“The big white square thing with the fire coming out of it is the stove.”
That line – from the 2008 remake of The Women – is my motto. As a trained wife, I’d rejoice if someone’s passion for chicken hygiene matched my own. These days, cooking should be done behind closed doors, by other people, in a restaurant.
At the Cannes Film Festival, food is key: you can’t eat without talking about films, and you can’t watch a film on an empty stomach. This year, the big noise at after-screening dinners was how Behind the Candelabra, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, was said to be “too gay” but how a 175 minute, explicit French lesbian love story based on a comic book could win the Palme d’Or. Some think that jury president Stephen Spielberg picked Blue Is The Warmest Colour as revenge for having to cut the lesbian sex from his own Oscar-aimed The Color Purple. Of course, that’s just talk. The more palatable line is that Spielberg has always wanted to be a European film director but just can’t.
Cannes, for all its cultural leanings, is fundamentally about category and competition. What you eat marks out your status as clearly as your festival pass. Critics go the whole day on horrid Pavilion coffee and semi-fresh croissants, while producers inhale fine wine, steak frites and fruits de mer. This is my tenth Cannes Film Festival yet the first time I’ve seen how the other half eats: celebrities and jury members quaff delicacies made by a rotating team of world-renowned chefs. This year, inside the Electrolux Agora Pavilion, Michelin-star chefs like Bruno Oger and affable Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken were busy making things that tasted so good that you never wanted to use your mouth again. (There was some risk-taking too: the tabac gelatine made by the Costardi brothers – tiny, translucent brown cubes providing a burst of sweetness then spikes of nicotine – wasn’t for everyone. “Ugh, it’s like licking an ashtray!” wailed a journalist. For an ex-smoker, it was simply divine.)
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The space age Grand Cuisine gear was fascinating even if I know very little about what makes a kitchen “high end”. I have a kitchen. It has an induction oven. Surely things haven’t progressed much beyond that? Well, duh. “This is the one I’d have,” whispered a member of the PR team from Electrolux during an exhibition of cooking techniques. Before us pulsated a slick slab of chromium; the David Bowie of kitchen devices. I wanted to touch it until the chef poured water over it… and the water exploded. “Sear hob” or death ray? “Wow,” I said. “Ah, it’s like a plancha,” said another journalist, a smartass who’d Googled.
Alongside the babas au rhum, the blast chiller, the precision vacuum sealer and the induction Teflon wok, there’s that walk on the red carpet up to the Palais des Festivals. If you’ve ever walked a red carpet and you are not Marilyn Monroe, you are in for a shock. It’s not fun at all. Red carpet crowds want to see three things: a celebrity, a beautiful unknown, or a truly dumb dress. Everyone else is filler. Red carpets are yet another hideous reminder of hierarchy; of one’s inability to be born of taller, skinnier parents (Why wasn’t my mom Marcheline Bertrand?). The red carpet is instant high school: even Cheryl Cole didn’t escape the miaow-athon, her evening gown being described by one commentator as “early gameshow host”. You need booze to do the red carpet.
Once inside the main auditorium of the Palais, everyone is incredibly nice – too nice, in sharp contrast to the bureaucracy that lubricates the festival partout. A friend trying to get his press pass told the clerk his surname: “Hitchcock”. “Hitchlock? I don’t understand,” she replied, standing under a poster of Alfred Hitchcock. Without bureaucracy, Cannes would not be Cannes, n’est-ce pas?
This is why when people equate Cannes with ease and glamour, they’re either children, newbies, or idiots. The glamour of Cannes is for a chosen few (although anyone can splash out a hundred or so euro on a trip from Nice to the Croisette helipad). The rest of us, regardless of our evening gloves and diamonds, wrestle with crowds that rival fairground gawpers. Crowds love celebrities and in Cannes, you get all that plus the added bonus of young families with prams, the extremely elderly, and the very slow and nosy. You get people who don’t understand personal space or the simplest principles of trajectory.
Also, it rains in Cannes. Every year, people forget this. Cannes rain is the torrential tropical downpour that ruins hairdos, handmade shoes and yacht parties. It’s biblical: it is the precipitation of God’s laughter. Imagine a hoard of impoverished, sweaty, sleep-deprived critics desperately trying to get to a 7pm screening through a scrum of wet umbrellas and tiny dogs. Now add more water. There. You’ve recreated the Cannes Film Festival experience.
As for what you should see from the Cannes lineup of 2013, do not miss the Liberace lover’s Behind the Candelabra, the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis – a funny period take-off of the folk scene in the 60s – or Bruce Dern’s Best Actor-winning turn in Nebraska by Alexander Payne. If you liked last year’s sensational The Separation, see The Past (Le Passé) by Asghar Farhadi, starring Bérénice Bejo, who was nominated for an Oscar in The Artist and won Best Actress at Cannes for this film, in which she plays a Parisienne trying to divorce her Iranian husband.
There are, of course, remnants of the style and innocence of the old Cannes Film Festival. They reside far away from the Croisette. Old money and hot profiles go to Le Moulin de Mougins, arguably the most famous restaurant of the festival, and deservedly so, for its superb food and matching service. This, along with the farther-flung Hôtel du Cap Eden Roc, is where the real glamour goes. No paps, no fuss, no muss – just peace and grace. Cannes is not about the movies. It’s about Who You Are. Or Are Not. C