The Cannes Film Festival prides itself on its unimpeachable Leftist credentials, with the cancellation of the event during the turbulence of 1968 being proudly recalled as an instance when Cannes stood shoulder to shoulder with the youthful student firebrands. Yet for those on the ground at Cannes, it can often seem as if the socialist spirit has gone walkabout.
This year, as in any other at Cannes, the organisers have awarded screening slots to a number of movies which, broadly speaking, operate on the left of the political spectrum. Sabina Guzzanti's Draquila – Italy Trembles attacks Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi with the ferocity of a heavyweight boxer roughing up the guy who robbed his mum's bungalow, while that living legend of French cinema, Jean-Luc Godard, returns to Cannes at the age of 79 with his new film, Socialism. And the major news event of the last eighteen months, the global financial fuck-up, is critically addressed by a trio of movies; Inside Job, Cleveland vs. Wall Street, and the all-star, Fox-funded Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
But while the fabric of the films themselves is very much red in colour, there is often far less egalitarianism and humanism in evidence around the Palais. For starters, there is more big corporate sponsorship than you can shake a stick at. Even the length of fabric that holds my press badge round my neck is daubed with no fewer than 16 logos belonging to a certain mobile phone company (I'll give you a clue, the name of the firm rhymes with... with... ooh, do you know what, I can't think of anything. Just have to leave it).
Then there is the special Nespresso bar on the second floor of the Palais, for the use of all those journos who hate African children. François, a fantastically friendly writer for a left-wing Quebec-based paper, was sanguine about this matter when I put it to him that there is a paradox between what Cannes thinks it stands for and how it is in actuality. He, quite rightly, noted that we should at least be grateful that the sponsors don't get to splash their branding in front of the films themselves.
Beyond the matter of monolithic multinationals slithering their way into the world's foremost cinematic showcase, there is another curiosity about the way in which Cannes chooses to handle its legions of accredited visitors. As per my blog post the day the Indie Movies team arrived in Cannes, there are several different colours of press badge available, with these being awarded according to how important the festival powers-that-be reckon you are. Hence my badge being shaded a sunny, south of France yellow, designating me as one of the useless Morlock underclass, sniffing and shuffling and farting on the lowest rung of the journalistic ladder. What does this mean in practice? Well, as far as I and others of my yellow ilk are concerned, queuing. And bloody lots of it at that.
When I wish to obtain access to a screening I am obliged to line up in a specific section for we misbegotten wearers of the yellow letter. While this is not always the case, it is the dominant scenario, particularly for early screenings of the bigger-name movies. The yellow streak of scumbag journos are then only granted access once every other superior colour of badge has been safely admitted and given ample time to buy a croissant and a cappuccino from the concessions stand before leisurely taking their seat. Rabid queue competitiveness consequently manifests itself amongst the yellow badgers, good manners more than occasionally being abandoned for fear of being left outside. Honestly, the only time you would ever see greater anxiety on the faces of a pack of journalists is if all the large media agencies announced they were conducting a full and thorough audit of all their writers' expenses claims.
The worst experience I had with this system was also the first experience I had with this system, as I queued up to get into the opening film of the 2010 Official Selection, Mathieu Amalric's Tournée. The screening was due to commence at 7 in the Salle Debussy; at 1068 seats the second biggest of the festival venues, after the Lumière in which all the black-tie premieres take place. Very much aware of the shortcomings of my own press pass, I had begun queuing more than an hour before the scheduled curtain-up time. Despite this, at 6.58 it looked likely I was going to get royally screwed out of a seat that surely, having been just the ninth or tenth person to line up, was rightfully mine.
On first learning of the priority press badge system, I thought, “Sure, whatever you want. I'm just happy to be here.” However, when you've been stood under a blazing sun for 70 minutes (waiting for Debussy screenings takes place on the street outside), and have been forced to helplessly look on as 500 fossils in blazers have just sauntered right up and waltzed straight on into the cinema on account of the Cannes commandants deeming them to be worthy of instantly bypassing the great leveling institution that is the queue, you begin to get somewhat sore. You find yourself nursing a feeling of disgust for the hierarchical press pass system operated by the Cannes festival chiefs to match the feeling of disgust triggered every time you see that photo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg gormlessly chumming up on the steps of 10 Downing Street, gripping onto power like those greedy kids gripping onto their golden tickets for Willy Wonker's chocolate funhouse.
