Glamour and Cannes go hand in hand. There is no other town on the Cote d’Azur which personifies all things French, glamorous and glitzy in the eyes of the world than the little resort town of Cannes — and the reason for this is, of course, the Cannes Film Festival.
The Added Attraction of the Festival
That’s not to say that Cannes wouldn’t have been glamorous without the festival. Cannes has the typical glamour you’d expect from any other French Riviera town; luxurious villas with sweeping view of the Cote d’Azur; well-heeled vacationers swishing by in fancy cars; lush bodies tanning topless on the beach; and expensively-dress dressed men and women promenading along the boulevards. Like most of the Riviera, Cannes is where the rich people of the world go for a fashionable holiday, with the toys, baubles and arm-candy to match. Even the retirees here are a bit more dashing then their dumpier counterparts in the north; the wrinkles better concealed, the clothes a little tighter, the hair dyes a little brighter!
Still, typical French Riviera charm notwithstanding, you can’t mention glamour and Cannes in the same sentence without, at some point, also mentioning the famous Cannes Film Festival. It is this event which gives Cannes that added luster. If Nice or Monaco were to rank 10 on the ‘glamour scale’ for simply being Riviera towns, then Cannes would rank 24586 for having the added attraction of the Festival, which has transformed a beautiful but otherwise unremarkable French Riviera resort into an international codeword for glitz, decadence, avant-garde films and round the clock partying.
History of the Festival
The Cannes Film Festival is an institution today, but it may never have existed without the blundering of the much older Venice Film Festival. In 1939, Italy was under the sway of Mussolini and the Italian film committee, for rather obvious reasons, chose to present the Golden Lion (then known as the Coppa Mussolini) to the film Luciano Serra, Pilota, made by Mussolini’s own son. The French, having been in the running for that honour, were outraged and together with the British and Americans, withdrew from the competition in protest.
The fed-up French then decided to stage their own festival and began scouting for a location. Officially, Cannes was picked because of its sunny and enchanting location; unofficially, the town had been picked because it agreed to come up with the moolah to built a dedicated venue for the event.
Thus every year, a glittering who’s who list of the international film industry descend on the Le Palais des Festivals (the donut shaped building in the picture). Sited on a peninsula between the Old Port and the famous Croisette beach, the Palais is home to all things glamorous for ten days in May, and a world-class convention centre during the rest of the year. The walkways around the centre have inlaid handprints, in the same fashion as Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, but with a more international roll-call. A short walk around will bring up dozens of recognizable names from as far back as the 80s. This look back at history makes for an interesting counterpoint to the deluge of tourists, participants, big-name directors and bigger-name stars in May.
The people at the Festival
In the early days, the festival was largely an event for the tourists and socialites, who mostly preferred to spend their time attending parties rather than premiers. Well, actually, that hasn’t changed much — many socialites today still descend on the town for a whirlwind of partying. In May, many of the hotels and luxury villas are busy catering to the whims and fancies of society’s high flyers, and there’s never a better time to see subtle back-biting and extravagant events than when a herd of socialites try to outdo each other for the grandest do. Films? What films?
Today, the tourists also tend to be somewhat uninterested in the films onscreen, since the festival itself is mostly a private affair requiring invitations. Given the running joke of the festival — “oh, which film premier did you fall asleep at?” and similar — its probably not too much of a loss. Most tourists would rather crowd the red carpet, getting a glimpse of their favourite stars.
In between the social climbers and the star-spotters however are the true festival participants, the hectic movie buyers and promoters and all the other characters who do the largely thankless work of getting this year’s Big Thing onto the international screens. In between the air-kissing celebrities and the swanning socialites, they’ll be the ones in jeans and t-shirts, running around with cellphones in hand, alternating between frantic frenzy and exultant celebration.
Star-spotting at the Festival
One of the most popular activities during the festival is, of course, to see what everyone one is wearing. In time honoured movie-star fashion, the actress (no one cares what the men wear) showing the most flesh will always get the most coverage, so there tend to be lots of sexily under-clad starlets every year! This being France, and stars being stars, its not surprising that there is an element of sex to add a touch of spice to the glamour. Prudes can lay the blame at French starlet Simone Sylva’s door. In 1954, Sylva was the first actress to display her considerable assets on the nearby Croisette beach for the benefit of the camera; the news of the disrobing made the international news, and coupled with Bridgette Bardot’s bikini-clad romps on the beach a few years later, changed the (once thoroughly respectable) atmosphere of the film festival forever.
Incidentally, star-gazing and other celebrity sports is at its best around the scenic LA Croisette area, where there are over a dozen extraordinary restaurants with outdoor seating on picturesque docks jutting out into the sea. Here, the famous, the powerful or the merely rich sun themselves while consuming the best food in the city. Fortunately, not all the restaurants are outrageously posh — there are plenty to choose from, and suited to all budgets — but be advised, whichever restaurant you choose, the price will virtually double if you want a good outdoor table on the docks!
Visiting Cannes during May
Of course, unless you happen to be there specifically for the Film Festival (and there are plenty of festival groupies), May probably isn’t a good time to go. During the festival, a million people and their dogs cram into the tiny streets and plazas of the town, with plenty more driving in from further away. May also sees a huge spike in the number of pickpocketing and petty theft incidences reported to the police, for obvious reasons, so visitors are advised to be cautious, even when busy gawking at the stars.
During May, many hotels, restaurants and other venues are often booked for years in advance. If you do want to stop by the city in Cannes, your best bet would be to wangle an invite from someone connected to someone at the festival; otherwise, be very sure to triple-confirm your have accommodations!