Cannes Diary: Day 1

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David Neary brushes shoulders with the stars and an umbrella salesman at Cannes.

It was a damp start to the 66th Cannes Film Festival  the deluge began just as the stars began to walk the red carpet into the Grand Théâtre Lumière in the Palais des Festivals.

But it had been a bright, if cloudy day up to that point; the town was busy with the arrivals of film industry professionals, up-and-coming filmmakers, over-enthusiastic cinephiles and journalists from all corners and all media.

Navigating the Palais, an unending stream of free espresso as my only fuel,  I found myself waiting with the photographers and TV cameras outside the Great Gatsby press conference – which was already full to the brim inside. The slightest flicker of a celebrity approaching and several score cameras leapt into the air like the alert heads of meerkats when a predator is suspected to be approaching. Carey Mulligan walked by – radiant, in couturest of black outfits – and I thought for a moment I might faint from her beauty; actually the press corps have been waiting so long that the heat their bodies is emitting is now overwhelming. As Leonardo DiCaprio passed by, I slipped out of the crowd before I was crushed to death by a flurry of camera bags and tripods.

Eager not to miss Gatsby, lest I not have anything to talk about to anyone for the rest of the Festival, I placed myself at the top of the queue for the afternoon press screening. The tiered system of press passes meant that despite my punctuality a few hundred more premiere journos got let in ahead of me. I whiled away the time planning my schedule for the coming days and chuckling at the solitary brown pigeon strutting his stuff on the red carpet, and the burly security type singularly failing to scare it off.

The Great Gatsby, the opening film of the festival, is an attractive if soulless venture that eschews much of the subtlety of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel in order to focus almost solely on the central love affair, creating a hybrid of Gatsby and the director Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! A short duration into the film I had to change my 3D glasses, which were malfunctioning and distorting the images. The Parisienne to my right texted throughout the film. Remember folks, if it can happen at a screening in Cannes, it can happen anywhere!

The press screenings over, the jury could begin to assemble for the Opening Ceremony. Steven Spielberg, head of the jury this year, walked past sporting the most stylish flatcap the movie industry may have ever seen. In honour of his presence, Jaws is being screened at the open-air Cinéma de la Plage next week, and the theme music from Jurassic Park can be heard playing in the men’s room. The press attempted to bait the jury on a variety of issues, including Spielberg and fellow jury member Ang Lee’s “rivalry” since Lee took home the Best Director Oscar for Life of Pi over Spielberg for Lincoln, but the jury members were putting up a unified front. Christoph Waltz seemed delighted with all the attention. As the rains began to fall and the wind began to whip them up, Nicole Kidman looked less than comfortable on the red carpet, clinging to her umbrella and joking with reporters that she felt she might blow away like Mary Poppins. It remains to be seen what they thought of Luhrmann’s film.

On the other side of the Palais, arrogant and Irish, I queued in the now undeniably lashing rain for the press screening of Mexican drama Heli, while rebuffing the offers of quick-witted salesmen trying to pass me on overpriced umbrellas. In retrospect I should have coughed up.

Heli, from Mexican director Amat Escalante, whose film Sangre screened at Cannes out of competition in 2005, is a superb work. Hard-hitting from its grim opening shot and the barbaric conclusion to its first scene, it is also often witty and tender. But as a story about a drug deal gone bad in a rural town, there is not much room for happiness, and Heli features some truly brutal scenes of violence and torture. Twice the audience unleashed gasps of horror, which the film earned with moments of despicable, believable cruelty.

Outside again, and the attendees of the Gatsby premiere looked bedraggled in their waterlogged gowns and tuxes; the rain thundering down now. This is the price you pay to look fabulous in a Mediterranean town still suffering the unpredictable weather of late spring.

Hopefully the rain is the only washout that will hit Cannes this year. But there’s still plenty of time yet for something else to go wrong…

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