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Cannes dough

CANNES, France -- The big stars don't like to stay in town. It's more prestigious for them, and no doubt more comfortable, to stay 45 minutes away at the Hotel du Cap d'Antibes, which is the kind of hotel where it is not an affectation but a necessity to pull out a big roll of bills of high denominations, because the Hotel du Cap accepts no checks or credit cards only cash. Cash for everything. Cash for rooms, cash for drinks, cash for a towel in the beach cabana.

Why only cash? In America, one would assume they were laundering money or evading taxes, but, of course, such a grand hotel in France would never do such a thing, and so it must simply be to inconvenience their clients. The big stars, of course, never handle cash themselves, and so their minions skulk about with both hands clasped uneasily on bulging briefcases. Meanwhile, the stars grant interviews to the worshipful press, or at least those willing to sacrifice half a day in Cannes to make the trip.

On Monday, for example, one can catch a special bus outside the Carlton Hotel at 10:45 a.m. in order to participate, from 12 to 1, in "print roundtables" for the stars of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," the official festival entry by the Coen brothers. For several minutes apiece, George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson and the Coen brothers will visit your table to answer your questions and those of a dozen other journalists. These sound bites can then be massaged into customized rewrites of the press kit.

I will not be making the trek to the Cap. It would mean missing the press screenings of three other official entries, which is a lot to ask, don't you think? For that matter, I also did not go out to the Cap for the official dinner after the screening of the Merchant-Ivory production "The Golden Bowl." Buses for that journey were to leave at 9:30 p.m., returning well after midnight. Unless the critic exercises vigilance, the Cannes Film Festival could turn into a commute to Cap d'Antibes.

After many years of thought, I have concluded that what is happening in town is likely to be more interesting, and certainly closer to sea level. By the time a star has decided that tens of thousands of dollars must be spent and dozens of journalists required to sacrifice half a day for an hour of "round robins," that star is too big to say anything of interest at such an event, since his publicist will have advised him to save it for Vanity Fair, Talk or Barbara Walters, and not squander it on the likes of journalists who have been reduced to the pathetic necessity of spending 2 1/2 hours on a bus for 15 minutes apiece with revolving table-hoppers.

Yesterday, I saw three official entries in the Palais des Festival three more like those I would have had to miss to take the bus. Then I strolled 10 minutes down the beachfront to the Directors' Fortnight and chatted with Michelle Rodriguez and Santiago Douglas, the stars of "Girlfight," an American indie film that is a sensation among those critics lucky enough not to be on the bus during its screenings. They were both actually happy to be in town! Yes! "Me! At Cannes!" said Rodriguez. "Think of it!"

The movie was directed by Karyn Kusama, who won the directors' prize at Sundance this year; her film shared the top prize. It's about an 18-year-old Hispanic woman (Rodriguez) who convinces a trainer to give her boxing lessons, turns out to be good, and ends up in the ring fighting her boyfriend (Douglas). This was Michelle's first role. What inspired her to become an actor? "My brother told me to get a job," she said. Rodriguez still gives real answers to questions. "First I worked as an extra. That was going nowhere. I saw an ad in Backstage for open auditions for this movie. I tried out, and it worked out."

Yes, it did, because she was sensational, and now she's a rising star.

"When you really got hit in a scene," I said, "and it hurt, did that make you mad?"

"In the last fight," she said, "Santiago hit me by mistake. It was a blooper. Hey! Don't start with me! I got mad and I jumped at him so I had to leave the ring and just compose myself, just breathe. I didn't take it overboard."

She says, he says.

"When I hit Michelle," said Santiago Douglas, "here was why. In the movie, so far she had won all of her fights. I realized by then she had no fear in her eyes. She was overconfident. So I really hit her. It was to help the movie."

Michelle's eyes narrowed.

"You did that on purpose?"

"I did," he said.

"You hit me on purpose!?!"

She did not know this before. She playfully socked him on the arm, but like one of those playground punches that are less playful than they look, you know, and he was smiling, but she . . . well, you can stay right in town and find out stuff that helps you see a movie in a whole new light.

This Rodriguez, she's something. She's smart, good-looking, and tough.

"After the movie I stopped doing the boxing, because your ego flies all over the place," she said, "and I started to welcome the challenge of someone in the street stepping up to me. You know?"

I think I know.

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