Cannes You Handle It? – A Diary of My Time at the 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival

Jim Keller

The 71st Annual Cannes Film Official Poster

It has been a lifelong dream of mine to cross the famous Promenade de la Croisette of the Cannes Film Festival. So when my husband, Dom, and I were planning our trip to Europe last year, we made sure that the dates coincided with those of the festival to ensure we could at least be in the presence of festival—even if we wouldn’t be able to attend any film screenings. What follows is an account of how we were able to attend it and what our experience was.

Step 1 – Accreditation

In February, we came across two helpful blogs: Best of Nice and Almost Ginger, which confirmed that we had a few options to actually attend some of the screenings. For one, we could apply for accreditation as a “Cannes Cinephile”. Second, we could purchase tickets to films that screen in the Director’s Fortnight and International Critic’s Week sections of the festival. Finally, if all else failed, we could simply park it on the beach and take in a selection or two from the Cannes “Cinema on the Beach” program. It seemed clear that the right path was accreditation, so we applied right away because the window was already open, and a few short weeks later we both were granted accreditation! It’s important to note that only 1,000 non-French citizens are granted this level of accreditation. As our trip drew nearer, the Official Selection was announced, followed by the schedule, and we set to work identifying the films that we wanted to see. In retrospect, we were naïve to think that we might be able to access some of the festival’s bigger offerings, but I digress. All along we had managed our expectations—even with our accreditation, we were excited just to have the opportunity to be there in the thick of it all. After all, the festival is primarily an event for critics, the press, and other industry professionals involved in everything from pitching films to acquisition and distribution.

 The Red Carpet (left) and tickets (right).

Step 2 – Transportation Musical Chairs

Spring in France is often fraught with transportation strikes affecting both regional trains and flights. Unfortunately, this year was no different but thanks to Twitter updates on the strikes, we could adjust our schedule accordingly. When all was said and done, we made several changes to the number of days we would stay in Nice once we received our accreditation, and our trip began in Berlin on May 4. But when we were gearing up to leave Berlin, we received notice that our Air France flight had been canceled and that we had been rebooked on a flight that was not scheduled to arrive in Nice until midnight. Not cool! We already had to be up at the crack of dawn to take the 40-minute train ride to Cannes; there was no way that we could lose nine hours in Nice. Luckily, I rebooked us on a flight that arrived in Nice at 6pm, whew!

Cinema on the Beach

The Red Carpet and LED Display

Step 3 – The Mad Dash

Our hotel was conveniently located behind the famous Hotel Negresco that sits on the Promenade des Anglais, and so it was a quick (15 minutes or so) walk to the train station. Here are some notes from the train:
“We’re up early to catch the train to Cannes from Nice. After a good night’s sleep, we are looking forward to all that Cannes has to offer. A quick walk up the street brought us to the Gare de Ville where we waited in line and purchased our roundtrip tickets for both days. The blue ticket machines were impossible to navigate—even with a little blog help. Some pictures of la mer et le soleil from the train along with a light breakfast of oeufs et des riz and we are more than ready for our day to begin! Next: Procure our badges!”

8:40 a.m. –

After running around like mad men, we found the Pontiero side and are safely waiting in line at the Cannes Cinephile tent to pick up our registration.

 9:05 a.m. –

Success! We scored free tickets to two screenings:
Rendez-vous with Ryan Coogler at Salle Buñuel (Palais) at 4:00 p.m. and 10 Years Thailand, the latest from Thai director Aphichatpong Weerasethakul at 7:00 p.m. at the Salle Du Soixantième. Afterwards we scurried over to the Marriot to score tickets for Les Confins De Monde by Guillaume Nicloux at 11:45 a.m. and then to the Miramar to try for tickets for the 3:00 p.m. screening of Paul Dano’s premiere Wildlife, but were told we don’t need tickets with a badge. Curiously enough, the guards at Theatre Croisette (Marriott) told us it is better to have tickets (blue line) than Cinephile access (green line) so we are calling their bluff and waiting in green.

While Dom held our place in line, I grabbed a quick bite at a nearby café on the Croisette: a continental breakfast consisting of tea, orange juice, a baguette with butter and strawberry jam—delish.

11:12 a.m. –

Well, we’re inside the Theatre Croisette! When the crowd began to move, we realized quickly that the ticketed line was given priority (as the guard had said), and after a suggestion from a fellow Cinephile, we ducked under the cords that separated the line and into the ticketed line. In we went! SUCCESS!