It was looking as if my devout queuing had been for naught, as if Tournée would commence with me still exiled outside, as if I would have to wait for the nine o'clock showing, over three hours from when I'd first lined up. Possibly delirious from the scorching sunshine, I conjured up a fantasy of returning to Cannes years from now as a well-known critic, and proceeding to pointedly refuse the festival's toadying offer of privileged access, in favour of continuing to wear the lowly yellow badge, thereby demonstrating solidarity with the other marginalised writers and shaming the organisers for playing favourites in the first place. This reverie was interrupted by me being admitted to the movie. I grabbed one of the final seats, and as the lights went down and the Cannes logo appeared onscreen, the sense of furious injustice that had been boiling within my breast for the previous 40 minutes or so was gone - like tears in the rain. Or piss in a shower.
The deference shown to older journalists – and make no mistake, the vast majority of the top press passes are old like the rocks and the trees – feeds into another rather antediluvian school of thought I hadn't expected to encounter at Cannes; namely the distinction many of the native critics make between so-called High Art and Low Art. It is a divider most would have imagined was swept away with the spacehopper and the Bay City Rollers, yet the notion still drifts around Cannes that certain chosen directors are intensely profound artistes and should be discussed as such. Meanwhile, anything that might be classed as entertainment is not to be taken seriously and, most importantly, is not to be given the critical time of day. To me, this seems a very outdated mode of thinking and merely another route to venerating a few supposed autuers, rather than really getting to grips with the huge stream of interpolated references and possible readings that exist in movies and any other popular culture constructs, be they video games, comic books, or whatever.
Anyway, returning to queuing controversies, and Saturday night found me waiting for admittance for the evening screening of the aforementioned Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, at the Salle du Soixantième. Intrigued by the enthusiasm that Indie Movies editor Emma had shown for Oliver Stone's flick, I had got there early, meaning that I was very near the front of the line, positioned closest to a middle-aged couple – he British, she French – and a USC film student in grey jacket and a straw summer trilby. As the couple and the college boy shot the breeze, another woman slipped in between us all and surged forward, looking from side to side as she did so, craning her neck like she was searching for a friend who was already in the queue. Satisfied she had made it safely forward in the line, she swiftly dropped this act and settled in behind a group of American men in black suits.
“Unbelievable!” gasped the British man. Now, I should explain for any international readers; if you really want to offend a UK native then pushing in front of them in a queue is a very good place to start. A deeply-held boundary violated, the man immediately leaned forward, tapped the woman – who proved to be French – on the shoulder, and ordered her back to get back from whence she came. She slinked off, wearing an expression that said, “Who me? Push in? Perish the thought.” The man turned to the USC student and explained, “You've got to say something, you know,” before adding, “It's the French women that are the worst.” He points at his Gallic partner and grins, “I can say that because she's French.” She sadly smiles in agreement: “I am ashamed of my compatriots.”
This instance of standing up for the integrity of the queue could be taken as emblematic of the Salle du Soixantième itself. It is the one Cannes Film Festival venue where equality reigns supreme. A makeshift cinema situated in a boxy white marquee atop the roof of the rear Palais building, the theatre does require some form of accreditation for access, but no priority is given to anyone. Whatever colour of press badge you possess, if you have a market badge, or – as the trilby-wearing USC student had – you hold some other type of festival pass, all are rendered identical in the eyes of the Salle du Soixantième. Some form of the socialist dream remains alive in at least one quarter of Cannes.
So we all eventually file in for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, we all take our seats, the light dims and the movie begins to roll. And the woman sat next to me proceeds to play air drums and air trombone to the 20th Century Fox theme tune. Honestly, is there no way of sifting these people out?