On the night you arrive in Cannes, you'll stand rooted to your spot on the pavement, exhausted from your 30-hour trip from AUS->ORD->DUB->PGF. (Your flight to Nice was canceled. You flew to Perpignan in French Catalonia and finagled a ride to Cannes with a resourceful 60-something Welshman called John). You're there. Arriving in Cannes in the middle of the night on day one of the festival, a first-time visitor could get the wrong idea. It's breathtaking, of course – the taxi stand you're aiming for is a fanned out lineup of shiny black Mercedes, and the giant moon hangs low over the Mediterranean Sea. But, Cannes is, in the moment of your arrival, a sleeping giant. Quiet just this once. As you wait there on the sidewalk in the middle of your first French night – waiting for what exactly, for a sign? – a trio of partygoers in tuxedos and gowns enter the frame, kiss one another on both cheeks and cross the empty street in front of you. You follow them toward the taxi stand, woozy ducklings in a line.
At the end of the taxi ride along the beach is Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, a gently removed, less expensive corner of the French Riviera. Your room is a fourth story walk-up with a balcony that opens onto the town square. The oddly appointed closet offers up an assortment of empty suit and fancy-dress hangers and a safe with a broken lock. You're not the first tenant with somewhere to be. In a few hours, after a short sleep and a long coffee you'll catch the bus back into Cannes. This night, everything is shuttered.
After you've taken the crowded bus from Antibes, after you've located the registration queue in the international crush of swag-bag-carrying cinephiles and salesmen. Once you're distracted by the panorama of yachts, once you find the vending machine that squeezes oranges into fresh juice in the lobby – you're caught up in the swirl. Of course you are. By the time you emerge from the basement where you've collected your festival accreditation, by the time you stumble out onto the impossibly bright Boulevard de la Croisette, the carnival is under way. And you are there.
Cannes during the festival is exactly as if Los Angeles and New York dumped the contents of their pockets onto the streets of Cannes. And all of the loose change is dressed in black tie at noon, walking toward the empty red carpet, climbing the stairs of the Palais des Festival into the Grand Lumière Theatre. Jumbotron monitors, the kind and size you see in outdoor sports stadiums, are poised to transmit to the masses a bird's-eye view of this evening's selection of craggy men in gorgeous black-wool evening dress and bird-like women sewn into impossible gowns. The films are grand, but disappointing.
You are here. You: a guy who makes funny movies in Texas, a whiskey drinker who's not interested in the local wine, a guy who wears a size 15 shoe and dresses like a stand-up comedian. You are here in France, at this cafe, eating the first of many ham sandwiches. You just watched a cop and a paramedic greet one another with a kiss on each cheek before they wheeled an unconscious man on a stretcher into an ambulance. You strike up a conversation with Hamish, a scraggly bearded Brit dining alone at the cafe: an actor in a short horror comedy called "Post It." You talk about "Molly," the black and white melancholy-tinged comedy you wrote and directed about two best friends planning a breakdown in the wake of a breakup. Hamish feigns interest. But it's obvious you're here for different reasons. Your group will pass him later on the Croisette, on your way to meet a foreign sales rep at the Grand Hotel, you in a suit and him in full black tie. He doesn't see you. You don't say hello. Everyone's hurrying in the evening.
The next night, the bus to Cannes is late. Dinner is waiting. And parties. But you hate fish. And you need a nap. One of your traveling companions went into Cannes early. She ends up pitching you and "Molly" to the executive team at an old-guard indie distributor with an office in Austin. You find a train. You join them later for a drink at the Grand Hotel. The lawn is filled with inflatable sofas and people sipping Champagne.
You finish the night in a Caribbean bar, drinking lemonade and eating bites of alcoholic banana sorbet. At 2am, as you make your way back to the taxi stand, two 10-year-olds in tuxedos pass on your right speaking animatedly in French. Somehow, this is the sign you were looking for. You are here.
Craig Elrod (writer/director) received his bachelor's degree in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas in Austin. His directing credits include the feature film The Man From Orlando (2012) and many short films, including "Molly," which screened at Cannes this month at the Short Film Corner. His feature script Floyd was a finalist for the 2007 Sundance Screenwriter's Lab.
Michelle Mirsky is a writer. Obviously.
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