Why go to Cannes?
Present-day Cannes can dazzle with the brilliance of its surface. (It happened to me. I was walking along La Croisette promenade and, sunlight in my eyes, didn’t spot Sean Connery. He almost flattened me.)
There’s no point in fighting it. Go with the flow. This is what Cannes is about, and has been for years. The surface indeed gleams but Cannes is shiny underneath, too. In truth, it’s luxury – with side-orders of style and bling – pretty much all the way down.
Those movie stars, for instance – the ones who coat the town in glitter even though they’re only there for a day or two in May. Or the lovelies hopefully unhooking bikinis in a tsunami of toplessness on the beach. Or the palace hotels and casinos, the cool bars and hot shops where frocks defy pricing gravity.
They’re nothing new. They’re all, give or take the toplessness, doing what Cannes has been doing since 1834. That year, Lord Henry Brougham – ex-Lord Chancellor of Britain – happened upon what was a tiny fishing port distinguished only by poverty.
Brougham approved of the bay and surrounding hills so much that he had a thumping great villa built there. Word got about. Other rich, famous and noble Brits rolled in, followed by Russians, Americans and assorted Euro-aristocrats.
Mirrors on the ceiling
The original village was swamped by sumptuousness. A new Cannes took shape, fashioned in the image of the fashionable. The resort shimmied into the world spotlight as a place of elegance, decadence and all-night soirées amid exotic gardens and arresting interior décor.
So it has stayed. The hills flanking the town still have their contingent of villas, châteaux and palaces from the wilder realms of architectural fantasy. These have, naturally, been adapted for the modern age. (“You should see the mirrors on the bedroom ceilings,” said a former housekeeper friend of mine. “But not with me.”)
Royalty still show up – these days, as often as not, from the Middle East. But the image is sustained overwhelmingly by the Film Festival. Cannes plays to the hilt its self-appointed role as a world capital of cinema, rippling out the effects of a few days in May across the whole year.
Sandals, no socks
There are hotel suites named after movie stars, movie star cocktails, wall-filling movie-star murals and, recently placed all over town, life-sized hardboard cut-outs of movie stars with their faces missing. Thus, you may put your own mug in the gap and become Angelina Jolie.
The implication is that the movie stars are permanent fixtures, likely to be bumped into at any moment. They aren’t. Mine was a rare encounter. But a certain pizzazz remains in the air. It unarguably adds lustre to the lovely curve of the Mediterranean bay.
And the thing is that it’s available to all. You don’t have to be Angelina or Sean. Access to the city can be affordable, especially as the crunch has emptied bedrooms. Thus might you stroll La Croisette just like a noble, palms trees on one side, briny the other and light in your eyes. No-one will know you’re from Peterborough or Pittsburgh. It will help, of course, if you don’t wear socks with your sandals.
Dan Hipgrave explains how to enjoy Cannes as a non-A-lister is his guide Cannes: beyond the red carpet.