Cannes, where crime and cinema mingle

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times, Cannes
  • Updated: May 19, 2014 15:14 IST

This has been an age old debate: does cinema copy life? Or, does life imitate movies? The debate cannot be more relevant now.

Last year, as the Cannes Film Festival unspooled its slate of films, thieves broke into star hotels in the city and escaped with precious jewellery that some of the world’s top actresses had hired to wear during the Red Carpet galas. Oh, but have we not seen this innumerable times on the screen?

Again, it was last year, when gun shots were heard on the Cannes Croisette as the French Riviera was celebrating cinema. It was not clear who had pulled the trigger, but the incident was reminiscent of one of those Allan Dillon thriller movies set in Cannes.

This time, as the 67th edition of the world’s most renowned film Festival was about to kick off with Oliver Dahan’s biopic of Grace Kelly,

Grace of Monaco

, two masked men – in truly filmi style – shot an heiress, Helene Pastor (77) in her head and heart as she stepped out of a hospital. The spot was a crowded public road in Monaco, the tiny principality 30 minutes away from Cannes and whose war with France’s De Gaulle administration in the late 1960s was the core plot of the opening film.

The heiress is a close friend of Monaco’s reigning Prince Albert, whose mother, Grace (that ravishingly beautiful actress from Hollywood who married Prince Rainier III), had spent her lifetime trying to burnish Monaco’s image. This effort continues: This evening, movie-makers and mediamen will be taken to Monaco, where a dinner sponsored by several organisations will try and push Kelly’s dream of a better Monaco.

But hidden beneath Kelly’s passionate desire has been a notoriously seamy side. The Hollywood Reporter ran a story in one of its Cannes dailies that said:”But Monaco’s opulent surface has for decades hidden a darker side with sinister elements -- money laundering, an Italian (and now Russian) mafia presence and residents who include international arms dealers. Not surprisingly, given the silence that long has surrounded criminal activities in the South of France, nobody has been arrested yet for the Pastor shooting, no one even is talking, and residents have been left shaken.

“Says one Monaco resident who lives in the fabled seafront principality for six months out of every year for tax purposes, ‘It’s a huge shock for everybody here, but at the same time people aren’t saying much. It’s like we don’t want to look at the reality that one of us almost got their face blown off.’ Joel Stratte-McClure, who covered Monaco for People magazine in the late ’70s and early ’80s when Grace and her daughters, Caroline and Stephanie, were tabloid staples, adds, ‘As usual, the fantasy about Monaco has gotten all the press. It’s always the underside of paradise that’s hidden from view...”

There are yet no firm clues to the brazen daylight murder, but in a truly cinematic style, a 43-year-old man was arrested when he tried extorting millions from the Pastor family in exchange for leads.

The question now is, was the Italian mafia behind the murder or was it the Russian? But, the Pastors, who have a firm grip over Monaco’s real estate dealings, have many enemies. And Prince Albert is a weak ruler, unable to stem the rise of the Russian mafia.

Monaco, of course, remains silent over the gruesome attack on the heiress, and journalists asking inconvenient questions find themselves in a hostile environment. British writer Robert Lacey, whose 1994 biography, Grace, is about to be reissued, stayed in Monaco for only a week when trying to uncover information about Kelly for his book. “People were terrified when I started asking questions,” he says. “The fear was palpable. Monaco is not what you see in the films.”

Poor Grace Kelly, who died in a road accident close to her palace in 1982, would be so unhappy. If the Monaco she made her home was always veering towards debauchery and crime that the rich perpetrated, her own children have often been embroiled in shame and scandal. But for this, we would need another movie, another book, and another article.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for well over two decades, and is now back on the Croisette. He may be e-mailed at


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