Arriving in Cannes by bus from the Nice airport provides a thumbnail tour of the town, from the more seedy homes on the outskirts to the swanky hotels on the waterfront. The palms lining the Croisette, the festival's de facto main drag, may be the ubiquitous symbol of city, but a few blocks away the plane trees, cypresses, and the prolific climbing roses of Provence are a more common sight. Walk a short distance from the Festival Palais and there are conspicuously un-chic restaurants where local cops congregate for dinner in the back room and retired couples hang out for a smoke and an evening beer, more often than not, with a fluffy mutt under the table.
In a way, my first reminders yesterday of everyday life in everyday France were a bracing counterpoint to this morning's press screening of Woody Allen's romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris." The festival's opening night film is a colorful valentine to Paris, indulging and gorgeously illustrating the director's every memory and cherished illusion of the city. I've never been a big Woody Allen fan, but "Midnight in Paris" is loads of fun.
The film opens with a morning-to-night sequence of views of the city's most iconic sights: Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge, the Seine, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, the narrow streets of the Left Bank, and the Eiffel Tower. That opening alone is a tourist board's dream. At the press conference later, a journalist asked Allen, who mentioned that he thought of the title long before he had a story, whether these postcard-worthy views were his own impressions of Paris, or were meant to represent the point of view of his characters. Perhaps the French questioner was hoping for the latter, but Allen replied, "I learned about Paris the way all Americans do--from the movies. I wanted to show the city emotionally, not realistically, but through my eyes.
As the opening night of the Cannes International Film Festival approaches, a host of Riviera amenities and services hope to lure my business via solicitous e-mails. Would Madame perhaps like to hire a helicopter for the journey from the Nice airport to the Festival Palais? Rent a limousine with a multilingual driver? Charter a yacht or rent a fully staffed villa with swimming pool (photos handily attached)?
Me, I'm just in the market to rent a no-frills mobile phone with a European SIM card, and I'll be taking an inter-city bus from the airport, but you get the picture. The sparkling goodies of this playground of millionaires are dangled before the thousands of accredited journalists, theater programmers, film buyers, and filmmakers soon to be heading for the legendary festival. Most of us will be pinching the Euros until they scream, but nonetheless enjoying the nonstop spectacle provided by those who get to ride around in helicopters.
The festival opens the night of Wednesday, May 11 with Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." "Monsieur Woodee," as the French are wont to call him, made his first visit ever to Cannes in 2002, when his "Hollywood Endings" opened the festival. Although the film was disappointingly lackluster, it certainly made no difference to his French fans, who hailed him like an emperor. I watched Allen on that occasion from a seat among the hyper-excited audience, marveling at his frail stature, almost inaudible voice, and the shrinking body language that made him seem an incongruous god of cinema.
"Of few deaths can it be said that they end an era, but hers does. No other actress commanded more attention for longer, for her work, her beauty, her private life, and a series of health problems that brought her near death more than once." - Roger, from Elizabeth Taylor, a star in her own category