Friday, June 02, 2006
There's nothing like your first time. You go into it all wide-eyed and innocent, not knowing what to expect, and experience feelings of deep pleasure that you never knew were possible. Though it's hard to come down after your first climax, when it's all over, you can't wait to do it all again. Yes, there's nothing like your first Cannes Film Festival: the Riviera sun, the yachts, the villas, the 10,000 blackberries buzzing on lunch tables all over the Croisette as film execs attempt to avoid cardiac arrest amid the overcharged festival rhythm. It's almost indescribable to those who have never done it. I lost my Cannes Film Festival virginity last year on a warm, summer today in May and, while I'll never forget my first time, this year I
returned to the Croisette with knowledge, experience, skill… and a few more VIP passes than last year. This is my story.
May 14, 2006
I gazed out the window of my first-class window seat as the train slowly approached the Gare de Cannes. Even the skinny, hairy French men wearing tight speedos on the beach didn't ruin the incredible view of the Riviera beaches to my right and the swank hilltop villas to my left. The sun was shining as the train screeched to a halt, and, after a tumultuous struggle with my seemingly 400-lb suitcase for a few blocks, I arrived at my hotel. The Hôtel Alnea, a charming two-star hotel just a (Sharon) stone's throw away from the Grand Palais, should be listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as "The Smallest Hotel in Cannes." I was in fact able to simultaneously sit on the toilet, wash my face AND take a shower - without moving a muscle. How many world-class hotels can boast such a luxury I ask you? Though small, the hotel is conveniently located right down the street from the Grand Palais (where I would be spending nearly the next 184 hours of my life) and the husband and wife who own the place welcomed me with open arms. They gave me the same room I had last year so I felt right at home, and even remembered what exactly I required for breakfast each morning - I stumbled into the dining room each morning with a croissant, strawberry jelly, yogurt, granola, honey and orange juice waiting for me at "my" table. I ate with the Cannes Market News team (or the French side at least) at Farfalla, then went to bed early for some pre-festival sleep.
May 16, 2006
On the day before the festival/market began, the Grand Palais resembled a construction site and the Croisette merely a boardwalk. Yet, year after year, the night before it all begins, the Palais is transformed into an international movie Mecca as stands spring up all over the Riviera and Palais Level -1 and film posters and gratuitously outrageous publicity stunts take over the major hotels on the Croisette.
Ever since 1946, when Louis Lumière took on the duty of the festival's inaugural jury president, the Cannes Film Festival has evoked images of red carpets, sunny beaches and glamour. For two weeks each May, international stars and film industry executives make their way to the French Riviera to celebrate "la septième art" with as much gratuitous
luxury as possible. Cannes is the setting for two parallel plots intertwining, namely the Cannes festival and the Cannes film market. As famous directors and their beautiful muses stroll the red carpet outside of Le Palais, inside, the international film market is at its highest peak of activity as multi-million dollar distribution deals are made every minute. The Croisette becomes a veritable college campus where it's all "work hard, play hard" as champagne flows like water and securing party invites becomes an extra-curricular activity.
Colossal film posters and animations decorate the Croisette as film fans line up outside, cameras in hand, ready to snap their way to stardom … or Ebay. The Cannes Film Festival is so unique it is almost indescribable (though clearly I am not at a loss for words to describe every detail of my second trip to the Croisette).
