Postcard from Cannes

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The Independent Culture
'I don't think there is anybody whose life hasn't been affected in some way or other by an ism," Gary Oldman mumbled into his microphone at the press conference for his directorial debut, Nil By Mouth. The assembled hacks in the Palais du Cinema listened attentively as the cadaverous-faced actor described his personal battle with alcoholism and how it affected his approach to the film, a bleak, semi-autobiographical South London tale. Ironically, even as Oldman was detailing his problems with the bottlle, the police were busy rounding up any drunks who had the temerity to wander near the Croisette. One emaciated old soak on crutches was bundled into a police car and driven away. He tried to protest, but the gendarmes paid no heed. Nor did any of the festival-goers or tourists.

During the Cannes Fortnight, the authorities clear the streets of human detritus with a zeal that makes Mr Clean look lax. Any signs of poverty are instantly erased. The fact that half the buyers and sellers who ply their trade with such bragadoccio are probably leaking violent streaks of red on the balance sheet doesn't seem to matter. At least they look rich. That's the secret.

Not long after the old drunk was hauled away, Troma Films' resident publicity mascot, the Toxic Avenger, was to be seen parading down the Croisette in his trademark red cape and Phantom of the Opera-style mask, handing out leaflets. Nobody batted an eyelid.

A few years ago, an American anthropologist by the name of Hortense Powdermaker finished her studies of a South Sea Island tribe and decamped to Hollywood to analyse how the natives behaved there. Ms Powdermaker found LA confusing enough, but one imagines that Cannes in May would have left her flummoxed. The festival is a two-week exercise in petty, hieratic rituals. Everybody has different badges. Your place in the food chain is immediately established by the piece of laminated plastic that hangs from your neck. Confusingly, one shade of white signifies immense importance, while another is worn only by the lowliest minions. A blue press pass is no use for overcrowded press conferences. Pink is better, but still no guarantee of getting you where you want.

At the start of the week, UK journalists caught wind of Oscar-winner Frances McDormand's new project, Johnny Skidmarks. Given that the new feature-length cartoon, Beavis and Butthead Do America, is playing in the market, this was at first taken as a mark of a healthy new prurience in American cinema. Sadly, when the hacks sniffed a little closer, they learnt that McDormand's new movie was nothing to do with a certain incontinent character from Viz. In the US, it seems, skidmarks aren't anything to be ashamed of. In fact, you should be proud to leave them behind you - they're a sign of prowess behind the wheel.

One of the more imposing sights on the Croisette is a huge poster advertising a new film about Asterix the Gaul. Gerard Depardieu is to play Obelix. The image of the fat French actor, chubby-cheeked and with trademark twirly moustache, stares out insolently at passers-by. Somebody called Clavier is to act Asterix. But the poster doesn't reveal who has been awarded the plum parts of Getafix the Druid or Postalautomatix, the doughty postman.

Planet Hollywood's relentless march across Europe has now reached Cannes. The fact that one of this new theme restaurant's co-founders, Bruce Willis, happened to be in town for the world premiere of The Fifth Element (in which he stars) can safely be put down to coincidence. Visitors to Cannes will doubtless soon learn to appreciate the ready availability of hamburgers. After all, French cuisine can be a little bland.

Journalists aren't altogether happy at the new arrangements. They need separate press accreditation for each and every event that is taking place in Planet Hollywood, and even when they've negotiated that particular bureaucratic minefield, they're treated like pariahs (or drunks on the Croisette.) "Media positioning in media areas is determined by first come basis," reads the publicity, "spots cannot be held or reserved." In other words, feel grateful if you are allowed to stand at the back.

One final note. Tony Curtis may not have made a worthwhile film in approximately four decades, but the bouffanted old actor is now a dab hand at the easel. There's an exhibition of his paintings (which might best be described as pastiches of pastiche Matisses) running in a Cannes gallery throughout the festival. They're bad, but not as bad as some of the films.