First Film: Les Confins De Monde by Guillaume Nicloux – 11:45 a.m. Theatre Croisette

The film follows Robert Tassen (Gaspard Ulliel) from 1945-1946 as he seeks Vo Binh, who is responsible for killing his family. Along the way he meets and falls in love with a Vietnamese prostitute (Lang-Khê Tran) and develops a friendship with a writer (Gérard Depardieu). The film has several awkward transitions and skips along rather unevenly. It also has a very unresolved ending. What’s more, the gunshots in the battle scenes sounded  very cheap and there is too much focus on the male sex organ—from talking about it to showing it.

I appreciate the gay character, but the idea of it was introduced too late in the film to hold any real weight. The relationship with the writer is unestablished. After the film, several cast members, including Ulliel and Tran, came out for a Q&A.

1:45 p.m. –

I joined Dom in line to try to get into the 3pm screening of Paul Dano’s Wildlife, we’ll see!

After we failed to get into Wildlife, which I’ve since learned is amazing, with a particularly strong performance by Carey Mulligan in the leading role, we decided to take some photos on the opposite side of the Croisette while making our way slowly to Salle Buñuel for the Rendez-Vous with Ryan Coogler. When we finally found the theater, we were told by a woman that there were a ton of people queuing for the event upstairs. I wanted to at least have the experience of trying to get in the Buñuel, so Dom and I forged ahead. But Dom became anxious about the bag checks because he had his food and didn’t want to throw it out so we agreed to meet at the gate where the Salle Du Soixantième was visible from. It wasn’t like I had a chance to get in anyway, right? WRONG!

Once through the security, I decided to take the elevator up as opposed to the escalator because I figured that people would be queuing in them. I stepped in the elevator, and after a stop or two, a young woman exclaimed “This elevator is so slow!” I turned to her, recognizing her as another English-speaking American, and we probably had but a minute or two to chat when the doors opened onto the 5th floor. We stepped out together and were trying to get our bearings on where we should be when people started running (presumably from the escalators). She grabbed my hand and said “Come on, we’re getting in. I’ll use my face if nothing else.” It was the Cannes Film Festival’s version of “Come with me if you want to live!”

Before I knew it, I was being pulled through the crowd, and though a woman behind me protested, straight into the Salle Buñuel with nary a security guard asking either of us for anything. Once the door was open with the frenzied crowd, it couldn’t be closed. We found some seats following a run-in with a young security guard who was trying to explain that the reserved seat sign on one seat meant the entire row was reserved. I kept apologizing for my newfound friend, who was fearless and uninterested in jumping through anyone’s hoops. Once seated, we became fast friends and learned that we would be in Paris at the same time (also in Le Marais) and that we both lived in New York City

We were both planning to take a few photos and take off within 20 mins. So, after a litany of famous people were announced and revealed themselves, including The Weeknd, and Ryan Coogler and his wife, we began plotting our exit. Ubha, as she was named, said that we had no choice but to duck down as we walked between the slightly elevated stage and the seats where The Weeknd was sitting. It was another “Come with me if you want to live!” moment, but this time I had my doubts. I was certain that if I followed her, I would be lambasted by security. So, we said a bit of a sad goodbye (but not before Ubha had taken my contact info), and I watched as Ubha made her way between the stage and disappeared through the far exit unscathed. I shrugged, took a deep breath and followed suit. Once outside, I looked feverishly for Ubha and found her going down the escalator. I shouted “Ubha!” She turned with a smile and we were reunited. Inside, Ubha decided to join me to meet up with Dom. We met him at the designated spot and began chatting. Ubha mentioned that she wanted to stop by the Scandinavian location and before we could join her, we saw a demonstration on Muay Thai kickboxing (from the Thai delegation at Cannes). One woman held a pad while another woman kicked it high over her head twenty times! Pretty cool stuff. Ubha had to jet but said she’d be in touch.

Next up, we headed to Salle Du Soixantième for 10 Years Thailand, which ended up being four short films created by Weerasethakul along with three other Thai directors. Before the screening, I met Niger, a gay writer from the U.K. He told me that Wildlife was a masterpiece and that it was his favorite film so far of the festival. Because we had a lot of time, I ended up chatting with him and another woman who worked with distributors to bring films to Bermuda. For the first time at the festival, I really got a good grasp on just how much of an industry event it is.

Anyway, the three of us chatted about films, actors, actresses, the industry, and even Trump and Brexit. It really was fascinating to get the foreigner’s perspective on all these things, and especially on Trump. I was also able to impart my knowledge of films that premiered in New York (and Los Angeles) that Dom and I had already seen: Annihilation and Disobedience, and was able to give the woman the tip on Hereditary doing well because she mentioned her difficulty in securing several films for screening in Bermuda.