Most of the activity in Cannes takes place at Le Palais du Festival, an enormous building right on La Croisette (the large strip separating the beaches from the major hotels that runs throughout the city - also known as a "boardwalk" of sorts to those of you more familiar with the Jersey shore than the Côte d'Azur). Outside, the red carpet is the scene of the premieres of the
films "In Competition" and the inside is filled with "stands," i.e. veritable offices for sales agencies, digital imaging and the film commissions of various companies. Each stand is decorated with film posters, big-screen televisions and often hors d'œuvres served to buyers during important business meetings. The stands are located both in the Riviera section of Le Palais and on the bottom level. Outside of the Riviera, the pavilions of the "International Village" line the beach as each country's flag hangs proudly over its tent, usually the base of national film commissions offering a warm welcome to its inhabitants in town. The American Pavilion, for example, is a haven for citizens of Les Etats-Unis where festivalgoers can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich outside on the terrace, check their email on computers with QUERTY keyboards or participate in round table discussions between directors and stars such as Brett Ratner and Nick Nolte. Further down the Croisette is the Pantiero, the site of UniFrance, the Ile-de-France Film Commission and the Rendez-Vous des Exploitants (a huge modern space dedicated to partners of the festival such as Nestle who offered free ice cream ,and coffee) and the Plage des Palmes, a high-class restaurant right on the water reserved only for very important
business executives discussing distribution deals over some foie gras in the sun. Other companies set up camp in the luxurious four and five-star hotels lining the Croisette such as The Majestic, The Hotel Martinez, The Noga Hilton and The Carlton. Just a few minutes in the lobby of any of these hotels ensures at least one celebrity sighting and makes even the poorest of Franco-American journalists (cough, cough) feel like a star for a brief moment in time.
As almost the entire city of Los Angeles arrived in town and battled jetlag, we at the Cannes Market News were already hard at work preparing our first issue of the 2006 Festival. As Managing Editor (aka "Coordination" on the masthead thanks to the politics of working for a rigid French company) of the Official daily of the Marché du Film (the international Cannes Market) I was responsible for coordinating the publication of the daily magazine. Our editorial content was provided by indieWIRE, the leading, news, information and social networking site for the international independent film community. I also added to the CMN layout this year a more in-depth calendar of events, profiles of industry execs (including photos and responses to more "fun" Who, What, When, Where and Why questions), the quote and fact/figure of the day and FOCUS stories on various international territories in addition to the screenings guide for the following day and a double page of photos of Cannes events. In one ear, the American journalists and, in the other, my French "team" of an editor and graphic designer. Needless to say, my head was spinning by the time we closed at around midnight, but "one down, seven to go" echoed in my head as I prepared for the rest of the week's work.
May 17, 2006
Festival and Market Day One finally arrived as I reached a level of stress I never before thought physically possible. As English flew in one ear and French out the other, my brain became a pot pourri of "franglais" as I tried to remain calm and organized among the international mayhem sweeping the French Riviera. As I awaited the day's market news to arrive, I attended a cocktail for Greenestreet Films International at the Majestic Hotel terrace and the DDA PR Cocktail Party at the Majestic Beach with our photographer to take a few photos for the following day's issue.
May 18 - Da Market Code
While Market members from all over the world anxiously await the annual Marché du Film Opening Night party, I dread it. Not only do I have to wait to layout and put captions on the photos pages until our photographer completes his tour of the bash (usually around 11 PM), but there is inevitably a problem with an ad page that requires me to run around like a "poulet" with my head cut off until the problem is alleviated. Last year, my boss chose to sell an ad page at 1 AM requiring me to change the entire layout of the issue and, this year, he realized at around midnight that he had sold the back cover to two different clients, forcing me to assuage one angry client, remove the ad of another - soon to be incensed client - in the midst of putting captions on the photos pages/identifying every market member smiling next to Jérôme Paillard complete with title and company, editing the other sections of the magazine, and trying to remain somewhat social to the myriad market executives greeting me hello as they sipped champagne and nibbled on gourmet food along the docks of the Majestic Beach.
Earlier that day, I'd attended a Press Breakfast in the Carlton Hotel for Focus Features International during which time I spoke with Focus CEO James Schamus and new company President Andrew Karpen as they unveiled their slate for the new season.
After the Marché du Film hoopla and subsequent late close around 1:30 AM in the Palais, I downed two paninis from the stand outside the Palais and headed out on the town. I can honestly say that I have absolutely no recollection of where I went or what I did on that particular evening, but I woke up in bed with Brad Pitt. No, just kidding, but I probably dreamed about it that evening as my head hit the pillow…
May 19, 2006
I saw my first film of the fest at 11:30 AM: Richard Linklater's FAST FOOD NATION, which may have been more appropriately titled "Why Rebecca Leffler Will Never Eat a Hamburger Again nor Travel Anywhere in the Vicinity of a McDonalds." Though the film was somewhat preachy, clearly targeted at the average moviegoer whose IQ, according to Richard Linklater, must not exceed .005, the performances were strong (despite a talentless Avril Lavigne seemingly trying to break the world record for "most lines said in a movie while keeping long, blond locks perfectly in place") and the film an eye-opening look at the entire spectrum of the inside world of the American Fast Food industry from the poor Mexican immigrants at the slaughterhouses to the company execs basking in immoral exploitation of the nation's youth.
