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  • AreebZuaiter

To Cannes ... And Back

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Written by Areeb Zuaiter for TOPLINE and originally published July 2018.

Packing for the prestigious Festival de Cannes was typical: the dilemma of how the weather would be, the appropriate attire for the business meetings in the Market and the tenues de soirée for the evening screenings meant a huge luggage that had me struggle my way across the very busy street towards the self-service mediocre hotel near the festival. I actually had to take that luggage to my assigned room; which partly entailed pulling it up an inclined decrepit stairwell. Yet, I figured out quickly that, as minimal the setup of the room was, it could almost be considered a fancy residence compared to what one could get during the peak season of the Festival. The bitter memories of me pushing that luggage up those creepy stairs were automatically wiped out at the realization of that fact.

Days would start with the complimentary daily breakfast which had scarcely any variety. Yet, it was spot on. I doubt any one would crave anything more than that flaky classic French croissant with a foamy cappuccino. Every morning, my heart will pound with a mixture of guilt-driven agony and absolute joy when cutting open my croissant and witnessing distinct, soft layers tearing apart like cotton candy. Even my colleague Nada - who is extremely keen on maintaining a slim figure, amongst other things that mainly have to do with movie-theater etiquette – would not resist nibbling the crusty crumbs of that very croissant.

The buzz around the seventh art was enthralling on the Riviera. The Jordanian pavilion has welcomed a whole array of individuals that would range from Arabic-sweet-samplers and giveaway-pursuers, to high caliber filmmakers. The freshness of the Mediterranean air meeting the horizon of the Côte d’Azur combined perfectly for flavored professional encounters. Discussion panels, networking events, individual scheduled meetings and walk-in encounters were the essence of our existence at the Festival. The highlight of those encounters was when a large group dominated by ladies, probably playing along with the whole Me Too movement, wearing the red checkered hattas and raising the Jordanian flag gathered across our pavilion behind the metal security fence. The lead-lady held her index towards the Jordanian flag and inquired what we were doing here. It ended by a selfie.

Since we’re tackling the heavenly routines in Cannes, we have to touch upon the daily encounters with the one and only Grand Théâtre Lumière. I was there way ahead of time for my first screening. Although familiar with the no-selfie updated policy of the grand theatre experience, the overall weight of the theater standing there, just meters away, had me crave to actually pause for one. Such an act had all the eyes dart towards me with muffled exhales scolding the behavior. I had to instantly hide my phone and impatiently wait for my turn. In the theater, I was absorbed into a very long wait before the film, Les Filles du Soleil, started. When it did, I got immersed into the world of female Peshmerga fighters led by the charming Golshifteh Farhani – so charming to the extent that Eva, the director, orchestrated the whole film around her.

The second encounter was such an upgrade on every level. I got that magnificent Corbeille seat that prompted me to head to the hotel to dress up with specific formality that suits the 7:00 PM show. I left the room only to find the world raining cats and dogs and consequently ruining the previous half hour of my life doing the necessary enhancements. But, once there, all the trouble spent under the rain melted. That was the moment I got to experience actually walking on the red carpet amongst the flashlights and the buzz. Those moments of glamour, I believe, had a lot to do with the uplifted spirit that resulted in me actually enjoying every bit of Burning, the scheduled film of that evening.

The film was a riveting psychological drama – literally; a pyromania that had me put on a wide smile when I was meant to fall into some sense of grief. The plot was precisely rich with meticulous details of the callous youth social fabric in contemporary Korea. There was the thoughtful aspiring writer immersed in the philosophies of William Faulkner and F Scott Fitzgerald. There was the free spirited, young lady. And there was the handsome pompous cavalier whose every gesture radiate creepiness; his silence, his comebacks, his habits and even his yawns. The three pulled off a convincing mystery thriller that had the hall of the theater rock with applause as soon as the credits rolled up. It was particularly amusing to see Steven Yeun, who brilliantly played the pompous Ben, break out with tears right after we saw him indicating in the film that “he never really cried himself and that he doesn’t understand people who cry!” It was equally touching to see Lee Chang-Dong, the director empathetically pointing towards the picture of Pierre Rissient pinned on the right side of his suit’s collar. Pierre was evidently an influencer of Lee and he sadly left us right before the commencement of this edition of Cannes.

The standing ovation that followed Burning was nothing compared to the one received by Capharnaüm by Nadine Labaki. I did literally hustle" "and bustle to get the appropriate seat for this particular film; which allowed for my second walk on the red carpet. Although, this time, I was less prepared. I had to wrap up a last-minute meeting in our pavilion, lock it down, change my pair of shoes to a more formal high heel and rush towards the theater. The not so fancy attire, and the three work bags mounted on my shoulder, led to multiple disapproving glares and comments condemning the faux-pas. The peak of the awkwardness was when a photographer gestured impatiently, interrupting my walk of pleasure on the red carpet prompting me to speed up. Obviously, I must have been on the way and surely ruining his frame when I initially assumed he wanted me to smile for being in that frame. I finally made myself comfortable in my perfect seat and I had to tuck three stuffed bags beneath.

It was kind of bugging not to celebrate the full notorious 15-minute standing ovation for Capharnaüm. Because any two-hour screening at Cannes consumed in reality at least four, I had to cut my involvement in that standing ovation short so as to be on time for Couteau dans Le Coeur. I gathered my three bags and rushed back to the queue where I managed to turn a blind eye to more judgmental stares. There was no way possible to have a ticket to Vanessa Paradis’ upcoming movie and let go of it that easily. And so, I took my balcony seat and watched all the discipline and the tame associated with the lavish Lumière theater shatter before my eyes.

Erotic scenes and blood splatters were too much to handle for many. I saw the audience depart one after the other. I, myself, was torn. Part of me, or more specifically the typical me, would never leave a screening once started ever. The other part badly needed that extra hour. I had an early flight, a connection and my very dear breakfast to catch tomorrow. And … there was the packing! I shamefully decided not to be me and to follow the withdrawal movement. On my way back thoughts competed in my head. I was trying to wipe that traumatizing act of mine and, instead, calculating how much time I would have left for sleep – not much!

The following morning, I woke up to sadly accept approaching the actual end of my time in Cannes. That was it. The bus hit the road and Cannes started shrinking in the horizon. I reached out to my laptop bag and checked on the bunch of cards, small souvenirs and, most importantly, the invitation cards to the various screenings I have attended in the Grand Théâtre Lumière. I latched into those with a solid grip, closed my eyes focusing on the hum of the bus and surrendered to a deep morning nap.

[TOPLINE, Issue 1, July 2018]

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