CANNES PRESS CLUB SOIRÉE
Of course, I'm prejudiced, but I'd say the Cannes Press Club Soirée was the best party going. From the independent war correspondents fresh out of Baghdad to the gossip columnists staggering between premieres, hundreds of journalists, quasi-journalists and festival-goers threw their cards in our basket, and everybody seemed to have a grand time gabbing, drinking, dancing, smooching and bitching about the movies.
Most agreed that 2003 had the least stellar line-up of films-in-competition in years. Another level of bitching arose over the heightening (and tightening) levels of festival bureaucracy. Many seemed to doubt the validity of their so-called reality as much as the folks on the Nebuchadnezzer, having been chewed up and spit out by the voracious, imperious Information Ministers, the Machines of Cannes. Even the 2003 party circuit got a yawn from festival veterans who griped that parties were pared down as the limp and limper US dollar badly damaged all the studios' marketing budgets.
And then there were those notorious colored and speckled badges, fostering a weird and disturbing competition among many of the journalists and a nasty game of "what color did you get?" complete with yanking a fellow journalist's badge or badges (some wore as many as four around the necks, like Mardi Gras beads) to see what level of the media food chain this one was on. Near-strangulation by badge-yanking was a common complaint.
Complex niceties went beyond badges to fashion. That is, journalists had to be properly attired, which meant black tie for the nightly premieres. Well, the French are nothing if not stylish, and we love them for that. But sometimes, it went a bit over the top. One award-winning photojournalist from a major international news service (who shall remain nameless to protect her dignity) was barred from attending the screening of Peter Greenaway's "The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1: The Moab Story" by a particularly scornful Information Minister, simply because she was wearing the "wrong shoes." The journalist was shocked, she protested, she waved her official invitation, she stomped the accused shoes, but all to no avail. The Minister would not be moved. The Rules must be followed, even down to one's shoes; the code must be obeyed in the Matrix of Cannes. It didn't help that Greenaway himself had dismissed the whole festival as nearing obsolescence during his press conference, with movies giving way to the more intimate, convenient persuasions of TV and the Internet. We didn't have much to compare it to (this being our first time), but it seemed like the Festival du Film 2003 was shaping up to be a contentious affair.
Many of the journalists at the Press Club Soirée muttered between their beers that the Festival was losing its way, it's Purpose, as Free Agent Smith would say. Of course, perhaps the club, since it's new and not fully encoded into the Matrix of Cannes, attracts more than its share of disaffected rebel-types. But at points, it seemed like all 4000 accredited journalists (or at least the 3975 without the pink with gold spots) would rip off their badges and revolt, if only they had a Neo to lead them!
"Morose atmosphere, lower attendance, a slowing market..." bemoaned Le Film Français. And this was a French magazine. The Americans were even glummer. Variety, the Hollywood filmmaking bible, called the Festival 2003 "a sad state of affairs." It didn't help that fewer-than-usual Americans attended due to the Bush Team's Operation Fear and Loathing: fear of travel and loathing of the French. And so, we wondered: Is this the beginning of the end? Has the program outlived its usefulness? Is the famed Cannes Film Festival scheduled for deletion? We hope not, because we love Cannes. And we know how much Cannes loves film.
Still, it's a frustrating template. We really wanted to go to some of the films in competition, but without the proper colored badges, we couldn't. Well, we could, but we had to go to the ticket counter at 8 am in the morning, and with all the parties, and the dinners, and the parties after the dinners, and the beach and the Croisette, that was impossible.
Not that actually seeing a film is required to write about it anymore. Who has time, even if you do have the proper badges, tickets and shoes? After New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was exposed for making up half his articles from his imagination and lifting the rest from competing publications (and who now has a million dollar contract to write his memoirs, soon to be a major motion picture premiering at Cannes), journalists the world over are writing about films they haven't seen and parties they haven't been to with literary abandon.
THE CANNES PRESS CLUB