May 19th soon became "Fast Food Nation Day" as I ran into Greg Kinnear in the elevator of the Carlton later that day, then later that evening, managed to make my way (and that of two equally uninvited friends) into the private, invite-only party for the film at the Century Club on the beach.
Nearly the entire cast was there including Avril Lavigne (who, again, was still working on her record for least long blond locks of hair-moving), Catalino Sandino Moreno (say that five times fast), Ethan Hawke (why are good-looking actors always way too short in person? Our love affair is over, Ethan, I'm sorr.), Ashley Johnson (who I still can't dissociate from her oh-so-cute stint on Growing Pains), the Gregster (as in Kinnear, but hello we were already on a nickname basis as of our hot elevator encounter just hours earlier), Bobby Cannavale (who, not only remembered meeting me a few years earlier at the Toronto Film Festival, but also hails from Hoboken and we are now official best friends and armpit-of-the-United-States compatriots - Jersey represent!), Wilmer Valderrama (whom I informed that I watch speaking fluent French on French television's version of "That 70s Show" which seemed to amuse the much-shorter-in-person-but-certainly-charming-although-I-still-can't-see-how-he-snagged-the-likes-of-Lindsay Lohan-Jennifer Love Hewitt-and-Many Moore actor), in addition to Brett Ratner (also of the "I-still-can't-see-how-he-snagged-the-likes-of-Lindsay Lohan" category of men and whom I also attacked, informing him that as he will be filming RUSH HOUR 3 in Paris this summer and I happen to live in Paris, we should, thus, be best friends and hang out. He agreed and took my business card and I plan to hear from him any day now of course…) Yes, somewhere along the line, I have lost my gene for shame. I am convinced that I no longer have any and will talk to anyone with ears and feet.
As Young Hollywood schmoozed the Croisette Beach, an older, more refined crowd à la Vanity Fair made their way around the party including my friend - and Dartmouth alum - renowned UK Publisher Ed Victor who introduced me to the likes of Paul McGuinness (U2's manager) and other high-class British elite.
May 21, 2006 -
Today, I saw how "the other half" lives, and I must admit I quite liked it. After all, as they say, "a day witout a yacht, a villa and a few dozen celebrities is no day at all." (I'm not quite sure if anyone has actually ever said that actually, but they should have, it's kinda catchy, non?) Someone must have exchanged my women's extra-calcium multivitamins this morning with lucky pills, because from the moment I awoke, I lived the life of someone other than myself. And, while I do like being me, I am, as I discovered, also a fan of being this wealthy, important alter-ego who enjoys lunches on yachts, parties in villas, private cars, fine dining and French celebrities.
I was awakened at 8 AM by a phone call from a publicist wondering if I indeed would be attending the FLYBOYS luncheon on Ralph Ellison's yacht that afternoon. Flyboys? Lunch? Yacht? Did I mention I hadn't slept since May 14th? The message sounded something like this: Booboo mooma paca fifi woowoopajama bananatahiti supercalifragilisticexpeealodocias, and I responded abruptly with the only word my Franco-Anglo jargon would pronounce: "Oui?" I soon found myself, at around 1 PM, pointing to my name on a private list and then boarding a tiny boat headed out to sea. After running around all morning preparing for the day's CMN issue, this short voyage out to sea was a tranquil and welcome change from the craziness of the Croisette. We arrived at the Ellison yacht (which, I am told is the largest yacht in the world) and, after taking off our shoes, went upstairs for a gourmet buffet lunch featuring delicious food and water imported from Finland, apparently the purest water in the world. I mean really, who would drink anything else? The lunch aboard The Rising Sun Yacht was hosted by Electric Entertainment and Voltage Pictures. The lunch celebrated their presentation of the film FLYBOYS (starring Jean Reno, James Franco, and David Ellison among others) in Cannes and also the unveiling of their forthcoming slate. I spoke with David Ellison, one of the stars of FLYBOYS, and owner of the Rising Sun yacht. Here is a short excerpt of the script of our encounter (see: loss of gene for shame, above)
Me: "What an amazing boat. I think I may hide in that cabinet over there and stay on board forever."
