The climax of the Cannes Film Festival, at least from this American’s point of view, was yesterday’s screening and gala for Terrence Malick’s "The Tree of Life."
It started out being the most anticipated title, and it ended up being the most talked about and the most “important” film to screen here. Some might even describe the 64th annual festival as, “there was 'The Tree of Life' and there was everything else.”
But the night before the 8:30 a.m. screening, my podcasting partner Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com sent me a text: “I’m on a train to Juan-les-Pins. Let’s record the podcast from out there,” he said.
I was in my pajamas with my second glass of wine, laptop resting on my thighs, my daughter also on her computer. For us, the night would have ended in about one hour from that moment. But we knew if Jeff Wells was coming to Juan-les-Pins, it was time to get ready.
The next minute I got another text: “The train overshot Juan-les-Pins, so I’m in Antibes. It’s pretty here. We’ll find a place to record here.”
I knew that by “find a place,” he meant ask someone if we can use their wi-fi.
So we threw on our clothes, I grabbed my computer bag, and we headed out into the night.
We met in the tourist section of Antibes, Picasso’s old haunt, which is much prettier than I’d imagined. Cobblestone streets, a giant harbor, the Picasso museum — Antibes has everything you could want in a quickie getaway from the madness around the Croisette.
But we couldn’t find wi-fi anywhere.
So we did what the French do: we had some more wine and wandered around Antibes. We figured we’d record back at our hole-in-the-wall hotel. The sun was low in the sky, draping the seaside town in a sheet of golden light. This little city seemed to know how the light would fall on it and was built in tribute to it.
(The podcast can be accessed through Hollywood Elsewhere.)
The next evening was the "Tree of Life" gala.
If Johnny Depp’s appearance at the Croisette for "Pirates of the Caribbean" was like a cameo from the President of the United States, one might say Brad and Angelina’s presence was more along the lines of the second coming of Christ.
Brad Pitt himself nearly shut things down when he appeared solo for the photo call and press conference.
But everyone knew Angelina Jolie was going to dress up and come to the gala that night. Cars lined up for miles as fans packed into Cannes. They crowded the street, climbed up on benches, stood for hours in the blazing hot sun all to catch a glimpse of two very beautiful primates.
For the fun of it, I’d dragged my daughter out for the night so she could get a look at how it all works down here in Cannes when a celebrity makes such an appearance.
On TV, everything looks so much bigger than it is: the red carpet seems to go on forever, and Cannes appears like a giant, impossible city – something like Miami Beach, maybe.
But when you are here, it is much smaller. Maybe more like Santa Barbara. The red carpet outside the Lumiere is only about one block long, if that.
When Pitt finally arrived, the crowd heaved in his direction, as if he gave off such a force of magnetism it seemed to lift the crowd momentarily, like a heat pocket.
He smiled and waved.
The nobodies with their point-and-shoots up in the air, their faces sculpted into masks of ecstasy, maybe did feel like they were having a real experience with Brad Pitt. His radiance was one thing, but it was Angelina who drew audible gasps from the swell of people.
Each time she turned her perfectly symmetrical, wide-jawed-doe-eyed face in their direction it was like seeing, well, a double rainbow.
Brad! Angelina! Brad! Angelina! They called their names and when they did, Brad was “the nice one” who would wave in the general direction.
All the while a giant TV screen let the people see them up close. Two beautiful, elusive stars captured in memory for the briefest of moments might amount to all the magic left in this world to a few of the waiting and the watching.
After the stars went inside the crowd dispersed, better for having glimpsed two of God’s finest creations.
My daughter and I spent some time in the sand, out by the dock behind the Cannes film fest. With auspicious timing, the full moon rolled out a shimmering carpet from the horizon to our feet, where the waves lapped the shore.
That's a pageant Cannes hosts year-round, whether there are movie stars or not, whether there are twinkly lights blinking at us from the yachts in the bay, whether there are lit-up buildings with hard-working journalists typing and photo editing into the night.
People were just starting to find their seats for that night’s cinema “sur la plage,” or on the beach.
If you wonder where all the romance for going to movies has gone – it's moved to the beaches of Cannes. It is an exclusive experience, of course. It’s not for the masses. But it should be. They’re the ones who need it most.
After "The Tree of Life" had its gala premiere, the stars once again made their way out and down the red-carpeted stairs into the waiting limos. Once again, it was difficult for those on the fringes to get any worthy photos of Brad and Angie. Maybe they aren’t meant to be so casually caught, but only to be admired and longed for from afar, like fireflies.
With just one more day left before we must leave, the Cannes Film Festival has once again left its mark on me. The mistakes I’ve made will fade in memory and the nostalgia will remain for this beautiful place, which enters your senses and leaves its physical traces, like a lover you can still smell, taste and feel for days afterwards.
The thing about Cannes, though, is that no matter what you’re doing at night, whether it's chasing down a podcast or playing paparazzi with movie stars, you still have to set that alarm and wake up again the next day. You still have to keep your eyes wide open for that 8:30 a.m. screening. It feels like it will never stop. Until, of course, it must.
More of Sasha Stone's Cannes coverage, including a longer version of this post, can be found at Awards Daily.
(Photos by Sasha Stone)