fire ovens, Marina Caffe, where we enjoyed a couple of pretty decent three-course meals for under 30 euros, and La Ponitiere, right across from the Palais, which is also excellent.
You do have to be careful in Cannes, easy as it is to get distracted by all the interesting sights and sounds. A number of journalists I know got their wallets stolen along the Rue d'Antibes and even while eating at cafes; at least one had her passport lifted as well, so I guarded my purse at all times and thankfully made it through the fest with my money and passport intact.
Overall, I had a spectacularly good time at my first Cannes. The minor inconveniences (lines and crowds) were more than made up for by the graciousness of the fest staff, the many great films I saw, and the heady experience of just being there. As is usual with a major fest, we put in some very long hours, but we did our best to bring you as many reviews and interviews as possible, while also, hopefully, giving you a bit of a feel of what it's like to be there. Now we have the rest of the summer to rest up, before things kick into gear in late August for Telluride and Toronto. If you missed any of our Cannes coverage, you can see it all right over here.