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There is nothing like the buzz on Cannes’ famed Croisette, the golden crescent stretch of promenade that at festival time is the most extraordinary place in the world, reports Louise Keller.

The sky is the kind of clear blue that artists strive for and the Mediterranean sparkles proudly, as the Riviera’s centerpiece. People are everywhere. Rushing, sauntering, queuing, swanning, preening, parading, strutting. The shop windows are gorgeous, decked out with designer couture as designer couture should be presented. The colours are bold, pretty, fresh. Baubles – most with hefty price tags – are everywhere. But that is to be expected. This is the world’s most glamorous film festival, where hundreds of films are shown to thousands of people. And nobody does it like the French.

"Parties, receptions and lavish lunches"

The films with kudos are in Competition, Un Certain Regard or in Director’s Fortnight. There is also the giant film market, where buyers from all around the world look for their next Big Hit. The thousands who congregate are a mixed bunch. Film lovers, producers, distributors, buyers, media, publicists and of course the stars with their entourage. Every night, the stars walk the red carpet to the flashes of hundreds of cameras. Parties, receptions and lavish lunches are common place. There’s the daily television program on Canal Plus where the stars are interviewed live in full view of the public gawking on the Croisette. Security is high everywhere, but it is just part and parcel of the routine. If you are one of the 4,000 media and missed out on a press conference, never mind, chances are you will see it flashing on a large screen nearby.

Despite laser beams flashing into the Cannes sky from the specially constructed pyramid flashing The Da Vinci Code in the picturesque Old Port, the hype proved to be the most successful thing about the festival opening film. Director Ron Howard with stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou arrived after a 10 hour train ride from London on the publicity splashed Eurostar, but the film was greeted with skepticism. (Skepticism: code for dismay.)

There was champagne flowing at the soiree celebrating the feature length collection of shorts by various directors, Paris Je T’Aime, the opening film for Un Certain Regard. The bash was held in the open with a gypsy band and circus acts. Stars including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Juliette Binoche, Gena Rowlands and Marianne Faithful made an appearance, along with three of the (older) directors: Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron and Barbet Schroeder.

The luscious red lips of Pedro Almodovar’s leading lady Penelope Cruz graced magazine covers and posters, for the much talked about Volver. There are elegant beach parties and Thai princess Ubolratana Rajakanya makes a Royal appearance to announce the dates for next year’s Bangkok Film Festival. Cast of Dreamgirls Jamie Foxx and Beyonce both wore blue and Bruce Willis was in town with Jeffrey Katzenberg for Dreamworks’ new animation, Over The Hedge. Jeffrey wore money.

Special honours to Jury President Wong Kar-wai (still wearing his sunnies) who received France’s Legion of Honour. Parties and receptions continue day and night. Sting and wife Trudie were among the invited. Chatted with Vivien Wu and director husband Oscar Costo at a champagne lunch at the Hilton. It might have been windy, but spirits were high on the Kodak ‘yacht’ moored at the Old Port, although the weather and choppy seas caused another yacht party to be cancelled. Pierre Cardin at the MTV party, a glam jewellery bash at the one and only Carlton Hotel by Chopard.

"the appearance of a rather handsome camel"

Gael Garcia Bernal, the hot face of Cannes a few years ago, when Almodovar’s Bad Education opened the festival, was again flashing his charming smile to promote Babel, in which he co-stars with Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt – but never saw them on set since the film’s locations are continents apart. Cate Blanchett looked serene as she walked the red carpet for the premiere, which was followed by a Moroccan feast and belly dancing at Nikki Beach. There was more belly dancing at the Dubai Film Festival’s lavish gala event, which included the appearance of a rather handsome camel. Many queued up for a photo and some even scored a camel-y kiss. (The beautiful Managing Director of the fest, Shivani Pandya, confided that they actually auditioned for the best looking camel for that purpose.) …Omar Sharif hosted a gala reception to honour the memory of Egyptian actor Ahmed Zaki, who died last March.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Ten Canoes, filmmaker Rolf de Heer was relaxed and happy at the Australian bash, which celebrated the Australian Film Commission’s 30 years at the event. Suburban Mayhem star Emily Barclay looked stunning in a red and white frock with ruby lips to match. Several hundred people enjoyed themselves at the beach location, which was sheltered from the gusty winds.

More stars to spot at the launch of The Banquet at the Majestic Beach with the film’s star Ziyi Zhang, plus Oliver Stone, Willem Dafoe, Tim Roth and Samuel L. Jackson. Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Patrick Stewart were in town for X-Men 3, The Rock (now better known as Dwayne Johnson) and Sarah Michele Gellar for Southland Tales. Sofia Coppola looked terrific in a black and white short sleeved dress – which on closer inspection showed that the white dots were not really dots but a tiny pattern. Then there are the sky divers, fireworks, street performers….and the gypsy beggars with small children, or little sad faced girls selling flowers.

The restaurants do a roaring trade, and it is no wonder. What better way to converse about, sell, buy and debate films? There are star names on the back of the director’s chairs at the Café du Festival, opposite the Hilton, a great place for coffee and a croissant. Le Notre in rue d’Antibes is hard to beat for hot chocolate or a chocolate fix, and the Carlton Terrace is pretty swish for a Ricard or a coup de champagne at sunset. (That’s as in sunset your wallet…)

My favourite eating spots this year included the unique Le Maschou in the Old Port, with its enormous basket of world renowned crudités and crème brulee to die for, Gaston Gastounette for the best grilled Daurade and crème caramel (not served together). La Pizza is consistently excellent, and L’Auberge Provencale (the town’s oldest restaurant) serves exceptionally good fish soup and a tantalizingly good lamb Provencal with herbs. There are many good beach restaurants, where the rosé is served extra chilled, and the topless buxom starlets work hard to even out their tans not far away.

"that intoxicating mix of the extremes in one of the most beautiful spots in the world"

Ultimately, Cannes is about the whole experience. It is that intoxicating mix of the extremes in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Flair, chic and glamour, squeezed like designer toothpaste onto a diamante studded toothbrush. If you’ve got it, flash it. If not, you can just watch…..

Published June 8, 2006

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Babel - Gael García Bernal, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Cate Blanchett

Volver - Penelope Cruz, Pedro Almodovar, Carmen Maura


Marie Antoinette - Kirsten Dunst, Sofia Coppola, Jason Schwartzman

Ten Canoes - Rolf de Heer

The Da Vinci Code - Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Dan Brown

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