May 11, 2016

Cannes Film Festival opens





We went to Cannes yesterday, because we're writing a story about terrorism, and the Festival's opening would be the ideal multiplier of terrorism's effect: one Brad Pitt is worth thousands, if not millions of other innocent victims, you'll agree. We're not sure we'll have an actual blast in the story, so here's one from the Pulitzer-winning last novel of Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch:


[hang on; under development]


The opening has always been on a Tuesday, because the festival has always lasted for 12 days, the festival competition always featured 22 films, two per day, with the last day, a Sunday, dedicated to the awards ceremony.





So it's Tuesday, May 10, and we leave the house at 15:30  to arrive at the red carpet event at 17:00. 






But---spoiler alert, the punch line is shallow---but there is no festival. At least not yet. The inner bay of Cannes---an orgy of bobbing luxury yachts on opening day---the bay is empty, save for two low-budget cruise ships, both called "Aida"---so low-budget in fact that they've printed their desperate internet address on the bulky stern of the vessel. There are no traffic check points, almost all the signature S-class black Mercedes-es that Merryl Streep always uses in The Devil Wears Prada are missing from the habitual traffic jam, almost nobody is wearing a badge, the people on the patios opposite to the venue are drinking rosé, not champagne, it's a sorry panorama to behold. Tomorrow, says one of the advance goons already posted around the Palais du Festival. Okay, so Chang takes pictures. 

Fragment, fragment...The story is titled Le Trayas Station, and we've printed one fragment already. So here's the follow-up (Michael is about to pick up an errant, lost youth who's about to miss an exam in the not-so-nearby town of Grasse. Michael will now take him there):

I had a better look at him. He was pretty---clear profile, full lips, brown eyes, tousled hair, good proportions---and there was a reclining quality to his gaze I couldn’t resist.  

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll take you to Grasse.”
“Would you do that for me?” he replied. 

I had to explain: We would have to recoup my car, and Grasse is forty kilometers away. Traffic is always jammed, and we’re not likely to make it in time. He batted his eye lashes. 

We ran, charging back up the hill—neighbors and their dogs taking notice—and arrived breathless at the gate of my place. Wait here, I said to him---I would have to tell Chang. Chang, luckily---or unluckily in the larger scheme of things---was ensconced in his Facebook account. We were off in our aging SUV.

“What’s your name,” I asked, regaining my breath.
“Muhammed,” he answered. 

I laughed: the guy at the train station, whether he’d seen that guy. (Yes.) His name is also Muhammed. (And?) Why didn’t you asked him about the bus? (Well, the mec had started talking to him in Arabic, and his own Arabic isn’t so good. Not as good as his brother’s). So, you are Arab? (His family is, yes). 

I scanned him sideways. He was dressed in neatly-pressed slacks, fresh polo shirt, and a cardigan. 
You don’t look like second generation, I said. He didn’t answer. “You’re exam…” I asked, but then my cell phone rang---Chang possibly---I didn’t answer.
“Your portable,” he said.

You’re not allowed to use your phone behind the wheel, I said. Oh, he didn’t know. 

“You’re exam…” I asked again. 
“You could have handed me the phone,” he replied, “I could have answered.”
“Most calls I get are in English,” I said, “or German.”
“Oh, zut, my English is not so good.” 

He relaxed on the passenger seat next to me. I made unfruitful attempts to learn where he was living, the reason for this exam, why he got lost in Le Trayas. He was about to miss his exam but he liked riding shotgun on an outdated Mercedes ML. I made a show of exceeding the speed limits, which is easier anyhow without GPS.

Grasse is a layered cake of neighborhoods, stacked against the first slopes of the Alps. The exam would be held in a school opposite to the Palais de Justice---an important court of law apparently since it had its own direction signs which pointed away from the main road and through a Zone Industriel until they petered out, the signs, and we got lost. We would be hopelessly late---which---come to think of it---would create an opening, an opportunity. “You’ll be hopelessly late,” I said, “and it’s my fault. They may turn you away now. I’ll wait for you.” He declined politely.

We arrived at the school short of 11 o’clock. I stopped at the main gate in the NO-NO-traffic-zone. He shouldered his satchel and dropped off and reappeared 10 minutes later, a wistful smile on his lips. 

“Your career is in shambles now,” I said---which---I shouldn’t have said. I should have said: ‘Let’s find a hotel,’ or ‘let’s find a hotel, you must be tired’---it would have worked, there and then. Anyhow, he climbed back onto the SUV and explained that he had to wait another year, although it wasn’t the end of the world. We entered a conversation about his future and his family until I had to ask where he lived. He studied marketing, what else. The father worked in Paris, supposedly, and his brother ran the show. 

He lived in Nice, in the Ariane quarter, on the rue Darius Milhaud. “The composer?” I asked. He wouldn’t know. “Ariane?” I asked. It’s the neighborhood next to the power station, he explained, exit Nice-est on the A8: you can see it from the motorway when you are coming from the other side, from Monaco, on the right---yes, I remembered.

I had never been inside an immigrant housing project—eight-story structures this one, mostly, although they looked better from the inside than coming-from-Monaco, and they were not as densely packed as the apposite TV features about immigration would suggest. Wouldn’t be easy to find a parking space, Muhammed said. I parsed this briefly, inhaled, and replied: “I---just---drop you off.”


“Oh, pardon, NON”---that wasn’t the idea. His mother would never forgive him. I was his savior now, and I had to meet his mother, and his brother, maybe...(we will now meet his brother, who's the terrorist, of course).


You're still there? It always rains during the festival, they say, so clouds were building up over the sea as we went home. The last picture, this is us, folks, us and the Estérel where we live---seen from Cannes.







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