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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Commotion in Cannes
Rebecca Thomas joins the star-spotters and several bemused locals in BBC News Online's first postcard from the Cannes Film Festival.

To say Cannes was in a state of commotion ahead of the opening of its film festival on Wednesday night would only partially describe the atmosphere buzzing around this small Riviera town.

The world and his wife - plus several of the neighbours' screaming offspring - would seem to have descended upon what is said by locals normally to be a sedate, happy-go-lucky place in the sun.

People of the press, movie moguls, film buff wannabes and star-struck tourists all contribute to the seething mass on the pavements, swelling the population by six times to around 200,000.

Cannes
A warm welcome on the Rivera
But whoever these interlopers are and whatever their reason for being here, they are all focused on the Palais des Festivals on the sea front.

Glamorous

This large block of grey concrete is rather grotesque in comparison to the elegance of the yacht-laden port and sandy beach by its sides.

But in terms of the film festival, it is the most glamorous place on earth, as it is here that all the major festival screenings take place and all the stars can be seen.

Ahead of Wednesday night's big opening gala screening of Moulin Rouge, Palais officials are busy erecting barriers around the red carpet area running up the impressive staircase and into its hallowed halls.

Cannes
All kinds of people head for Cannes
To the side are the doors that lead into the entrails of the Palais, where all the press and market officials hurry to pick up their accreditation passes to gain access to all the festival events.

The accreditation room is heaving with people with a glazed and hungry look in their eyes. All are out for themselves, as theY barge pass one another to the front of the queue.

But Palais officials behind the desks meet each with a collected, emotionless smile, which seems to say: "Don't try anything with me."

Dazzling

Back outside in the dazzling sunlight - the temperature is around 21C - there is another sort of throng to contend with - the crowds of tourists and serial star spotters.

They either saunter up and down La Crosiette - the long road along the beachfront - in a cloying mass, or they sit in huddles, with provisions at their feet, watching the world go by.

Cannes
The glamorous life of showbusiness journalists
One such party of four had travelled from Paris for the fourth year in a row.

Hubert and Jamine Chiche and Charles and Paulette Abitbol all declared themselves huge fans of the festival.

"The atmosphere is wonderful, it's exciting to be amongst all these people and to try to get a glimpse of the stars," enthused Paulette.

"I particularly like all the American movies, they are so much more action-packed than French films."

La Croisette too has its own special brand of action, as market stalls, tarot card readers and performers all come out to make the most of the influx of people.

But not everyone likes this sudden, yearly invasion. Many of the residents of Cannes declare it a huge annoyance.

"There are too many people, too much traffic and you can't get on the beach, which has been cleaned especially for the festival," says Sylvie Scissone.

Hubert and Jamine Chiche and Charles and Paulette Abitbo
Locals have mixed feelings about the festival
"Some shops and restaurants near La Croisette put up their prices. And the festival is not for us, we normal people cannot get in to see any the films showing in our town."

Big names

Still, there is no getting away from the festival, with large posters publicising many of the big name films. The Pledge, with Jack Nicholson and Moulin Rouge, with Nicole Kidman, are just two.

And, above eye level, on the terraces of some the big plush hotels along La Crosiette camera crews are setting up for the inevitable photo shoots with stars and directors.

On Tuesday evening the coveted Palme d'Or trophy - the festival prize for the best feature film - arrived under guard hot from Geneva, where it is made, to be kept under wraps at the Majestic hotel until it is awarded next week.

Moulin Rouge poster featuring Nicole Kidman
One woman is the talk of Cannes so far...
Also said, by the local press, to be keeping herself well away from the heaving centre of Cannes is Nicole Kidman.

The rumour is that she is holed up at L'Eden Roc Hotel, up the coast in Juan Les Pins.

This, said taxi driver Olivier, is probably the most exclusive hotel on the Riviera, frequented by "les gros stars" and with vast grounds and guards on the door.

Let's hope she finds her way out in time for her big red carpet moment on La Croisette.


Festival diary

Films in focus

The lowdown

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TALKING POINT
Links to more Entertainment stories are at the foot of the page.


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