Much of the talk about town during the Festival de Cannes is not about films at all. The hottest tickets in town are for parties sponsored by film industry players. Late evenings walking along the Croisette, the main street along the beach in Cannes where most films are shown, people are dressed (or undressed) for celebration. Limousines cruise through the blocked off streets, tinted windows leaving gapers to their own fantasies. Tourists in jeans and t-shirts mingle along the sidewalks with standard tuxedos and plunging sequined evening gowns.
After much persistence, I received a coveted party invitation to the German Films party held at Villa Babylone up the hill from the excitement of the Croisette. German Films is a trade association for promotion of the export of German films. They presented 25 films for the Cannes market program, including Sophie Scholl and Willenbrock, both of which screened at the Berlinale 2005.
Shuttle buses left from the Cannes train station, but I was lucky enough to have my own chauffeur. Security was tight as we stopped in front of an impressive stone wall with a massive iron gate flanked by a dozen security personnel in tuxedos brandishing two-way radios. Wannabe partygoers hung back from the Disneyesque line, each with their own concoction about why they did not have a ticket but must be allowed in anyway. I walked right past them all! Once through the gate, I walked up a semi-circular road bordered by huge palms illuminated by glowing red lights. It was a cold evening, and I was looking forward to the warmth of a luxurious villa. Upon reaching the villa, however, I was surprised that the entire place was shuttered and a rope closed off the expansive staircase to the front entrance. The party was held outdoors in several white tents set around a small swimming pool with shimmering sea green water; candles that rested like lilies on banana leaves flickered yellow-orange ripples.
There were a few hundred beautiful people smoking, drinking and deep in animated conversations. My first priority was to warm up with a suitable libation. An outside mixed drink table offered icy, fruity mixed drinks and was swarmed mostly by loud men in black. Inside one tent were two long buffet tables, one of which served wine – red, white, rosé or champagne – and the other served finger foods. Slender, scantily-dressed mostly blondes went for the champagne. I went for white wine (too sweet). The most delicious finger food was a bowl full of barbecued short ribs. How do you eat ribs while clenching a wine glass, holding a napkin and plate, and look sophisticated? Starved, I was determined to find out. Ignoring the toothpick, I did what any American would do: I ate with my fingers. Two fingers held the rib, two held the plate, napkin in my pocket and wine glass firmly in my other hand. Delicious barbecued pork fat! Definitely a red wine snack, so I ditched the white, picked up a red and started on the next table of colorful finger foods, which all turned out to be nicely dressed fish food. Yuck! Now with a rosé, from the next table I enjoyed a delicious plate of ravioli with truffle sauce.
Sated and emboldened by wine tasting, I searched for my first victim. I recognized Philip Bergson from the Hamburg Filmfest, who had moderated evening talks at the Schauspielhaus. Becky Tan had interviewed him. I stalked him for quite a while as he spoke English, French and German to various acquaintances. After he sat at a table, I intruded announcing that I worked for Becky. He was delighted! He said he carried Becky’s article with him, as he showed me his well-worn briefcase as proof. He also knew all about KinoCritics.com. In between numerous interruptions from other important guests, we talked about the differences in film festivals. He thought that for film content, Venice should be the number one festival with Berlin second. I said I felt Berlin was all about seeing films, but Cannes was all about being seen. As he replied that Cannes was about whom you work for, he started on a tirade about the hierarchy of press accreditation and how complex it has become. He had a pink badge one year, and then they added gold sparkles. He was so frustrated that he took two years off and this year came as a marketing representative, which he enjoyed more, except for the lack of a post box, so he could not receive party invitations. One interruption was devoted entirely to how Philip could get on board one of the luxurious ships in the harbor for a party. Mathias Elwardt from Abaton Theater in Hamburg stopped by, warmly greeting Philip. Having taken up enough of his time, I excused myself for the powder room. A perfumed port-o-potty! Prowling around, I came upon filming of the arrival of Til and Dana Schweiger. Also at the party were Wim and Donata Wenders, director Hans Weingartner (Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei), Dieter Kosslick (Berlinale director) and Culture Minister Christina Weiss.
The music was pounding loudly, a few more hundred guests had arrived, and back at the wine bar I was thrilled to see that Lenôtre, the famous Parisian chocolatier, was setting up a chocolate fountain. I formed the beginning of a very long line. Once the fountain was flowing, plates of sliced fruit were set out with chopped nuts, and I ate about a dozen delicious pieces until I was eventually pushed away by more desperate chocoholics. After such indulgence, it was time to work off some calories on the dance floor. I noticed a young Spanish girl moving to the beat off stage while talking to an older man. I told her someone has to get the dancing started, so she grabbed my hand and the three of us hit the dance floor. Cameras zoomed in for close-ups of my fifteen seconds of festival fame!