Censors and sensibilities

Feathers and DJ unruffled, David Lister asserts his right to a better place in the pecking order at Cannes
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The Independent Travel
Never go to Cannes at Festival time. Not if you are British and short of a franc or two. One young producer tells me she and her colleagues take it in shifts to use the bed in their flat. Sheets and towels are rarely supplied. And they have to look good in the evening to flirt with the doormen to gain entrance to the Hollywood networking parties. What is a poor girl on the make to do?

Prices in the South of France are not modest: pounds 350 for a room, pounds 10 for a drink on the terrace. Everyone talks film and nothing but film. Mention theatre or a novel and you're a pariah.

There is a pecking order, too, starting with Hollywood's most glamorous, then moving to France's artiest and ending well down the scale with the Brits. (Perhaps the French have tried the only bad cup of coffee in town, the one served at the British pavilion.)

It is easy to get sucked in to this cultural snobbery. Cruising around for a glimpse of Sigourney Weaver, Demi Moore or Kim Basinger, I ignored a perfectly pleasant-looking middle-aged blonde woman seeking a life in the rain. It was only 20 seconds later, and too late, that I realised I had just driven past and spurned Helen Mirren.

After that the only escape was to the hills. The Mimosa camp site is the South of France we remember from childhood - tents and mobile homes, courting couples, German students and Dutch ... Morris dancers. Sure enough, in orange costumes they practice by their caravan every morning before going down to the festival to entertain the film-goers.

And that courting couple are not whispering sweet nothings. "Remember," she tells him. "Three sentences, no more, sound confident." "I know, I know," he replies. "It's a conventional love story but it's set on the road and the background music is all blues." They are, to use the word I have heard a thousand times this week and never wish to hear again, practising their "pitch".

There is no escape. For miles around everyone here is focused and obsessive. I go back to town to the Majestic Hotel where even the waiters pitch the menus. But in the corner sits a genial old man on his own, smoking a cigar. A genuine tourist at last. I chat to him. It turns out he is 90. It then turns out he is making a film. It is Britain's own Lew Grade. "Isn't about time you slowed down, Lew," I asked.

"I have," he replied. "I use to start work at six every morning. Now I start at seven."

This may be the South of France but it is a tourist-free zone.

Film critics are notoriously and globally bonkers. In Cannes one gets to understand why. Cinema-going should be a nocturnal activity enjoyed with family or friends. Not here. To see the daily screenings we troop up the red-carpeted open-air grand staircase of the lavish Palais des Festivales, muttering to our lonely selves, stomachs rumbling, just after eight in the morning.

That way madness lies. And it manifests itself three hours later at the daily bout of international psychofantasy, euphemistically called the daily press conference, where film critics from around the world interrogate, or rather prostrate, themselves before their heroes. The following "question" from the USA's Entertainment Today is not untypical: "I loved this film so much I'm almost in tears over it."

A woman from Lebanon startled Charlton Heston by addressing him: "You are a god in my country. You are my father, my mother, my sister and my brother." Heston has indeed been on first-name terms with God in some of his movies, but not, until now, has he been anyone's mum. My colleagues from the British tabloids sit in bemused silence at these daily events, unschooled in the ways of unstinting praise.

It would help if film-going did not have to be such a fashion statement here. I turned down a ticket to one of the nightly premieres rather than risk a ritual humiliation at the top of the grand staircase, thrown back down to the leering throngs on the Croisette below by a doorman who spotted that my dinner jacket was more than five years old. These ritual humiliations seem to be reserved for the British. One film-maker told me that she was barred from entering the cinema because she was in leggings. "But that French woman in front of me is wearing leggings, too," she protested. "Oui," replied the doorman, "mais elle a du style."

Fortunately anti-fashion reared its welcome head in the shape of the director Alan Parker, fresh from making vast sums with Evita and thus able to turn up to the swishest parties in slacks and shirt hanging over his belly. He reminisced graphically about his days on the Cannes jury. He turned up late for one film, a typical Scandinavian number, and a 68- year-old Danish lady was supplied to translate for him. "There were just the two of us in the cinema, sitting next to each other," he recalled. "And she kept saying things like `Your penis is poetry'." Not a memory that featured in the official 50th anniversary brochure, curiously enough.

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