Carol Drinkwater on life in Provence

The Cannes Film Festival can make for a fun experience, says Carol Drinkwater

I am sitting on my terrace with a glass of chilled Pouilly-Fuissé perched on the hand-painted iron table in front of me. It is the hour before sunset a few weeks before the summer equinox. I am listening to the birdsong while watching the comings and goings in the Baie de Cannes.

The yachts are departing and the stars are flying out. The 67th Cannes Film Festival is rolling away its famous red carpet until the same time next year.

The festival opens on a Wednesday in May and usually closes 11 days later, on the Sunday, with the early-evening awards ceremony. The top prize is the Palme d’Or, the Golden Palm, which this year went to the Turkish film Winter Sleep. Winning the award brings an added cachet to any film and usually promises box-office success.

This year the festival finished a day early because the European elections were being held on the Sunday. However, no elections could eclipse the excitement and razzmatazz that this festival delivers. It is the stuff of dreams; Hollywood comes to the south of France. In fact, it is a truly multi-lingual, international festival and was originally conceived as a French cultural event to rival Italy’s Venice Film Festival, which had begun in 1932.

The first Cannes Festival was scheduled to be held in September 1939. Hollywood stars such as Mae West sailed from the United States to attend, but just as they were about to disembark, the outbreak of World War II forced the festival to be called off. So much work, so much organisation; all for nothing.

Eventually, in a Europe still bruised by war, the Cannes Film Festival was inaugurated in 1946 and soon became a major event in world cinema.

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Today, 25,000 visitors hit this blue coast: to gawp, to be discovered, entertained, to do business, to make a fortune, to win awards. For the duration of the festival, this is the land of make-believe, the place to be, but it comes at a price. A three-bedroom flat overlooking the Croisette – Cannes’ beachfront promenade – costs €30,000 to rent for ten days, excluding breakfast.

Those of us who are not in that league, but who are intent upon enjoying the pleasures of the Riviera’s biggest event of the year, must fight for our place in the sun.

Reserving a table in a restaurant is a challenge that you might not want to take on and the queues for tickets to get into films is worse than those at the first day of the sales. You cannot find a parking space and you need to reconfigure the time required to get from A to B and multiply it by six.

But should you manage to negotiate the traffic and are fortunate to acquire seats for a film that blows you away and receives a standing ovation that humbles the director and crew; should you find yourself late at night eating by starlight in a waterside restaurant where everybody is elegant in evening dress, because evening dress is de rigueur for all screenings after 6pm; if the temperature is balmy and the nightingales make their annual appearance and sing their hearts out; you will pause a moment, breathless, reminding yourself where this dream was born.

This is the magic of cinema, of storytelling, of celebrating those at the height of their artistic powers; and you are right there, rubbing shoulders with them.