David Ellison: "Yeah…it's my boat."
Cue the red cheeks …
I had a wonderful time aboard the Rising Sun - I ignored all calls to my cell phone (only to be greeted by the lovely voice of SFR telling me "you have 450 new messages" as I arrived back to shore later in the day) and was able to briefly escape the madness of the Palais and the Croisette. I can say without hesitation that I was absolutely the least important, poorest and youngest person aboard the yacht, but if inferiority always bring such happiness - in the form of a beautiful view, interesting company and gourmet food - I am game for a lifetime of underachieving…
Later that evening, I joined some of my colleagues from Le Film Français for dinner at La Cantine, a swank New York-esque restaurant in town, then met a friend at the Majestic Hotel where a private car (Sony's private car for the record) picked us up and escorted us to the Villa Khayat for Wild Bunch's party to celebrate the Cannes premiere of SOUTHLAND TALES, showing In Competition. The villa itself was extraordinary - I estimate around 400 million square feet (and to think I'd forgo a career in architecture or interior design!) for the edifice itself, but the party was spread out all over the premises, from poolside, to the dance floor, to nooks and crannies spread throughout the hilly back and side yards, to the large blow-up Bar Mitzvah-like jumping paraphernalia. There were girls in bikinis covered in slime dancing to my right, and Bai Ling shaking her groove thang to the left. Studio execs mingled with B-list American celebrities, Greek shipping heirs and a woman wearing the strangest white dress I've ever seen that took up about 20 square feet of dance floor space. I was in French movie nerd heaven as everywhere I turned I caught the gaze of A-list Gallic celebrities including Edouard Baer, Jean Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy (who were making out all over the place in a very un-French public display of drunken affections) and Guillaume Canet, aka the love of my life who momentarily rendered me speechless (a rare occurrence I might add) as his arm brushed mine as he left the bar area.
I then spent the rest of my visit mingling with the self-proclaimed "it boys" of Hollywood, Danny Masterson and Wilmer Valderrama. Though it was a bit odd to hear them speaking English after almost two years of watching "Zat Sevendeez Shoo" dubbed en français, we are definitely new best friends and I'm waiting to see a photo of our bonding session on the cover of US Weekly. Not to mention that I'm that much closer to finally consummating my love affair with Ashton Kutcher…
We took the Sony car back to Cannes and, unfortunately, back to reality … okay, not quite reality, read on …
May 22, 2006
After yet another day breaking human stress records, I closed the daily early, ran to my hotel to break human clothes-changing records and made it to the red carpet of the Palais to "monte les marches" for the world premiere of XMEN: THE FINAL STAND. Following my footsteps was director Brett Ratner who joined his all-star cast for a stroll down the most prestigious red carpet in the world. As if there weren't enough mutants on the Croisette, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn (with beau Jerry O'Connell in tow), Famke Janssen, Ian
McKellen, Shawn Ashmore, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer and Patrick Stewart all took a stand in front of the Palais to present the film. And what's a red carpet without Paris Hilton? Well, probably a classier red carpet but anyway, she was there and surprisingly wearing a dress that I admittedly adored, a Roberto Cavalli crystal studded dress with wide, flowy arms.
Though I had to struggle to keep my eyes open due to extreme festival-induced fatigue, the film was a welcome distraction of mindless entertainment and it was exciting to see the visuals on the huge screen in the Palais as the entire cast watched from below. While I enjoyed the first two films in the XMEN franchise much more thanks to deeper storylines, the third installment lacked a coherent plot, but the special effects were impressive and the A-list cast impossible not to love.
