I had half planned to attend the 60th Cannes Film Festival which starts today, then thought better of it. Just glancing at the line-up of foreign films in competition for the Palme d’Or this year makes me feel dyslexic – how suburban of me! – and you should see the Un Certain Regard selection titles: pure drunken Scrabble. But I’m being silly: Cannes is truly international even if the same old directors pop up almost every year – Almodovar, Tarantino, Catherine Breillat, the Coens, Wong Kar Wai, Alexandr Sokurov, Ken Loach et al, et al. The alphas will not permit themselves to be neglected.
In any given year of the many years I attended Cannes habitually, I rarely saw more than three or four competition films. I would get reports from the early morning screenings on whether it was worth spending my midnights in auditorium gloom for the repeat showing. “Thumpers” were to be avoided: throughout these one would hear the thump of sprung seats flipping back as critics made premature exits in disgust. Imagine being a thumper director amidst that din. My preference then (and now) was for the parties, the clubs and crazy antics of Hot d’Or – the porn fest nearby along the Cote d’Azur.
One year a friend of mine was face-raped by a porn star after foolishly going back to his hotel: he agreed not to come in her mouth during the gobble but he did. I spent about three days sorting that crisis out.
Cannes can’t abide racism but your success or failure as a reporting journalist there depends on your colour – that is, the colour of your badge to signify status. From memory, a white badge bestowed aristocratic privilege and hoisted you out of lengthy queues to screenings and pressers. Pink was upper class, and blue a bit sad - hello the Press Association. With the yellow you might as well top up your tan on the beach for all the access you get. As for the pink with a yellow dot – I think that’s a recent elitest subtlety, but I forget.
In any case, the movie production companies select the journalists for access to stars according to media status and territorial quotas - whatever your colour. One year I was so determined to interview Emma Thompson I stole a New Zealander’s identity: NZ is a little under represented. The patronising cow was happy to field my questions even though I sound nothing like a New Zealander: it was sufficient that I was sold to her as an ambassador for that region.
By day, my preference was for the Marché du Film – the market – where you could glimpse the movie goodies planned for next year at national stalls. Great for finding stories and bumping into producers and directors. Some people stalk their quarry. I lie in wait, like a tunnel spider.
The man who epitomises Cannes for me is an exotic called Henri Behar: he has moderated the press conferences for years and is endearingly strict in a number of different languages. I should say he was once beautiful. Before each conference he languidly strolls in, trailing nicotine smoke; an exhibition of velvety camp. He may smile at familiar faces among the seated journalists, he may just scribble notes for the introduction of the talent; or may tap the microphones and light another cigarette. He was always quite fearless – he once put down a truculent Russell Crowe with the words “Welcome to Dr Russell and Mr Crowe ….” Even the Aussie bastard laughed.
He knows everyone in Hollywood and without. He is treated by the A-listers as a kind of celluloid guru. Google him and Le Monde comes up, yet I’ve seen little of his published writings: what little has not impressed. One suspects his genius is of the social variety: he’s part of that small select tribe who film festival-hop. Some call it work. Even on the Croisette he proves to be elusive – doubtless a narcoanalyst could part him from a million celebrity secrets. John Blake should hunt that little chap down – Henri’s English is perfect.
Oh, you wanted me to make a comparative study of tous les cinemas du monde at Cannes, did you? Don’t be daft. I may attend Cannes' 61st.