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Stars and cars on the Côte-d'Azur

Coming up is the biggest weekend of the year on the Côte-d’Azur. I’m keeping my excitement under control, but not everyone is as disciplined. You should have seen – more especially, heard – the young women screaming when Russell Crowe finally took off his shades on the red carpet in Cannes yesterday. Or the banks of photographers elbowing aside widows and orphans for a shot of Cate Blanchett.

That’s right: the 63rd Cannes Film Festival is hitting its well-dressed stride. Meanwhile, across in Monaco, they’re already doing the qualifying laps for Sunday’s Grand Prix. Right now, Fernando Alonso seems to have pole position nailed. And, as real Monégasques head out of the principality to escape the tumult (and also leave their apartments free for exorbitant rental), so the rest of the world is heading in. Well, slightly less of the rest of the world than in past years, but a lot all the same.

The conjunction of the two events has the planetary spotlight on the Côte as at no other time. It is reckoned that the Cannes festival alone attracts more media attention than any other regular entertainment event, bar the Olympics and the soccer world cup.

These are the few days, then, when the Riviera really buffs up its international image. They’ve got to get everything right. It’s an intriguing spectacle … from a distance.

Lunatic fringe

Whatever the reviews of yesterday’s opening film Robin Hood, it appeared to be festival business as usual outside the Festival Hall in Cannes. There were Blanchett and Crowe. Max von Sydow didn’t look at all his age and Eva Longoria was, I thought, the finest of the many women who chose dresses which dragged on the ground. Jean-Claude van Damme confirmed yet again that Belgium has a lunatic fringe, and that he is it.

And Kirsten Scott-Thomas was the ideal mistress of ceremonies – opening the shebang in perfect French – as everyone knew she would be.

Meanwhile, of course, the town was going bonkers. All the sponsors’ posh marquees were repaired, up and ready on the beach – a considerable achievement after last week’s storm-battering. People without invitations or badges were already being turned away from the first glam soirées, even – especially – if they claimed to be Ukrainian journalists with no knowledge of French or English. Or friends of Brad Pitt’s first cousin (both are classic, and useless, entry ploys).

Brad and Angelina

There’s less chance still of getting into the high-profile evening thrashes to come – Lionel Richie’s private concert to celebrate the 150th anniversary of jewellery and watch company Chopard (on Monday) or Thursday’s fund-raiser for Haiti. Sean Penn, Julian Lennon and Boris Becker are due to show up – as, inevitably, is Naomi Campbell. This could provide the world’s least enlightening four-way conversation.

So the ordinary Joe (or Josephine) is reduced to wandering around in the hope of a glimpse of star flesh. He or she might like to know that festival jury president Tim Burton and Michael Douglas (in town for Oliver Stone’s latest) are both at the Carlton. Woody Allen is at the Martinez and Brad and Angelina apparently have reservations at the Eden Roc along the coast. Not that you’ll get anywhere near them, of course.

As I said in an earlier post Côte-d’Azur gossip, Cannes at festival time is no place for reasonable people. But many will go all the same … so let me give you a tip. If, astoundingly, you’re interested in the actual films rather than the froth, you may get a chance to see them – without having to pretend to be Ukrainian and, indeed, without having to pay.

Free view

The Cannes Cinéphiles organisation puts on parallel screenings of all the Cannes fest films at various venues across town. To bag a ticket, simply go to the Espace Cannes Cinéphiles on La Pantiero – the promenade which edges the main port, just beyond the Festival Hall. If they’ve got any spaces left, they’ll let you have an invite. All you have to do is turn up.

Or you might prefer to watch free movies on the beach. There’s an aptly-named Cinema de Plage – on the public beach, next to the Festival Hall – where a giant screen will showing classic and contemporary films nightly at 9.30pm. Again, all you have to do is turn up ... though places are limited, so best get there a bit early. And bring blankets. The weather is due to be unseasonably cool through the festival.

There’s not much to be had for free across in Monaco during GP weekend… though prices are dropping. I note that, today (Thursday) you can buy yourself a terrace space overlooking the Sunday race – including buffet, open bar, TV and hostesses - for €790. That’s down from the original €1390. Of course, €790 is still a sizeable wedge for a race you can see much better at home on TV ... though that’s apparently a false comparison. (I have an F1 fan friend who says I understand nothing.)

Wellington boots

At any rate, it’s only (only!) €250 more than the most expensive, €537 stand ticket .. which gets you no food, booze or hostesses. And which leaves you without cover. This could be important this year, for the forecast is for rain during the race. Organisers are advising that stand ticket-holders equip themselves with “mackintoshes, umbrellas and wellington boots”. Imagine that. Imagine forking out €537 smackers and then going in your wellies. You can find more details of prices and last-minute tickets at www.grand-prix-monaco.info.

The reason for the price cuts is, of course, that fewer corporate sort of people are making block bookings. As one Monaco tourist agent said: “They’re considering it indecent to strut about on terraces in a time of crisis”.

In the golden years from 1997-2001, this guy used to book 13 terraces for customers. This year he’s taken just three. Even F1 sponsors Marlboro have cut back – sending one luxury yacht as a base, rather then their usual two.

Then again, tough times are relative in the principality and probably won’t be apparent to the naked eye. What you’ll see is the world’s richest little enclave in full party mode. And a lot of people in baseball caps.

Fur-flying

A final word about Cannes. As actresses, both wannabe and real, totter from soirée to party and onto a nightclub, they’ll be well advised not to be wearing furs. Brigitte Bardot has them in her sights. BB may no longer be the world's most beautiful woman or count for much in the contemporary film world, but she’s made a much-remarked contribution to the film festival … with an anti-fur poster.

It shows a woman wearing a fox stole and a red dress … dripping blood from its hem. The legend reads: “Le cinema a son festival à Cannes. La mode a son festival de connes.” Translated roughly, and as politely as possible, this means: “The cinema has its festival of Cannes. Fashion has its festival of imbeciles.”

An admirable woman, I can’t help thinking.

For further expert advice, see my pages on Provence, Cannes, Marseille, Monaco, Nice and St-Tropez.