After the film, I made my way to the private, "invite-only" post-screening party at Le Baron in the Hotel 3/14 (yes, this time I actually had an invite). The entire cast was there and I joined them in the VIP section for some champagne (served in glasses with red lights on the bottom- très cool.) Halle Berry is even more beautiful up-close and Hugh Jackman is actually very tall (and, unfortunately, married) in person. I schmoozed with (also very cute, but dating
Michele Trachtenberg) Shawn Ashmore and (my future best friend in Paris this summer as previously announced) Brett Ratner, then was introduced to the almost-Mr. Paris Hilton, THE Paris Latsis who was rumored to be frolicking on his yacht with Lindsay Lohan all weekend,
but was in reality, conversing with yours truly. Again, the boy was teeny tiny in person - I've heard the camera adds ten pounds, does US Weekly add ten inches? What is with the ubiquity of shortness among the Hollywood in crowd? LA: Lilliputians Abound…
May 24, 2006
Before the festival began, I set goals for myself, namely: 1) to publish a high-quality magazine daily with no mistakes, 2) to meet interesting people from all over the world and 3) to walk the red carpet for the world premiere of Sofia Coppola's MARIE ANTOINETTE. However, I wasn't the only person with such an objective; tickets to the nighttime showing of MARIE ANTOINETTE were gradually becoming more coveted than the Palme d'Or as even members of Sony's elite team struggled to snag a seat to the screening. From the beginning of the week, I set out on Mission: Im-Coppola and, by May 24th I had secured a ticket. As The Cannes Market News daily had wrapped the night before, I was officially a free woman and could think of no better way to celebrate the end of one of the most stressful weeks of my life than letting myself eat cake with Princess Sofia and her muse. However, that afternoon I received a call from my boss telling me that he and I had been invited to a private dinner with Ivana Trump and that whatever plans I had for the evening should promptly be canceled. After a grueling wavering between my two options (all decisions should be this hard), I decided that I can always see the film in Paris, but that Ivana Trump may not indeed be inviting me to any of her private gatherings anytime in the foreseeable future. As the mysterious evening commenced, I arrived at the Majestic Hotel where a private car was waiting for us to drive us down the Croisette to the Pangea club on the beach. The swank leopard-print decorated lounge soon became a stomping ground for the fabulously wealthy (and me) as Ivana swept through the crowd to celebrate her birthday. At around midnight, my entourage and I (or rather my boss and his friends, but doesn't entourage have a nicer ring to it?) were famished (no wonder Ivana stays so fit at such an old age - the woman served nothing but finger food for smurfs all night) so we headed to the nearby Félix restaurant for some late-night grub. Along the way, we ran into Prince Fayed and a few other Saudi Arabian billionaires who invited us to dinner and regaled us with tales of their new "toys," namely jets, yachts and new shipping boats. It was a scene of world peace: nice Jewish girl from New Jersey breaking bread with Saudi princes. Can't we all just get along?
After a 2 AM 3-course dinner (definitely a nice change from the 3 AM street crèpes I am used to in Paris), we head to the "it" spot of the fest, Jimmy'Z where I danced all night alongside French stars such as Alain Chabat and Jean-Pierre Roussillon.
May 25, 2006
At around noon, I received the following phone call: "Hi Rebecca, We just bought a new yacht and want to take it for a spin. Are you up for lunch in St. Tropez?" Now, all of you who know me will know that I have spent the past 23 and a half years dreaming of a phone call like this. A Yacht? Lunch? St. Tropez? I soon jumped from Cloud 9 (where I'd been since my arrival in Cannes) to cloud 459. However, I'd been warned the night before by their client that - and I quote - "When Saudi princes ask a nice young girl onto their boat, she's not just going for a ride on their boat." Thus, as visions of the next day's NY Times headlines flashed through my head - "Nice Jewish Girl Disappears on Yacht with Arabian Billionaires" - I had to decline the invitation, but it was certainly the best trip I didn't go on in my life.
That night, I went to Hugh Hefner's 80th birthday bash, which took place (again!) at Pangea on the beach. Hugh and his girlfriends and many scantily clad women were present, and I left after about 10 of the trashiest, must unenjoyable minutes of my life and joined some friends at Le Baron for a fun night of dancing (in the company of actresses Jena Malone and Emilie Duquenne).
