Pretentious, moi?

The biopic 'Saint Laurent' is is showing in competition at Cannes

The biopic ‘Saint Laurent’ is is showing in competition at Cannes

Last night was the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival.

I love Cannes. More than anything, I love watching the red-carpet moments of the festival, when French journalists decked out in penguin suits scramble to catch a sound bite from movie stars as the paparazzi flash away.

I especially love hearing them ask questions in heavily-accented English, and then watching the expressions on the faces of the American stars as they struggle to come up with an answer. (‘What was the question?’)

Okay, it’s mean. And it’s petty. But I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of French arrogance long enough, I figure they owe me a few moments of fun.

I also love the live edition of the Canal+ talk show, le Grand Journal, hosted every year from the Croisette, with its star-studded line-up of guests. And where you can expect some unexpected and embarrassing moments. Last night Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth were on the set when ‘les intermittents du spectacle’ (contract workers in the French entertainment business for which there is no equivalent in English), staged an unexpected appearance – interrupting the live broadcast with a political message.

What I love less about Cannes is the pomp and circumstance of the festival. They take their cinema pretty seriously over here. Quite frankly, I rarely watch the film that wins the coveted ‘Palme d’or’ or Golden Palm, the top prize at Cannes. Who can stay awake?

French-Irish actor Lambert Wilson, who hosted last night’s event, said in his opening remarks to the gathered international glitterati that the French were universally thought to be the most arrogant, pretentious and rude people in the world.

I’d love to be able to crush that stereotype. But you and I both know that’s not gonna happen.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of crossing the Channel to take a 3-day writing course in London: John Truby’s Anatomy of Story Master Class, primarily for screenwriters but incredibly useful for anyone who writes stories and wants help with structure. He really knows his stuff and he gave a great course.

The thing about Truby is that he is the Hollywood writing guru – a script doctor from LA who’s worked on major studio productions in film and television. He’s there to tell you what works in commercial terms, to teach the craft and give writers the tools to succeed. He is not there to provide an existential analysis of the art form or to explore the film-making techniques of Lars Von Trier.

Among our group of writers, actors and producers from all over Europe, there were two people who continually interrupted with questions that challenged the legitimacy of the approach. Who looked down their very long noses intellectually at what they apparently considered to be ‘formulaic’. Who clearly thought they knew better than the expert himself.

Guess where they were from?

There are times when I am embarrassed to be French. Even by adoption.

‘Nuff said.

So, are you a fan of Cannes? Is your eye on the red carpet or the silver screen? I hear that Grace of Monaco, which is showing at the festival but not in competition, is terrible. But there are some entries, like Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall and Turner from Mike Leigh that I will be eager to see. How about you?


  1. Multifarious meanderings · May 15, 2014

    I enjoyed this post -great writing, as usual! I always say that the French can be precious, arrogant and pretentious at times – but charmingly so. As Coluche said, they chose the cockerel as their emblem because it is the only animal that continues to sing with its feet in “la merde”. Long ago, I remember being asked “What is a goodeuh leuking geurl laik yoo dooeeng in a plais like zis?” as I was serving a tray of coffee to a small group of people on the terrasse of the hotel room rented by a certain… Lambert Wilson. Who was remarkably polite. Small world 🙂

    • MELewis · May 15, 2014

      Ha, ha! He must’ve been playing up the charming French accent for your benefit – he speaks English with no accent at all! But you’re right….we love our French friends in spite of (or sometimes perhaps even because of) their character flaws. Thanks for your lovely comment!

      • Multifarious meanderings · May 15, 2014

        It wasn’t him who came up with the corny line, it was one of his “groupies”. He just looked embarrassed. I suppose attracting that kind of person is part and parcel of being a public figure – poor thing 🙂

  2. aimeecartier · May 15, 2014

    Oh I love this post. I’ve never been to Cannes FF but I love the tiny snapshot into it. I had no idea (but oh so French) that some embarrassing moments could be strewn in. They don’t like rules– they just do whatever they want. I feel that I can say this — having lived in France, and also having this blood in my veins. Rules are made to be broken is practically a Cartier family motto. Anyway, delightful read. Also loved the bit about your writing class– what a treat!

    • MELewis · May 15, 2014

      Oh, yes! It’s a quagmire of culture clashes. And you’re right about the rules – definitely made to be broken. Probably why there are so many! Thanks for commenting, glad you enjoyed!

  3. Moi, I’m very excited to see deux jours, une nuit / Two Days, One Night, as I adore Marion Cotillard–I need to find a movie theatre that is showing it with French subtitles though…still can’t do a French movie sans sous-titres. And by the by, how the heck did you get into that writers workshop? I would love to go to something like that (soon). It must have been fab (minus the annoying French)…:-)

    • MELewis · May 19, 2014

      Yes, the course was wonderful! Anyone can sign up for it, or similar offers, as long as you can pay the fees! (about 200 GBP). Entirely worth it, I learned so much. Hope you find the film with subtitles – let me know how you enjoy it!

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