I said goodbye to my two new pals when the press line started to enter and returned to my ever-patient Bunny (my pet name for Dom) waiting in the Cinephile ticket line just around the corner.

Second Film: 10 Years Thailand by Aditya Assarat, Wisit Sasanatieng, Chatayarna Sriphol, and Aphichatpong Weerasethakul – 7:00 p.m. Salle Du Soixantième

As I mentioned, the film was a collection of shorts and all the directors were on hand to present the film. In fact, they filed past the four of us (we sat with Niger and the woman from Bermuda).

2a: The first is a film about how art is monitored by the authorities in Thailand and about the difficulty of putting oneself out there altogether. There were two arcs, one: the plight of an artist to display her work in a local, hip gallery, and two: the difficulty faced by a local soldier in disclosing his true feelings about a female friend. I quite liked the film for its simplicity and restraint. It was very interesting to see a contemporary view of Thailand.

2b: The second film is set in a world where creatures with feline heads and mannerisms wear human clothing and walk on hind legs. These creatures have one objective that we know of: to track and kill their prey (humans). But in this world, one human has found a way to disguise himself among them, even participating in the rituals of howling and throwing stones at suspected humans. This human is unwittingly lured into a trap that leads to his own demise. The film touches on themes of kindness to strangers and the plight of the outsider. It’s also a film that fits snugly next to the first.

I should say now that where the first two short films were easily palatable, the next two were increasingly less so. Therefore, they are more difficult to describe.

2c: The third film is set in a world where a regal looking woman controls everything around her, literally with the touch of a button. At least, that is what we are led to believe by the filmmaker from the outset. What follows is a world that works according to the clockwork dictated (presumably) by the regal woman, where children carry other children around a track, the same children are indoctrinated into a society similar to the Boyscouts of America, where once in, they are taught a chant: “Thumbs up!” In the chant, they slap their chests with one hand, draw it out in front of them, and make the “thumbs up” sign—perhaps a comment on social media “liking” culture? The world is disrupted when the woman presses the pause button on a smart phone device, which also stops the music of the film. Up to this point, the film is fairly easy to follow, but the film takes off in a very trippy direction and it impossible for me to describe everything that happens. But needless to say, it becomes trippier and trippier as it progresses.

At this point, I’ll pause to say that the theatre this entire time had no A/C and people began to take notice as their attention waned.

2d: As I mentioned, the films became progressively difficult to follow but none more than the last film. Here, traditional Thai music mingles with the sounds of a marching band (offscreen) while the camera focuses on a statue. The marching band remains off camera the entire film, and aside from the obvious focus on the leader and a few quips from locals hanging around the spot where the statue is, there is no real through line to the film. This, combined with the heat, caused many people to walk out, including the woman from Bermuda.

Afterwards, we reconvened with Niger for the rest of the evening, chatting and learning all he has learned from ten years covering the festival. We got to see the red carpet come alive during one of the premieres that evening from several feet away, tucked safely behind a barricade with everyone else. But thanks to the enormous LED display, it was easy to see who was walking down the stairs and making their debut on the Croisette. We also got to see the chairs being setup for “Cinema on the Beach”. At around 9pm we took the train back to Nice with Niger, where we discussed any number of things, least of all politics.

The next day, because we had experienced a full day at Cannes the day before, we decided to catch one film in the morning and then head back to Nice to walk the Promenade des Anglais and Old Nice. Not being enthused with the slate of Cannes Classics tickets available to us from the Cinephile office, we opted instead to buy tickets to the Director’s Fortnight screening of Joueurs by Marie Monge.

Third Film: Joueurs by Marie Monge – 11:45 a.m. Theatre Croisette:

The film follows Ella (Stacy Martin) who helps run her father’s restaurant. Here, she hires Abel (Tahar Rahim) as a server. Abel, a staple in the cosmopolitan Paris underground circle of gambling, including extreme sports and organized crime, turns Ella onto a life where adrenaline and money prevail. Soon Ella’s life is turned upside-down as she falls deeper (in love and trouble) with Abel; she even turns on her own family. The film chugs along at a clip until the third act, which sees at least three opportunities to end the film, but regrettably passes them by. With that said, it was one of the better films we caught at the Festival.

Thank you for sharing in my experience. There certainly is a lot more that I could say, such as how I more than likely saw Jessica Chastain and Fan Bing Bing in Nice being ushered into a van outside of the Negresco Hotel, or how we got denied entry into a screening of Christophe Honoré’s Plaire, Aimer et Courir Vite, but those stories will have to wait for another time.

Next month, For Your Consideration returns with a look at some of the performances to look out for this year as the Oscar race inches closer.