Two Weeks: Why I Love Cannes - Making Friends on the Croisette
by Alex Billington
May 20, 2014
You never know who you'll meet on the Croisette. That's the joy of it. Every year I come to the Cannes Film Festival I always make new friends. While I'm just as anxious to catch up with old friends and colleagues I've been attending with for years, it's just as exciting to meet new ones. A few days ago while at the festival, I stopped to grab a lunch at a small cafe near the flat we are staying in. I had just finished a few screenings, was incredibly hungry and tired, and stopped in by myself. It was there I met two friends who inspired me to write about them, and this is only just the start. I could tell so many more stories about all the people here.
After sitting down and browsing the menu, a guy and girl sat down at the table right next to me. As I tried to order a few items in English, encountering some confusion with a waiter who only spoke French and barely any English, they leaned in and said they might be able to help. After watching them order and consulting with them for my own choices, we started chatting. The rest is history... It turns out these two were visiting Cannes as friends of one of the actresses in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's film Winter Sleep. They are both originally from Turkey, where the film was made and where it takes place, though they now reside in Nuremberg, Germany. While their English was limited, we still talked about film festivals, Turkey, and film in general.
We talked about how the situation in Turkey with the mine disaster left everyone from Turkey at the festival feeling down and depressed, because it's such an awful event (over 300 people died in a coal mine) and how much they all felt like they should be back there supporting their country's people. We talked about other film festivals they attend and their experiences at Cannes. I tried to convince them to go see more films, but they said their schedule was already packed the next few days (dang! next time?). By the end of the meal, we were friending each other on Facebook and trading emails to stay in touch. I asked to get a photo with them:
My new friends (L to R): Fuat Saral, myself, and Elif Mesche.
Thank you, Fuat and Elif, for making my Cannes as memorable and wonderful as it is (and thank you for lunch - I owe you when you come to New York!). In all truth and honesty, these are the kind of moments that make film festivals, especially Cannes, so worthwhile. All the little moments that you don't hear about, that most critics don't get to write about, they are actually the lifeblood of the industry. Making new friends, developing connections, nurturing relationships during lunch, bonding over our love for movies, breaking down international barriers in the name of cinema. It's claimed that the population in Cannes triples during the festival, with an extra 100,000 people descending upon this tiny beach town from all around the world.
I have been writing about Roger Ebert's notes at Cannes and most of his book contains many references to his friends and the people he encountered at the festival. There is a fun passage about the kind of people that you'll find late at night at Cannes, even though some of these street folk have changed (now it's bubble makers and photographers, though the plastic tube roses can still be found everywhere). Here is the except from Ebert's Two Weeks in the Midday Sun on Page 70. Midway through the 1987 festival, he writes:
Late Sunday. Walking back to the Splendid along the Croisette at 2 A.M., the cafes are still jammed, the rich distributors in tuxedos relaxing now, their bow ties undone, at tables next to the itinerant students who have hitchhiked here from all over Europe to argue earnestly about the cinema. A guitarist, left over from the sixties, serenades the crowds with "Blowin' in the Wind", sung in bad English. Fire-eaters blow plumes of flame over the heads of the laughing drunks. A man stands up on a box and eats glass and razor blades, while his scrawny girlfriend takes a collection. Little gypsy girls circulate from table to table, solemnly selling single red roses, wrapped up in a tube of plastic. The wives of the distributors eye the little girls and hold onto their purses with both hands.
At 2 A.M. at the Cannes Film Festival, there is the illusion that you are not missing anything very important anywhere else in the world. At 6 A.M., it is a different story. The streets were empty the next morning when I took my ritual walk down by the old harbor and up into the old town on the hillside. Jet lag made it impossible once again to sleep, no matter how tired I was. At 6 A.M., the street cleaners were out with their fire hoses, washing broken glass and the soggy posters down into the sewers. As always I bought the International Herald-Tribune from the woman in the kiosk by the market, and settled down for a cup of café au lait in my usual cafe. There were three or four people there ahead of me. Some year, I imagined, one of them might be Paul Newman or Federico Fellini and we could lean over our coffee, elbows on the table, to talk about how it really is, in the quiet moments right after the dawn. This morning there were only garbage men standing at the bar, tossing back glasses of red wine, their truck idling at the curb.
I definitely haven't heard "Blowin' in the Wind", but I know exactly what he's talking about with that feeling at 6AM. Cannes is most activate at night, and the crowds really come out (to party) from pretty much 6PM to 4AM. Like Ebert, I always daydream about rubbing elbows with filmmakers on the streets and in the cafes of Cannes. I heard Terrence Malick was walking around, and have always been on the lookout for him, but haven't encountered him yet. Maybe one day, but until then, I am happy making friends with anyone I meet who loves films and is happy to chat about them. Wherever they come from, whatever language they speak.
Another friend I met at the festival recently was a young Norwegian cinephile who was in line next to me to see an evening Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Director's Fortnight) film. It turns out he's a programmer for the Tromsø International Film Festival (tiff.no), hosted in the very cold north of Norway every January. We chatted about other European film festivals and which ones he suggested after Cannes. After discussing another fest held in Portugal, we ended up trading emails because he said he knew friends who were renting a flat looking to find people to join them. That's just how it goes down here, and this is why I love Cannes.
Now to sleep before my next screening at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, which will be Michel Hazanavicius' The Search. We're now to Day 7 with even more premieres on the way (believe it!), so stick around for more reviews, blogs, and Ebert quotes from Two Weeks in the Midday Sun that will make you wish you were here.