Unlike the majority of my fellow film critics at this moment, I’m sitting at my desk, in the office, in London, and prevaricating over whether or not to have a screen break and visit the kitchenette to make myself a hot drink, into which I might dunk a biscuit. Outside the windows, it’s drizzly and unsettled. I am, in case it needs underlining, categorically not in the South of France.
The 65th annual Cannes Film Festival, the jewel in the international ligging circuit’s crown, opens today, May 16, and runs to May 27, when we’ll know which films in competition will be able to add little laurels to their advertising campaigns.
Cannes itself is a port city on the French Riviera, mostly known for posh shops, expensive fish restaurants (some of whose prices mysteriously rise for 12 days each May), all those yachts in its harbour and the famous Croisette, a waterfront promenade lined by palm trees.
Did I mention that I’m not there?
Although anything but a holiday for the press folk who descend upon the sun-kissed resort every year, Cannes is regarded as one of the more glamorous destinations for the serial festival attendee. I went once.
It was May 1995, and I had literally just been made the editor of film magazine Empire. All the press accreditation had long been applied for, accredited and signed off, and laminated passes awaited. Empire’s can-do editorial assistant somehow managed to rustle me up a latecomer’s laminate and I was duly packed off with the rest of the magazine’s management to the South of France.
I bought a beige linen suit from Marks & Spencer so I looked the part – rather fancying that I looked like Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart – and took the flight to Nice. We were picked up in a minibus and transported to the rented Empire villa, where I had a fold-out bed in the living room. Fair enough. They hadn’t been expecting me.
I’d spent seven years working in music publications; this film lark was new to me. So I relied upon the guidance of the Cannes veterans around me who showed me the Croisette (also lined with massive movie posters and crash barriers), and the hotels where the PR companies set up camp, and the choice watering holes, and I was led to the press paddock where I picked up my laminate. There it is, below. Coded: yellow.
Let me tell you how many doors open and how many burly security guards tip their headsets at you when you’re wearing a yellow pass on a lanyard around your neck at Cannes: none. It’s one step above being a gawping member of the public. In fact, it’s one step below, as it marks you out.
I couldn’t get in to see anything with this pass. I may as well have written UN LOSER on my forehead. The laminate got me into a press bar on the outskirts of the outer sanctum, where drinks weren’t free. If my magazine hadn’t been co-hosting a beach party with MTV, I wouldn’t have been able to get into that either.
As it happened, as the editor, I had to help put promotional posters up beforehand, and I made sure I didn’t leave, in case I couldn’t get back in. When Tina Turner turned up at the party – our most famous guest! – she was ushered straight into a VIP area I didn’t even know existed, and to which I was not admitted. (And the drinks weren’t free here, either.)
It wasn’t all bad. I was only there for a couple of days, and I sat on the terrace of the famous, swanky Hotel Du Cap while my features editor interviewed Nicole Kidman, which was pretty cool. (I saw Chris Penn, too, which was also cool.)
I have never been back to Cannes, not out of an enormous huff, but because I’ve never been invited, or sent. And I quite like the poetry of that situation – I’m the critic who only went to one Cannes Film Festival. I didn’t much enjoy it, but I learned a lot about how what is essentially a marketplace works, and that if you don’t have a white pass, you may as well sit on the beach. I also learned the price of fish.
I could tell you that I also spent the afternoon on a yacht hired by our publisher, and failed to recognise Will Smith, who was on the same boat at the same time, but I think I’ve embarrassed myself enough already.
Wish you were there? Me too.