A Cannes party is above all good to look at. I went to the opening gala of Cannes, a private fete sponsored by Pixar (for "UP"), curious to see just how funky the art design would be. Color! Stepping down the wooden steps to the pier, onto the open terrace, under a sliver of a moon, a huge array of pink, yellow, blue and green balloons formed a plastic surprise in the sky, rising high over the pier. It was so well done that a stream of white birds, each in their own private halos, glowing in the blackened sky, seemed animated as well ("No they are not," a fellow guest informed me. "They are seagulls. We are by the sea.")
Rising on white tables around low-bottomed bamboo stools and fake palm trees were mountains of bright fruit: pink watermelon, yellow pineapple, ripe red strawberry, with pots of steaming chocolate next to it.
Perhap the movie "Up" has a tropical theme?
The challenge, however, was figuring out how to dip the slivers of fruit into the chocolate with a toothpick. Less challenging was another high-tech display of yellow tubes, which an Argentinean producer and I figured out were custard creams, to be propelled (with a special lever) into one's mouth.
As usual, handsome men in white suits graciously poured champagne or vodka or whatever drink you could imagine from long white tables of glasses. "Desirez-vous?"
Yet one should not imagine a Cannes party as--what I once expected--the Rock Hudson hot-tub orgy scene in "Seconds", nor like the wild pool scene with the jumping screaming girls in David Lynch's "Lost Highway." The first hours of the party were like any other: men in tuxes and women in short glittery skirts standing alone, immobile, awkward about not knowing anyone to talk to. Still nice to look at, but a bit silent (except for the cool 70s music played by the DJ).
But the pleasure of Cannes is that once the ice is broken, you always have something in common: either the fact that you are a foreigner (everyone has flown in from somewhere) or that you are interested in film. While not everyone is a star or director, everyone is in the "business"--literally.
A couple Hungarians sitting at a table overlooking the water gaily told me that they were "press agents" for Hungarian film, working for the government, and convinced me that I should re-see Bela Tarr, and also go to the Hungarian party a few days down the road. One promised to send me a DVD of a documentary about life-after-death experiences--which, he winked, may or may not really exist.
Then the CEO of the new "Indian Film Company"---Sandeep Bhargava--- kindly gave me a beginner's lesson in how Bollywood works. Basically Bollywood (defined as all films in Hindi) got "corporate status" seven years ago (government subsidy) so corporations have taken over the industry. Very calmly and happily, Sandeep explained that his new company is a branch of India's largest media conglomerate (Studio l8), which wanted to get a piece of the "film" cake, and hired him to start up distribution of Indian films worldwide (the first being Mira Nair's/ Sooni Taraporevala's "Little Zizou" ), to the Indian diaspora as well as to a non-Indian base (even in South America).
What is the pleasure of working in the film business, I asked Sandeep, who told me he had originally come from l6 years in advertising.
"Commercial success," he told me.
15% of ticket sales, I learned, go to distribution companies.
Of course, I also run into my fellow journalists at these beach parties: an opportunity to discover the more intimate side of the men and women behind all the questions. One British critic spearing a pineapple told me that after a particularly moving interview with Willem Dafoe, he decided to drop out and become a therapist. "I've spent 16 years interviewing people--great people with vision" he said. "And I thought the same skills--the questions, the ability to connect deeply with people--could be used in another field, perhaps more fulfilling."
These are the kind of tips that motivate. Not only did I agree (perhaps I too!), but I scheduled an interview with Dafoe the next morning.
By the time I left (happily champagned), the party was packed--tuxedos galore--and the food had turned from animated to spectacular as well: dishes of seafood risotto, creamed fettuccini and fresh sea-bass circulated in white bowls on silver trays to the chattering crowd below the balloons by the moonlit sea.