POSTED May 15 2012

Candid Cannes

In mid-May a film critic’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of the Cote d’Azur. When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night in the early ’30s, Cannes and Antibes were still relatively overlooked villages in the shadows of Nice and Monte Carlo and their wedding-cake hotels. Today, Cannes is an exalted fishing village that takes its name for the sticks (“cannes”) in its port. Over the years it has been developed so that now it resembles an Atlantic City-like convention center and cluster of hotels dominating a picturesque old quarter.

The movie that best gives the sense of the changes is Stanley Donen’s Two for the Road (1967),  where Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney camp on an isolated beach where, a decade later, architect Finney breaks ground on a luxury hotel. The personal anecdote that best reflects the esprit of French efficiency during festival time may date from 1985, when the only place I could find a room at was at the Univers, a “businessman’s hotel” (a euphemism for a place where guests are charged by the hour rather than by the night) where the desk clerk told me I was the first female guest who had luggage.

The 65th Cannes Film Festival begins tomorrow evening, opening with Wes Anderson’s summer-camp reverie Moonrise Kingdom. In the official competition the movies I’d most like to see are David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis,  Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love and Walter Salles’ On the Road.

You don’t have to be in Cannes to experience it. If it’s the flavor of the festival you want, look no further than the virtuoso opening sequence of Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale (2002) or Henry Jaglom’s slice-of-life drama Festival in Cannes, made the same year. The Carlton Hotel, the town’s most storied hostelry, figures large in Alfred Hitchock’s To Catch a Thief (1955), Lawrence Kasdan’s French Kiss (1995) and  Steve Bendelack’s Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007).

That particular Cote D’Azur atmosphere likewise is palpable in Jacques Demy’s Bay of Angels (1963), Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou (1966), Frank Oz’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon (1986) and Agnes Varda’s The Beaches of Agnes (2008). And of course the Marcel Pagnol trilogy of Marius (1931), Fanny (1932) and Cesar (1936).

There’s also Perfect Understanding (1934), a Michael Powell movie starring Gloria Swanson and Laurence Olivier, shot on the Cote d’Azur which I’ve never seen but would be interesting not only for its provenance but for the fact that Powell ‘s family ran a hotel in Beaulieu.

Any other essential films about Cannes and environs?


  1. Gary says:

    My favorite Cannes film: COTE D’AZUR

    My favorite Cannes anecdote: Pia Zadora’s head-turning swimsuit

  2. Richard says:

    In 1984 or ’85 I happened to be behind Godard in a stairwell at the Carlton. When he put out his cigar in an ashtray I paused long enough to create some distance, then picked it up and pocketed it. I’m sure it’s around here somewhere, probably in the same box as a hair from King Kong (remake) and a tea cup from A Room with a View.

  3. Kathryn Pyle says:

    Thanks for this delightful kick-off to Cannes! The hotel story is hilarious, and a good reality check on the glamour…

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