Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Cannes on Festival Eve: All Quiet on the Southern Front, Carlton Hotel Back and Beautiful, But Old Time Croisette Carnival Is Hoped For– And Some Sun!


If you rebuild it, will they come?

The Intercontinental Hotel Group spent a bloody fortune to renovate Cannes’s centerpiece, The Carlton Hotel. I was a given a tour tonight, and it’s magnificent. The Carlton I knew was shabby, down on its luck, throwback to the days of screen sirens.

And then it got a facelift. Well, all body parts. New bars and restaurants throughout, a new restaurant outside in the back facing a reflecting pool and a real pool with cabanas. Everything is new, made to seem like the old Hotel but only better. And better it is.

The facade has been completely redone, painted, pointed. It’s gleaming. Normally on the night before the Festival de Cannes, you’d see the whole place dressed up in advertising for movies and film companies. You couldn’t even see the facade there would be so many ads on it. But tonight there are just two large free standing signs for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” flanking the new front entrance that eliminates the portico so you can walk straight in. (I miss the portico.)

Where’s all the old pizzazz that made the Carlton the center of attention every year? “I don’t think that’s happening this year,” says a young woman who works at the front desk. The implication is that the new Carlton will be like the glamorous Hotel du Cap Eden Roc in Antibes– sophisticated and cool. They don’t want people dressed like zombies or space vixens (see Troma Films) parading out front.

At the opposite end of the Croisette, the Majestic Hotel, across from the Palais, is also absent a sense of old Cannes merriment. Renovated a few years ago, the Majestic is also gleaming with Big Money energy. In the fabled bar, young women with large exposed breasts and big ideas are looking for “some advice.” (There were more discreet types at the Carlton, and I loved seeing tradition continue despite #MeToo.)

From the Majestic to the Carlton the wind is blowing, the weather is blustery. Some of prized commercial real estate that used to house over the top luxury brands are boarded up. I’ve never seen this before, ever. It’s startling. Some stores are still assembling window displays, although a few have been unveiled and are eye catchers, like Hermes. But some others are really closed down tight, no tenants, that used to be thriving. There’s a sense that the Money is not coming this year.

Indeed in front of what used to the garish Noga Hilton, brokers of supercars used to park out front. That’s where I used to see convertible Bugattis, Lamborginis, Ferraris, models I never heard, shining in the sun like NASA prototypes. But when I walked by what is now known as the JW Marriott, the indented slot from the street that used to house these symbols of abnormal wealth was empty. “Where are the cars?” I asked the doorman. He just shrugged.

What happened here? The pandemic. Even post-COVID, you can feel a reluctance to return to the old Cannes days. Wonderful restaurants and gelato shops, and so on, have closed over the last couple of years. Nothing has replaced them. Mom and pop businesses took a beating, it’s clear. A lot of little out of the way places have just vanished.

One restaurant has revived itself, however. On out of the way Boulevard Republique, chef proprietor Alison Sucheta is doing all the cooking from a small corner open kitchen. She’s dressed up, too. The restaurant is typically tiny for France, and the tables are packed. There’s a long middle table full of Americans here for the festival. I was lucky to get a seat next to two couples very involved in cinema– Bob Jeannie Berney, and Joana Vicente and Jason Kliot. Vicente runs the Sundance Film Festival. The other three are successful producers.

They are all hoping for a great festival, despite the glitchy ticket delivery system that’s causing nervous breakdowns. So am I. And some warm weather. After all, we’re on the Cote d’Azur!

The front window at Hermes on the Croisette, Cannes, May 2023.
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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