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"Hollywood is a place where people from Iowa mistake each other for stars."  -Fred Allen
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The stars parading up the red carpet at Cannes deliver the requisite Glam Factor, wearing the latest creations with the shiniest baubles; diamonds with black, diamonds with red... it all works wonders. But from the frocks to the rocks, it’s mostly all hired; not, of course, from the local rent-a-gown, but from the likes of Valentino, Dior, Chanel, Lagerfeld, Chopard and Bvlgari. But it’s the limitless array of people, not just their outfits, that makes Cannes such a voyeur’s paradise, reports Louise Keller.

This has been one of the buzziest Cannes in recent years, replete with films, stars (in gowns and jewels, mostly diamonds, darling), stunts, crowds and the famous Cote d’Azur sunshine evident during most of the festival (bar one sodden evening). The famous Hotel Carlton façade is decked with Star Wars banners, along with those of the enticingly named Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and an oversized Chopard watch set at an angle displays the time. Time is a useful commodity here, alerting film-lovers and buyers alike the next film is about to start. Queues are as long as ever, stretching in snake fashion along the already crowded sidewalks. Security is tight and the many screenings are full - for the festival, director’s fortnight and the market, where buyers flock to make their selection. Then there are the 3,000 odd members of the world’s media who blend in with the crowd (or not) and you would be hard-pressed to turn around without seeing a camera.

"an abundance of that French Riviera je ne sais quoi"

There is an abundance of that French Riviera je ne sais quoi. The nightly red carpet with the glamour, the stars and the myriad of flashing cameras are only a part of the festival. Crowds flock and they are not disappointed. Stars pop in and out, adding sparkle to the already dazzling tiara that is Cannes. Opening night film Lemming stars Charlotte Rampling and Charlotte Gainsbourg flaunt the red carpet in their designer gowns (a higher class of hire wear) with director Dominic Moll and jury members Catherine Deneuve, Dennis Hopper, Alexander Payne and Carole Bouquet. Scarlett Johanssen’s name is on everyone’s lips; she is excited to be here, she says, and is suitably coiffed with blonde hair swept back for Match Point premiere. Director Woody Allen looks about as excited as Woody Allen can look, standing beside his young, also po-faced wife. At the Chopard reception at Nikki Beach, all eyes rest on Soon Yi Previn’s extravagant diamond necklace (another bijou on loan), although Johansson’s entrance seemed to unsettle one of the waiters, who lets champagne glasses slip. Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Emily Mortimer are also here for the film.

In anticipation of their upcoming first feature-length animated feature, Wallace and canine friend Gromit make an appearance on the beach with creator Nick Park, after which a 30 foot balloon is released high into the sky. Viggo Mortensen, in town for A History of Violence, is keen to practice his French, and looks every bit the Hollywood star with an impressive handlebar moustache. He learnt his French in Canada, he says, as did director David Cronenberg, who was here in 1999 as Jury President. Speaking of moustaches, Vincent Lindon, star of the superb the French film La Moustache, about a man who is perturbed when his wife and friends fail to notice when he shaves off his moustache, no longer has one; he is clean shaven. 

"not insecure about his sexuality"

Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon are in town for Where The Truth Lies, while Matt Dillon looks in far better shape in real life than he does on the screen in his highly enjoyable new quirky, black comedy Factotum (from Kitchen Stories director Bent Hamer), in which he plays a writer who supports his love affair with the bottle and a string of women by taking all kinds of jobs. Bill Murray is here for Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, Danny Glover and Bryce Dallas Howard for Lars Von Trier’s Manderlay, as well as Benicio Del Torro, Javier Bardem, Morgan Freeman, Jackie Chan, Willem Dafoe, Charles Aznavour, Gael Bernal Garcia, Tommy Lee Jones, Juliette Binoche, Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant and Sharon Stone. Vincent Cassell looks confident, wearing the kind of hair style more commonly seen on women: pulled back into a headband and fluffed out in a bouffant-like bunch. Obviously a man who is not insecure about his sexuality. 

A loud thunderstorm interrupts the Wolf Creek press conference after the screening and director Greg Mclean and star Cassandra Magrath find it difficult to remember to wait for the French translation before answering questions from the gathered media. 

No shortage of glamour with Salma Hayek – in black and red, with sizzling red lipstick - on the jury, and Bollywood Beauty Aishwarya Rai is here as an ambassador for cosmetics giant L’Oreal. Speaking of which, Cannes is the prime battleground for the latest and biggest ad campaigns for the scent of the woman: Charlize Theron’s goldy locks and sensual face is splashed on posters almost everywhere for J’Adore by Dior. And everywhere else, it’s Nicole Kidman’s face in that famously extravagant ad by Baz Luhrmann, promoting Chanel 5.

Caught up with cinematographer Chris Doyle rushing down the Croisette, enthusiastic about his next project, and with Variety’s Henry Deas III on the steps of the elegant Carlton Terrace, where everyone who is anyone meets to make a deal. It was here that George Lucas signed the deal for Star Wars 34 years ago.

"glamour-pusses in frocks that have been sprayed on"

Ran into international publicist Lucius Barre with director Johnny To in tow, after a dinner in Rue Mace. They are on their way to 10pm screening for To’s Competition film Election, and the aroma from his ginormous cigar blends in perfectly with the mélange of Cannes nightlife. The restaurants are jumping, and for people watchers, this is sheer heaven. Nowhere in the world is it so natural to see the ultra chic alongside the funky and mega casual. There’s an elegantly dressed man pushing a bicycle, glamour-pusses in frocks that have been sprayed on, trendy gals in short-short dresses and clunky boots and elegance on stilettos. There are tall, medium and short men with conservative, outlandish and bohemian airs. No-one takes a second look at the girl wearing an orange top, lolly pink mini-skirt and a tiara in her purple hair. All nationalities have representation: from Algeria to Venezuela. There are some countries I’ve never even heard of. The largest representation is from France of course – and there is a dedicated television channel for Cannes footage, with daily coverage that includes press conferences, panel chats and red-carpet close-ups. 

