The best acting you’ll see at the Festival de Cannes won’t take place in a private screening room or a velveteen auditorium, but down in the alleyways and out on the hotel steps. Here, with desperate nonchalance and contoured cheekbones, a motley cast tries their best to convince the Powers That Be that they really ought to be on the inside of wherever they’re outside. On Saturday night, crushed between a dozen tuxedos and a galaxy of on-loan earrings (‘@Dior, thanks so much for the gift’, the Instagram captions lie), a terracotta man in inexplicable sunglasses utters the word ‘influencer’ to the doorman, while his plus one chucks out numbers between 100,000 and 4 million in some desperate auction of attention. ‘Yes – but an influencer of who?’, the french gatekeeper shrugs, and the velvet drawbridge is pulled up again.
Poor chap didn’t stand a chance – Cannes is a place where the moderately famous come to feel distinctly normal. On Thursday afternoon I overhear a conversation on an adjoining table at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc between a well-known reality TV star and a deeply powerful publicist. She asks him whether he’d like to ‘handle her schedule’ for the next two weeks (read: get her invited to parties) for a distinctly un-modest fee. He replies, in perfectly gentlemanly terms, that if she’s the kind of person who needs to ask to be invited to parties, she is not the kind of person he’d much like to represent.
“If you’re the kind of person who needs to ask to be invited to parties, you’re not the kind of person I’d much like to represent”
That evening, down on the beach, a television presenter and latterly Strictly Come Dancer hops over a rope and beckons for the paparazzi to come and photograph him against the branded backdrop, in a complete reversal of the norm. The event in question, by the way, was a confusing collaboration between Magnum (yes, the ice cream people) and Moschino (‘Quick, let’s find a fashion brand beginning with “M”‘) which was perfectly happy to separate the wheat from the chaff. The entire theme of the party appeared to be simply Cara Delevigne Is Here, and the supermodel was placed inside a second set of velvet ropes in the centre of the beach along with Kristen Stewart and lots of girls whose make up your little sister has tried to emulate.
But securing an invite is only half the battle. The parties in Cannes, like its movies, are subject to plot twists, sudden character deaths and bouts of cosmic intervention. Over the course of a few days I am invited to at least half a dozen events that, within the hour, do not seem to ever have existed. At other moments, I find myself behind closed doors almost by accident. A prominent party planner tells me how the big studio heads will book several venues for a single party, and then pick the one that tickles their fancy at the last minute, with the effect that most guests along the Croisette appear to be living in parallel universes, each certain that their invitation is the genuine article.
The only defense against such caprice is to be dressed, from about six pm onwards daily, in full black tie. This is important if you’re off to a screening, and utterly essential if you are not. (Implication, again, is all.) This is a kind tip from Cannes veteran and entrepreneur Diego Bivero Volpe, who, though he’d never need to crash a party, has three artful Hardy Amies tuxes on speed dial should the need suddenly arise. (My own is vintage Burberry. Thanks @Oxfam for that.)
Once inside, the default setting is a kind of tired, knowing camaraderie. Upstairs on the rooftop of the Five Seas hotel, Jean Bernard Versini Fernandez – whose venues have long been the epicentre of Riviera social life – tells me how ‘the most expensive thing in Cannes is sleep. Everything else you can find – but not sleep.’ In a self-fulfilling prophecy, the restaurateur is kicked out of his hotel room by Naomi Campbell early the next morning as she arrives to prepare for a press conference in the afternoon. ‘Perhaps she needs somewhere to rest her wigs’, a security guard says. Jack Freud, the PR maestro, talks nervously on day one of ‘Cannes Voice’ – the hoarse ailment that befalls party goers after ten days of cigarettes and shouting across bars. ‘But everyone looks vaguely tanned, so that makes up for it.’
The real action, of course, happens in the deleted scenes, long after the credits have rolled – at the afterparties and after-after parties that swing, in blacked out motorcades, from one location to the next via quick trips to hotel bathrooms. Once inside the hotel, (tip: ‘get off the elevator a floor early and walk up the final flight of stairs – you’ll bypass the security’ a seasoned crasher advises) the form dictates that you act faintly unimpressed by the previous party (‘Bruno wasn’t particularly good this year’, I overhear one Russian tell her friend of Bruno Mars) and wildly enthusiastic about the next one, which you’ll be leaving to in twenty minutes, once you triple-check where it is.
“After-after parties are hosted by billionaire producers who you can refer to by their first name alone”
At one such event, at the hysterically-desirable Club by Albane, we are offered a wonderful table with sweeping views of the riviera, before getting bumped down the pecking order seconds later as the talent is chinooked in from Rihanna’s Chopard bash. (A word on Cannes name-dropping, while we’re on the topic: always say ‘yes, he’s a friend of ours’ if asked whether you know someone. The royal ‘we’ out here is used to imply an entourage, a business arrangement, or an upcoming project that you simply can’t talk about but is, trust me, very exciting. Now let us in.)
There are after-after-after parties. These largely take place on boats (not the branded chartered ones strung up on the Jetée Albert Edouard, though these are a good enough place to start your evening) but the ones floating deceptively silently out in the bay and ideally hosted by a billionaire producer who you can refer to by their first name alone – Len, Jeff, Harvey. You will know if they’re worth going to if you are dropped off via helicopter, though you’ll need to make sure you record the journey as an Instagram Story, otherwise, like a tree falling in the forest, it didn’t really happen. Ubercopter, though now widely available across the Côte d’Azur, does not count.
The after-after-after-after-parties (no, really) occur in private villas in the hills. I’m told by one companion with a particularly runny nose that camera phones, along with marriages, are left at the door. These invitations escaped even my clammy grasp, though you’ll have to decide for yourself whether that’s barefaced modesty or not. Leo, if you’re reading this, I think I left my Persols in the ice cream maker.