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As Cannes opens, so does a Steak 'n Shake

CANNES, FRANCE—The Cannes Film Festival opens tonight with "Grace of Monaco"—and just down the street from the Palais, a Steak 'n Shake opened at noon. Was it a tribute? Roger Ebert's love for the fast-food chain is well-documented. Chaz Ebert tells me she hadn't heard anything about a branch opening in Cannes, and a spokesman for Kartemquin Films, the production company behind the Ebert documentary "Life Itself," didn't know of a connection with the film's May 19 festival screening. Questioning in the restaurant itself prompted a puzzled response from staff: "Who is Roger Ebert?"

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The site's operations director, who declined to give his name because of Steak 'n Shake's no-media policy, called it the first Steak 'n Shake in Europe, though on May 1, the company's Facebook page indicated the inauguration of a planned location in Ibiza, Spain. The timing of opening day could be a coincidence, having more to do with the massive crowds the festival brings than with the fact that attendees are in town for a film-related event with which this site's namesake had a long-standing association. Still, it's striking that the restaurant is 50 paces from Hotel Splendid, where Ebert stayed during his time at Cannes. (His regular suite is now named after him.)

Apart from the burgers, I'm here for the movies. I'll be blogging again alongside my colleagues Barbara Scharres and Michał Oleszczyk, and as with last year, I'm planning to put a special emphasis to what I think of as "alterna-Cannes"—movies a bit off the beaten path. The hype tends to center on the competition, the section of Cannes' official selection in which established auteurs like Mike Leigh and David Cronenberg vie for the Palme d'Or. But down the street, there are two parallel festivals: Directors' Fortnight, founded in 1969 in the wake of the 1968 festival's shutdown, to offer a more adventurous program than the main slate; and Critics' Week, which focuses on first and second features. The official selection also includes several sidebars—Out of Competition, Special Screenings—of varying levels of prestige, but every lineup here ends up hosting its share of critical favorites. Last year, "All Is Lost" played outside the competition.

Beyond the marquee titles, the movies I'm looking forward to include a new Frederick Wiseman documentary (about London's National Gallery), a horror film of sorts from indie director David Robert Mitchell (whose wistful teen movie "The Myth of the American Sleepover" was about as far removed from horror as could be imagined), and Abel Ferrara's likely-to-be-volatile "Welcome to New York," which is screening off-fest. The movie stars Gérard Depardieu as a figure modeled on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose arrest made headlines during Cannes 2011. Capitalizing on the publicity machine here, Ferrara's film will debut on a French streaming platform while the festival is progress. It won't be long before you can attend alterna-Cannes in your very own home.

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Read the rest of our coverage of Cannes here and don't miss the following special events at the festival:

Screening of "LIFE ITSELF," in Cannes Classics: Monday, May 19, at 5 pm in Bunuel.

IN CONVERSATION with Steve James and Chaz Ebert about "Life Itself," at the American Pavilion, Wednesday, May 21 at 11 am.

THE ROGER EBERT FILM CRITICS PANEL: at the American Pavilion, Thursday, May 22 at 3 pm. Moderated by Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), including Eric Kohn (Indiewire), AA Dowd (The Onion AV Club)

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