Drinks with Australian producer Al Clarke on The Grand Terrace are a welcome interlude. We watch the sensational aerobatics by low flying jets zooming overhead, leaving their tri-colour trails of red, white and blue smoke behind them. The French Air Force has got in on the action to promote Gerard Pires’ Euro23 million action film Sky Fighters, starring Benoit Magimel, Clovis Cornillac, Geraldine Pailhas and Alice Taglioni. As the jets approach, there’s a rumble like an earthquake, followed by the roar of the jets plus the crowd as the five jets whiz past. Even the blase pigeons are impressed, knocking over some wine glasses on the adjacent table in a confused flutter.

Dinner with F&ME producers Mike Downey and Sam Taylor in the Old Port is lively, bringing an insight into behind-the-scene politics for the Greenland shoot of Guy X starring Jason Biggs, Jeremy Northam and Natascha McElhone. The ‘invitation only’ premiere screening at The Star the next night is jam-packed. Always a good sign.

The massive Queen Mary 2 luxury liner sails in, dwarfing even the most extravagant yachts moored in the bay. She is the venue for the exclusive Star Wars party. The Croisette is jumping and the beach restaurants are at capacity. String-bikini-clad sun-seekers (or simply attention-seekers) are spread out on the sand, right next to the ladies who lunch (as well as those paying the bill). There are no inhibitions about taking clothes off here. Topless has always been in vogue. Grilled Dourade or a Salade Nicoise on one of the umbrella-decked beach restaurants with a bottle of chilled rose is pretty hard to beat. Soupe de poisson or steak tartare, is also a good choice. But there is no shortage of restaurants inland, either. There is the usual French fare as well as Italian, a new Lebanese, the old Greek and finally a decent Chinese (Le Jardin de Bambou, rue Mace). If you venture past the distinctive plane trees where men play petanque into Le Suquet, at the Old Port end of Cannes, there is yet another world to discover with gastronomic experiences, where jovial accordionists play (and where my handbag was jovially stolen three festivals ago). 

"a kaleidoscope of bright colours"

Shop windows are a kaleidoscope of bright colours – orange, turquoise, red, blue, yellow. From the designer window displays of Dior, Hermes and Louis Vuitton to the many boutiques of shopper’s paradise in the rue d’Antibes; tiny sizes are the order of the day, unlike the price tags. Exquisite jewellery, shoes to-die-for, unique handbags, frilly skirts and gowns are serious business here. Colours look brighter in Cannes and are infused with chic. It’s more than just the softness of the light and the caressing sun, it’s about style. Cannes is chi-chi de rigeur.

The nightly laser light show with 20 shafts of light simulates a carousel as it plays games in the sky. One minute the tail end of the light beams are aliens enigmatically exploring the deep blue sky; soon they merge together into a small circle high overhead, and disappear into the pattern of clouds that have conveniently gathered for the show. 

One day, there’s a man dangling on the end of a green parachute suspended high above the water and the street entertainers playing accordion, guitar, some with performing dogs. Dogs are in abundance – mostly of the small, well-groomed variety, looking like fluffy dusters on four legs, occasionally paraded by botoxed Cannes former beauties. Hypnotic South American dancers and musicians perform on the Croisette late at night; even a simple chocolate ice cream in a cone is somehow gastronomic to their beat.

More stars descends for the awards presentation on Saturday, much of it from Hollywood, and the accent is on sheer glamour. Black is the colour of the night, lit up by diamonds, diamonds, diamonds. There’s Morgan Freeman, Ralph Fiennes, Hilary Swank, Kristen Scott Thomas, Zhang Ziyi and Penelope Cruz looks sensational wearing a daringly scooped pastel floral chiffon gown. Jury member Salma Hayek looks striking in skin-tight black lace with a bright red sash and matching lips. Jury President Emir Kusturica presents each award with grace. The Jury looks divided on the winning film; they make no effort to pretend.

"a spectacular finale"

In a spectacular finale after the awards presentation on Saturday, there is a fireworks display to remember. Exploding flowers in reds and golds, whistling rockets exploding high above the Croisette, turning into squirming bracelets of gold; the fireworks end half an hour later with a shimmering cascade of glittering silver and gold like a giant aerial waterfall.

And when the festival is over, it’s time to pop into Monte Carlo for the Grand Prix, or take a drive in the opposite direction for a lazy stroll along the port in Saint Tropez. Then again, you can head for the cobbled charm of Villefranche sur Mer, on the way enjoying a leisurely lunch on the sublime terrace of the Hotel Majestic in Beaulieu Sur Mer looking out at the Mediterranean. Ah! Cannes – au revoir until next year.

Published May 26, 2005

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Actress Phoebe Price arriving at the Broken Flowers premiere - she certainly has a seat. (Pic. MJ Kim/Getty)


Penelope Cruz

The Star Wars gang

Woody Allen and Scarlett Johansson

Jackie Chan and friends

Robert Downey Jnr, Michelle Monaghan, Val Kilmer

Broken Flowers stars and director

Sharon Stone

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