Essay

GOING SPOUSAL IN CANNES

Being ‘wife of’ at the French film festival affords certain advantages

MARNI JACKSON May 30 2005
Essay

GOING SPOUSAL IN CANNES

Being ‘wife of’ at the French film festival affords certain advantages

MARNI JACKSON May 30 2005

GOING SPOUSAL IN CANNES

Essay

Being ‘wife of’ at the French film festival affords certain advantages

MARNI JACKSON

AT MOST FUNCTIONS, playing Wife Of can be a mildly demeaning role, or at least a boring one. But going spousal at the Cannes Film Festival—where many of the movies I saw coincidentally had marriage as their theme—turns out to be a rather French role, with a quaint and lingering cachet. It’s not a walk-on, either. It even comes with its own coveted badge, the laminated pass I wear around my neck to identify myself as the official accompagnant of my journalist husband.

You don’t want to actually work the festival, trust me. I tried that one year. Being one

of 4,000 journalists all pursuing the same story requires a weird sort of stamina; you spend your days running between films, grovelling before security guards, or weeping over faulty Internet connections. You undersleep, you binge and purge on movies until your eyes feel like melting wheels of full-fat cheese, and, always, you feel the stinging shame of not being Juliette Binoche. Cannes is a place where star power trumps everything.

But as an Official Spouse, I am able to sweep past lineups of reporters. Sometimes, when a guard checks my pass, he actually gives a little bow and maître d’ smile as he unclicks the cordon to let me in. Such spousal moments are rare. On my first day, I went into the Palais (of red-carpet fame) and saw a sign for the WiFi Café. How nice, I thought, a special spousal refuge, the “wifey lounge.” But it turned out to be a press centre for making wireless connections. I wish there was a wifey lounge, in fact, because I could use the company.

My husband is on the run from dawn to midnight, seeing films, writing a blog, shooting digital video, interviewing people. My agenda, on the other hand, includes gazing into lingerie stores on the Rue d’Antibes, wondering why all French brassieres cost $200.

We do try to attend the 8:30 a.m. screenings together. It’s “our time.” But, to make sure we get in, my husband usually runs ahead as we race to the Palais. Then we use cellphones to find each other. Actually, high romance in Cannes is not a moonlit walk on the beach. It’s when your phone rings

and he says, “I saved you a seat.” One morning we were trying to find each other, talking on our phones as we swam upstream through the crowds, until we came face to face on the same street. This is an emblematic moment. Cannes is in your face and on some other planet. First, you become disoriented, then you lose all perspective. Global wars fade, replaced by a sighting of Charlotte Rampling, dressed entirely in black and exuding mystery. You go from Woody Allen’s new film, Match Point (a surprising hit), to a Kurdish road movie in which a soldier accompanies a convoy of rotting corpses across the desert. Violent mood swings are the order of the day.

My three favourite movies at the festival, including David Cronenberg’s A History of

‘MY HUSBAND is on the run from dawn to midnight. My agenda, on the other hand, includes gazing into lingerie stores, wondering why all French bras cost $200.’

Violence, combined these extremes: they were suspenseful portraits of marriage, with an alarmingly high body count. And Cronenberg’s film poses the always-pertinent question: can the person you deeply love be a total stranger at the same time?

Back in the hotel room, our own marital conversations are rarefied:

“It’s not that hard. Just click on the orange wedge, then click on Explorer, then enter your user name, then the password—the French one, not the old one—then wait until the striped thingy stops revolving, then click on preferences...”

Or: “I saw Matt Dillon today in that movie about Charles Bukowski, by that Norwegian guy, Bent Hamer. Were you there? I thought I saw you up in the balcony.”

“No, I saw that Argentinian one instead.” “Matt Dillon’s gained weight. He was good.”

“I fell asleep in mine, but I think I liked it.” “The guy I sat beside really smelled.” “On a hot day, you should always sit beside small women, they’re usually cleaner.” Our bedtime rituals in Cannes are also strange. My husband brought five electronic devices, including a high-definition video camera. So every night, like orderlies in an intensive care unit, we must plug in and care for our electronic brood—placing them in cradles, making them “sleep,” and recharging their batteries. Then we prepare for sleep ourselves, another acquired Cannes skill. Our hotel is down the street from the bar where festival-goers traditionally gather, spilling out into the street and drinking until 5 a.m. It sounds like heavy surf, with top notes of screaming. This means that despite the soft Provençal air, we must close the shutters, draw the drapes and insert our industrial-strength earplugs. Then we lie in bed, surrounded by the pulsing red and green lights of various things powering up—our own electronic starry sky.

But every year, like marriage itself, Cannes delivers a romantic moment when you least expect it. One evening, we step out onto our tiny balcony, with glasses of rosé. We can just glimpse the Mediterranean, wearing a tiara of lights from the yachts in the bay. Then we look down—and see that our railing is covered by a giant ad for the new Wim Wenders’ movie, Don’t Come Knocking. It stars Jessica Lange and her partner, Sam Shepard. Another spousal moment, where love meets work, at Cannes. [ifl

Toronto author and journalist Marni Jackson is married to /Wac/ean’sfilm critic Brian D. Johnson.