Cannes was eerily quiet this morning. The festival’s first day was welcomed with a grey sky and light rain. The red carpet, carefully laid out the day before, sat soaked and bloated before the steps of the Palais. Only a handful of festival attendees ventured out onto the streets.
However, towards noon, inside the festival’s hub, journalists were elbowing for a prized seat at a press conference with the cast of Café Society, the opening film. Attention then shifted to the jury panel, who held their own session. The area around the building began buzzing with tourists and the curious. A small group gathered by the entrance, in evening glamour wear, with signs politely requesting a spare invitation to tonight’s opening ceremony.
The city shifts entirely around 5.30pm. Roads are closed around the festival area; crowds gather around the red carpet, lining the metal barriers. Countless security guards, in smart suits, stand on and around the Palais’ entrance. Journalists and camera crew take their positions. At 18.15, an hour before the ceremony begins, the music is turned on. Then there’s more waiting.
Attending a red carpet event as an ‘non-VIP’ is a codified affair requiring careful planning. First, one must obtain a ticket (called an ‘invitation’ in Cannes). These are usually handed out on the day itself by the Festival organisers or film industry trade unions. Where you request them depends on how you are registered with the event.
Then, there are two types: brown invitations, which requires the carrier to have a festival pass, or be accompanied by someone who has a festival pass; and blue invitations, which don’t require anything at all. How many invitations one obtains, and their type, depends of course on how important the festival considers you to be.
Reputation is typically impossible to measure. Interestingly, the festival attempts to codify it. Each pass it issues has a grade, represented by colour and design – and sometimes even its lanyard. Your pass rank determines your level of access to venues and events, and the ease by which you obtain invitation tickets. Of course, it also allows everyone to judge where on the film industry’s pecking order you stand.
The press is dealt a similar hand, whereby various pass colours allow journalists to jump queues, or attend given events.
Once the invitation for a red carpet screening is obtained, one needs to turn up attired according to the dress code. For men, it’s very strict: a tux, with a white shirt and black shoes (light stripes on a shirt and dark blue shoes would see you turned away, for instance). Women are only asked to dress formally.
While walking up the streets of Cannes to the Palais, well-dressed women will be followed and caught on camera by roving photographers (whether they like it or not). Once the pictures taken, the photographers will hand over a card, with the address of a printing shop where they can purchase the photos, should they wish. This random photography business doesn’t usually happen to men if they’re on their own, or groups of men only.
‘Non-VIPs’ are required to arrive about an hour in advance of the screening’s starting time. After going through several security gates, they wait outside by the Palais. When they are let in, they do get to walk through the carpet area (where again, bored press photographers will call out to women, asking them to pose, if they judge them to be well-dress enough. Many attendees also used to take selfies – but this is no longer allowed.) Once inside the building, there’s a rush to get a good seat.
Invitations specify which the area of the screening room you are allowed to go sit down in. Unless they’re involved with the film that is showing, ‘non-VIPs’ will be assigned to the balcony (some of the rows go quite far up, so it does matter as to whether you’ll get a good view). On the ground floor, there’s an area called ‘the VIP square’ – literally a square block of seats where celebrities are sat down.
Then, attendees will wait in the room, for forty minutes to half an hour, until the film casts arrives. When they walk into the theatre, there’s clapping and bowing for about five minutes, before everyone settles down. Throughout that time, a live-stream of the red carpet is shown on screen (though bizarrely, without sound).
And that’s how it all works!
Not much buzz regarding films yet – Café Society and Sieranevada had their press screenings, and there’ll be review summaries available tomorrow morning (My review of Café Society is here.) The opening ceremony had a rather awkward host in Laurent Lafitte. His speech was peppered with unpleasant jokes and mock interruptions (including Catherine Deneuve popping out of backstage to plant a kiss on his lips). Go figure. George Miller, Jury president made a speech, and the ceremonial ended with a tribute to Prince.
Tomorrow, Money Monster, Staying Vertical, and Sieranevada will have their official screenings.
Café Society, directed by Woody Allen (Not in competition)
Festival summary: New York in the 1930s. As he has more and more trouble putting up with his bickering parents, his gangster brother and the family jewelry store, Bobby Dorfman feels like he needs a change of scenery! So he decides to go and try his luck in Hollywood where his high-powered agent uncle Phil hires him as an errand boy. In Hollywood he soon falls in love but unfortunately the girl has a boyfriend. Bobby settles for friendship – up until the day the girl knocks at his door, telling him her boyfriend just broke up with her. All of a sudden Bobby’s life takes a new turn, and a very romantic one at that.
Rating: 6/10. Read our review here.
Staying Vertical, directed by Alain Giraudie (in competition)
Festival summary: Filmmaker Leo is searching for the wolf in the south of France. During a scouting excursion he is seduced by Marie, a free-spirited and dynamic shepherdess. Nine months later she gives birth to their child. Suffering from post-natal depression and with no faith in Leo, who comes and goes without warning, Marie abandons both of them. Leo finds himself alone, with a baby to care for. It’s not easy, but deep down, he loves it. Through a series of unexpected and unusual encounters, struggling to find inspiration for his next film, Leo will do whatever it takes to stay standing.
Sieranevada, directed by Cristi Puiu (in competition)
Festival summary: Three days after the terrorist attack on the offices of Parisian weekly Charlie Hebdo and forty days after the death of his father, Lary, a doctor in his forties is about to spend the Saturday at a family gathering to commemorate the deceased. But the occasion does not go according to expectations. Forced to confront his fears and his past, to rethink the place he holds within the family, Lary finds himself constraint to tell his version of the truth.
Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster (not in competition)
Festival summary: In the real-time, high stakes thriller Money Monster, George Clooney and Julia Roberts star as financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty, who are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor who has lost everything (Jack O’Connell) forcefully takes over their studio. During a tense standoff broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty must work furiously against the clock to unravel the mystery behind a conspiracy at the heart of today’s fast-paced, high-tech global markets.
Marion Koob is The Digital Fix’s Cinema Editor. She will be tweeting throughout the festival @marionkoob.
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