We were just settling down for an early dinner at a Chinese restaurant when Jackie Chan walked by. The superstar, accompanied by two people, walked up the narrow street, taking pictures of art in a gallery window. His presence electrified the restaurant at Cannes.
A few of us pulled out phone cameras. Jackie smiled but continued to take photographs. Before a crowd could gather, he slipped into the restaurant and up to a secluded dining space upstairs.
Cannes old-timers say that this is how the festival used to be in the 1970s and 80s. Famous faces, actors and filmmakers, would walk down the Croisette, mingling with the less famous.
You could bump into them at the lovely little restaurants that line the street. Today, Cannes is entirely publicist controlled. There are at least six degrees of separation between talent and the 4000-odd journalists that throng the festival. Publicists for the smaller titles invite journalists to cover their films and press conferences.
Studios hold junkets, a sort of assembly line of interviews so a star might do 25 four-minute interviews in a day (these are strictly monitored so if you extend over your time, they will cut you off mid-question). And independent labels set up their own interviews, often journalists have to pay for these.
The costs range from $1000 to $2000. The payment is used to off-set the cost of setting up the junket. So it’s not easy getting an interview in Cannes!
Among the people I interviewed today was juror Vidya Balan. She looked relaxed and happy. She said she was having a great time, the only problem was food because she’s a vegetarian. She also said that since she’s not on any social networking platform, she had no idea what people were saying about her sartorial choices for the red carpet. And she didn’t care. “If I’m happy when I look into the mirror, it’s all good,” she said.
Meanwhile, there is some carping from critics that the films shown so far haven’t thrown up anything spectacular. Fruitvale Station, which screened in Un Certain Regard, got a 10 minute standing ovation but responses to all the other big titles has been mixed. Asghar Farhadi’s The Past had some critics raving and others dismissing it as melodrama.
I saw Francois Ozon’s intriguingly opaque Jeune & Jolie, about a gorgeous 17-year-old girl who goes from losing her virginity to becoming a prostitute in a few months. I enjoyed it but a fellow viewer remarked that he almost fell asleep and only woke up because of the strategic flashes of skin! But that’s the beauty of Cannes, the films are as unpredictable as the weather. The festival is the proverbial box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.