May 26, 2006
I spent the afternoon at the International Press Day for Guillermo Del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH. I met Guillermo and the cast, and entertained the international journalists as they waited around for their interview. That night, I attended the red carpet premiere of Xavier Giannoli's QUAND, J'ETAIS CHANTEUR. I had been anticipating this film as Giannoli is one of my favorite French directors, and the cast includes the ubiquitous Gérard Depardieu and the charmingly unique Cécile de France. The film is about an affair that develops between a down-on-his-luck ballroom singer (Depardieu) and a young estate agent (De France). The film is a typical Xiannoli, namely slow and deeply introspective, but it was an enjoyable romp through the French music hall scene and Depardieu is, well, Depardieu and what a smashing job he does at that. He's at his best in years. The chemistry between the two is surprisingly believable and de France displays once again her powerful on-screen presence.
After the screening, I dined at a restaurant on a hill in the Vieux Port called Le Machou. I have been to few restaurants more "French" than this one. The restaurant itself is small and charming and, were it not for the many Americans speaking loudly all around me who battle to the death to get a reservation in this popular Cannes eatery, I would have felt as if I were in a French farmer's kitchen. The menu isn't much more extensive than a meal on a budget airline, offering a choice between "poulet ou bœuf?" ("chicken or beef?"), but the experience is memorable and the food delicious. We started with complimentary glasses of sangria (or at least I think they were complimentary, it became hard to distinguish after a week of being offered food and drinks wherever I turned) and then toasted, buttered bread with dipping sauces. Then, they brought out a huge plate of ham and melon followed by the largest basket of crudités I have ever seen in my life. There was an entire farm before my eyes. Finally, they brought out my meal. When I ordered "the chicken," I really did order a whole chicken.
After the hearty meal, I went to the after-party for the Xiannoli film at the Carlton Beach. Again, I found myself in French movie nerd heaven as I danced with the very energetic Cécile de France and grooved next to Emmanuelle Béart. Sami Naceri was there, as was Tim Burton, Daniel Bruhl and Sandrine Bonnaire. I told Firmine Richard that I was her #1 American fan and she humble responded that I was probably her only American fan. (Sadly, she's probably right but I do love her subtle supporting performances in some of my favorite French films of all time).
May 27, 2006
I went to the red carpet premiere of Guillermo Del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH. The film is a darker, more gory Alice in Wonderland-type bildungroman that tells the story of a young girl who travels with her mother and adoptive father, a cruel Captain, to a rural area in the North of Spain in 1944 after Franco´s victory. The little girl lives in an imaginary world of her own creation to escape the horrors of her daily life and the post-war Fascist repression. Though I am usually turned off by such detailed blood and gore, I was captivated by the stunning visuals and unable to turn away from the screen even at the most gruesome moments. The fantastically realistic cinematography juxtaposed with powerful performances by talented Spanish actors including Sergi Lopez (who, in real life is a smiley, down-to-earth guy much unlike his cold, pitiless character in the film), the young Ivana Baquero and Maribel Verdu, make for a uniquely marvelous cinematic experience.
After the film, I headed to the post-party at the Carlton Beach where I danced with Del Toro and his wife, who were all smiles after receiving a long standing ovation after the screening. I chatted with Harvey Weinstein, had a glass of wine along the pier, then headed back to my hotel as I ended my run at the 59th Cannes Film Festival.
So I came, I climaxed midweek at incredible soirées and then it was suddenly all over, merely a distant memory. Though, once I've done it, I have to repeat the experience and hope to make it back to the Croisette for next year's milestone 60th Cannes Film Festival. Does anyone have a cigarette?
The Best of the Bests:
Best Quote: "Are you going to take our picture with that thing?"
-Sting, on my ghetto Elph digital camera when I went to take a picture of him at the First Look cocktail on the Majestic Hotel Terrace for the Cannes Market News.
Best Meal: Félix (a warm asparagus salad followed by some kind of scallops and shrimp with beans and veggies in one of the most delectable sauces my lips have ever touched, with fresh grain and olive bread and a strawberry-shortcake-like dessert - delectable)
Best Party: The Southland Tales bash hosted by Wild Bunch at the Villa Khayat
Best Drink: The Bellini at the Hotel Martinez bar
Best Film I saw: Pan's Labyrinth
Cécile de France
Samuel L. Jackson
Helena Bonham Carter
Guillermo Del Toro
Catalina Sandina Moreno
Francis Ford Coppola