It’s only been five days and already I feel like a resident of the seaside community of Juan-Les-Pins. I wake up around five a.m., drink my Starbucks instant, which I heat in a mini electric kettle, take my shower with my sweet-smelling French shampoo, and am dressed and out the door by 7:15 a.m., giving me more than enough time to make my way leisurely down to the Palais du Festival. One of the problems I confront every day is where to park.
The truth is, any person with common sense would never rent a car to work the Cannes Film Festival. You either find a place in town or you take the train or the bus. But I have no common sense. That is why I am paying for a rental car, rental car insurance, gas and on many days, parking. The only reason I’m renting a car, other than sheer stupidity, is that my daughter is staying with me and I need to be able to get to her if I have to. So I’ll pay through the nose for peace of mind.
Determined to cut off one piece of the financial catastrophe I’m creating, I decided I would try to find a parking place. As it happened, I did wind my way up the backstreets and found a street with plenty of places to park, only a 10-minute walk from the Palais. Problem solved. The next day I returned and there were no empty places. So far, I’ve only had one free parking day.
Now that I arrive at the Palais so much earlier, I have come to witness a different side of Cannes. Walking down the still-dewy streets on the way in to “work,” the breath from last night’s activities still hangs in the air. Women stumble out of doorways dangling their tiny sweaters over their shoulder as they click-clack their high heels towards a taxi, their own story of the night before now theirs to keep but ours to imagine.
Night clubs still have a faintly beating heart, with guests emerging in the light of day, their hair flattened by sweat, cigarettes still at the ready. Some of them don’t seem to realize the night has come to an end and it’s time for the shopkeepers and civilians of Cannes to start their day.
As the day begins to take shape, the grounds are covered with festival-goers, few of them locals. Sidewalks fill up with overdressed women and the men they’re dragging along.
The day’s activities are made even worse if there happens to be a big star event in town, as there was on Saturday when Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane brought "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" to Cannes.
The appearance of Depp caused such a frenzy, you’d have thought it was the president himself. When most stars arrive, one can sit in the wi-fi room and capture them as they make their way to the press conference from the photo call. It’s a great way to catch them unaware. But because Depp is such a worldwide phenomenon, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of him from that vantage point. This caused much upset in the wi-fi room among the paparazzi, who hate being told what to do.
Somehow, with all of the celebrating around the mere appearance of Depp, Cruz, McShane, Rob Marshall and Jerry Bruckheimer, everyone forgot that they were bringing "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" to the film festival, probably the worst film that will show here. But it doesn’t matter, because a high point in Cannes is a high point in Cannes. There isn’t time for perspective. There is only the here and the now, and right here and right now a gorgeous movie star was strolling our way.
When Depp finally did make it up the stairs and down the walk where we could look upon him like an exotic zoo animal, his beautiful countenance did not disappoint. A sturdy build, a square jaw and that certain something that’s been earning him multi-millions for years – yes, movie stars are easy to spot. They’re the ones with the perfectly symmetrical faces and an aura of endless watchability.
In the movie “Teenage Paparazzi,” the observation was made that primates like to spend time watching the best-looking among them (if you can imagine a best-looking chimp or gorilla). Our great ape ancestry has continued the tradition. We like looking at pretty people. And as far as pretty people go, Depp is one of the most alluring. Penelope Cruz, not looking her best in the Pirates movie, is also a heartstopper.
It wasn’t so bad at first. But the day turned into a hellish nightmare as the time for the "Pirates" gala neared. People clogged the Croisette, reserving their spot to catch sight of the stars. The police were out in force, blowing their whistles, guiding us back onto the sidewalks and blocking easy access to the Lumiere.
Back in Los Angeles we’re kind of used to seeing celebrities, so much so that one forgets when they make public appearances it can be an almost religious experience. We’re trained to exist among them. We know that we must pretend not to look at them, never take their picture, try to make any sudden movements for fear of scaring them off – and whatever you do, never ask them to get you a job and never tell them that they’re not as pretty as you were expecting them to be.
But here in Cannes, they are placed high atop the red staircase – they are gods. We put them there. We need them to be there. They serve the festival well and have for six decades. When people think of the Cannes Film Festival, they rarely think of the unusual, daring films that play here – films that are judged on their quality first, profitability last.
It's no easy feat, finding one’s way out of the labyrinth of star worship on the Croisette: bodies pressing up against one another, shoving, pushing and never granting adequate space to anyone. What was once a haven for great cinema is now transformed into a full-blown Hollywood publicity machine. But Cannes needs the big fish occasionally, just as it needs its steady diet of great filmmaking from all over the world. They walk the red carpet and the cameras flicker in a flashbulb frenzy and it will draw the world’s attention to the Cannes Film Festival.
But I was glad to be out of there, moving quickly through the backstreets, away from the frenzy, back to the parking garage where my ridiculously expensive vehicle waited for me. As I drove towards the exit, I once again felt like a commuter, finished with a day’s work, leaving it far, far behind.
I drove out of the parking garage and landed in bumper-to-bumper, 405-like traffic. Who were all of these commuters leaving Cannes? What they do? Where did they live? Did they see it as a fantasy world, too? Did they have a real life to get back to?
I did. I would fetch my daughter and take a sunset stroll to downtown Juan-Les-Pins, where the French were settling in for their pre-dinner drink. They were watching the sunset. The French, they know how to live.