The penthouse suite at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes was once the most expensive in the world. At nearly £24,000 per night, nowadays it’s considered merely the fourth costliest on earth. So what’s the view like from the opulence of the seventh floor? Probably of your yacht, so long as Roman’s isn’t in the way. Then, if you look west on a clear day, down the curving stretch of the beachfront known as la Croisette, the landmark at the far end is the squat glass pile of the Palais des Festivals. That’s the business end of Cannes, where for the two weeks of the festival hustlers converge at the Marché du Film to hawk all manner of art house and erotica, densely plotted thrillers and cheesy B-movies, most of which will probably never see the dark of your local cinema.
It’s also where the films, including the press screenings and the red carpet premieres, are shown. If you’re travelling from the Martinez to a gala opening then that means a short trip as part of a convoy of official cars. Alternatively, if you’re still partying as the sun comes up, you might glimpse bleary eyed journalists making the kilometre shuffle, dragging theirs hangovers behind them, to ensure that they’re at the dawn press screening in good enough time that they don’t have to wrestle for a seat with the guy from the Kazakh Film Federation.
Look closer and you’ll see the run of luxury hotels down the seafront: the Majestic, the Marriott and the Carlton, which this year has been taken over by Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator and made to look like a gaudy totalitarian palace. The entire seafront stretch is adorned with movie posters of all shapes and sizes, mostly for projects with distant release dates and dubious premises. One of the most prominent billboards this year is not for a film but rather a character: “Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher”. The next is for the newly postponed, backlash-ready GI Joe: Retaliation. Doubtless future Palme d’Or contenders both.
Opposite the hotels is the beach itself, which inevitably has its own cinema. It appears to mainly screen old Bond movies, which seems fitting in a town where men are rarely out of tuxedos. There’s then a string of temporary beachfront bars like Chivas House which host the various exclusive after-parties. These will be heaving until the early hours, so for a quiet drink its better to head a couple of streets back into the old town to places like Silencio, David Lynch’s Parisian nightclub which has taken up residence at the summit of Cannes’ Five Hotel.
Look straight down from the terrace, like P Diddy did from his room a couple of days ago, and you’ll be able to wave to the crowds of autograph-hunters and amateur paparazzi who cluster around the Martinez for the duration of the festival. They hang around the hotel from around 9am to ensure a spot close to the barriers for showtime: the pre-premiere moment when celebrities make the short walk from the hotel doors to their waiting cars, and the iPhones and SLRs click away in harmony. In such a frenzied atmosphere, the potential for mayhem is high. One afternoon I saw a beautiful young Asian woman in a short yellow dress walk shyly through the front door of the Martinez, then launch a big wave at the crowds. This triggered a wall of camera flashes and cries of “Freida!” before someone forlornly pointed out that she was not, in fact, Freida Pinto. Whoever she was, she got her Cannes moment.
Whatever the views from the roof are like, the ground-floor bar is unparalleled for people-watching. While skimming the trade dailies for newly inked deals, you can watch the stars leaving for the red carpet, the equally glamorous Harvey Weinstein-presided parties by the pool and the informal meetings happening over drinks. Hustlers in every direction. Everyone in Cannes is hustling for something. Producers take a year’s worth of meeting in two weeks and young actors with light in their eyes brush shoulders with older rivals who were major players once upon a time.
The former stars watch the current crop glide past on the crest of their waves, temporarily invincible. Eva Longoria has at least two separate entourages, one security, the other simply to deal with the train of her dress. Lana Del Rey takes the time to work the barriers outside the hotel then can’t find her car in the queue. The crowds just keep cheering her as she goes from door to door. Freida Pinto arrives. It’s really her this time, and the crowds whoop it up again. Back inside, Bill Murray is delighting in subverting the entrenched celebrity code by approaching and deadpan-charming everyone he sees. He joins us for a drink a couple of nights running, telling us he’s in town to “cause mischief”. He’s succeeding.
Cannes is celebrity in the raw. For the crowds at the barriers there is the coquettish promise of proximity to the rich and famous even as the distance between fans and stars is reinforced with metal barriers, blacked-out cars and burly security. Inside the barriers, the deals that make celebrity happen are signed. It’s a hustler’s paradise and the views are spectacular.
Originally published by British GQ.