What's it like to walk the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival? Kaleem Aftab tells us about the experience.
Partying with the stars at Cannes
Nothing sounds as glamorous as saying you’re attending the Cannes Film Festival. We’ve all seen the pictures of the sandy beaches and film stars dressed in designer gear walking the lengthy red carpet.
And yet, talk to any film journalist about the festival and fear registers on their faces. That’s because Cannes is a place where you work hard and play hard, while getting minimal sleep. Everything is done to excess.
One myth that needs to be blown is that Cannes is beautiful. The grandiose-sounding Palais, where the big films are screened, is simply a convention centre. The beaches may well be fabulous but for two weeks in May they are ruined by temporary structures carrying the names of sponsors. The hotels seem grand, but nothing can really appeal when it’s overrun by film paraphernalia and the street façades are covered in movie billboards.
It’s non-stop. The day will start with a movie at 8.30am before some in the audience have even showered, reeking from the night before. Missing the morning competition film and catching it at a later screening is out of the question, especially in the age when films are immediately judged on Twitter. Speed also leads to hasty reactions. Take Asghar Farhardi’s Cannes entry The Past. While my gut reaction would have been to say it’s disappointing, over the following days it stayed with me and compared well to others vying for the Palme d’Or.
Trying to juggle three or four films a day is made much harder by the need to do interviews. (It does feel a bit churlish putting a negative spin on meeting Pelé, Nicole Kidman and Orlando Bloom.) Most of the festival is spent frustrated that you can’t clone your own body to be in three places at once.
But before you get your handkerchiefs out and lament the “poor, suffering critics”, the flip side is that the festival can actually be really glamorous. There are the red carpets and the exclusive parties where you turn around to see Robin Wright and Jessica Biel mingling. There’s no need for a VIP area – the whole place is VIP.
And walking the red carpet is so much fun. The Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, the big film of the first weekend, coincided with the arrival of the sun and the crowds were out in force. To ensure the movie stars are given unfettered access on the red carpet, everyone else has to get to the screening early. An hour before is advisable. On the red carpet, it’s funny seeing the throngs of paparazzi wondering if they should take pictures of you. Do they think I’m a Bollywood star? But that illusion is quickly interrupted when ushers hurry you along so those using the red carpet for promotional purposes can get to work.
The red carpet is such an event that a lot of stars will walk it even though they will not watch the movie. It’s the business side of Cannes. There are many delegates who will spend the whole festival at trade stalls or in offices and not see a single movie. Luckily, my job is watching movies.
Once inside the auditorium, what’s happening at the entrance is shown on the cinema screen. Among those following me up the red carpet that night was Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Nadine Labaki, Justin Timberlake and the jury president Steven Spielberg.
Then, of course, every day seems to end with some function or party. The party for Inside Llewyn Davis was one of the most exclusive. Carey Mulligan stood in one corner, Justin Timberlake arrived with his wife Jessica Biel, and the spread was immaculate. It took place by a massive boat docked in the harbour. It ended late, but that’s par for the course. After all, the best feeling at Cannes is the rather lame moment on that rare night when you realise that you most likely won’t be getting more than four hours of sleep.
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