Midweek Distractions 5/24/23: Yes We Cannes

Cannes beachfront

This week, the greater francophile industrial complex has given itself over to the spectacle and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival. Our film critic Andrea Meyer has already covered the films in competition, as well as the scandals plaguing the event. Between a new Scorcese film, a new Wes Anderson film, and a new Indiana Jones co-starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, there is plenty to be paying attention to. And the tabloids have been working overtime to take both sides in debates about the choice to screen Johnny Depp’s new film Jeanne du Barry, set in 18th century France and starring Depp as King Louis XV. Fresh off his defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard, in which Depp’s domestic abuse against Heard was extensively documented, many felt that he shouldn’t be rewarded with a screening at Cannes. Instead, he received a 7-minute standing ovation after the showing of Jeanne du Barry. (Remember when he accused Heard of “ruining his career”? Doesn’t seem too ruined to me. How is she doing is what I’d like to know…)

In the next few days, we have more on-the-ground Cannes coverage coming, just for all of you cinephiles and gossip fiends waiting in the wings.

While I have never attended the Cannes Film Festival, I had the opportunity to visit Cannes a few weeks before the festival in 2022. I’d heard glamorous things about Cannes, that it was a paradise of high end shopping on palm tree-lined boulevards. The beauty of the city didn’t disappoint. It was clean and bright, with the kind of pure blue ocean I thought only existed in the Caribbean.

But, in the last days of April, the city was completely deserted. It was quiet, cool, barely 60°F. It wasn’t warm enough to swim (though I tried), there were no walking tours until later in the season, and I couldn’t even take a ferry to nearby Saint-Tropez, because the ferries didn’t run until the middle of May.

I spent an afternoon of my trip in conversation with a local, who explained to me that the city looked empty because the real Cannois lived up by the northern rim of the city, far from the grandeur of La Croisette. Most of the people on the city’s main drag, he explained, were foreigners, wealthy Russians and Chinese who came for the summer and took their money with them when they left. My guide pointed to the flocks of yachts parked along the water, all inscribed with “Valletta,” a not-so-subtle implication that the foreign oligarchs who owned them (and much of Cannes) had purchased their yachts in the tax haven of Malta.

Aside from the festival in May, and the tourist season of June through August, there was nothing to do and no money to be made in Cannes, he explained; the city had suffered from massive brain drain. It wasn’t a university town, and it had no local industry aside from seasonal tourism. “The only people from Cannes who stay in Cannes are, perhaps, a bit stupid,” he told me. This hot take startled me; it was the kind of thing you’d expect to hear about a defunct mining town in Pennsylvania, not the pearl of the French Riviera.

Every year, the two-week Cannes Film Festival brings 2,300 jobs and $242 million in revenue to the city. Tourism makes up 50% of the city’s annual GDP, and everything in Cannes revolves around it, meaning that the city was nearly devastated when COVID-19 wiped out opportunities for big events and tourism in 2020.

Wherever there is excess and luxury, it’s always worth it to peek behind the curtain and ask who, exactly, is facilitating that luxurious lifestyle for others. Because behind every standing ovation is a thousand hairstylists, hotel concierges, security guards, lighting technicians, and restaurant servers wondering when their $10 million settlement is going to come in.

Things I found on the Internet…

A French woman reviews Cannes red carpet fashion. Timothée Chalamet talks croissants vs. bagels. How to avoid mixing up “un” and “une” at the boulangerie. How to not get dirty looks in Paris (and why you shouldn’t care if you do). And Parisians always look like they’re doing the Wes Anderson TikTok trend.

TikTok sensation Bleu Berline has released a new bedroom pop single (no pun intended), “Dors pas.”

Catherine Rickman
Managing Editor

Stay in touch! I’d love to hear from you: [email protected]

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