Be­hind the Glitz and Glam of Cannes


The Cannes film fes­ti­val opened on May 17 in the French Riviera re­sort. Here are five es­sen­tial—and of­ten sur­pris­ing—facts about the glitzy Mediter­ranean town:

1 It Nearly Didn’t Hap­pen

Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing in cinema, they say, but as Cannes was to prove, that’s not al­ways the case. France’s great re­form­ing ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Jean Zay first came up with the idea of a global film fes­ti­val in 1939 as a ri­val to the Venice fes­ti­val, which was then the play­thing of Ital­ian dic­ta­tor Ben­ito Mus­solini and his film-lov­ing Ger­man friend Adolf Hitler.

Biar­ritz on France’s At­lantic coast was first cho­sen to host it, but when it couldn’t raise the money, Cannes nipped in. How­ever, war soon broke out and Mus­solini’s troops marched into the town.

It wasn’t un­til after the war in 1946 that the fes­ti­val fi­nally got go­ing, quickly be­com­ing the most im­por­tant in the world.

By then, Zay was dead, mur­dered be­cause he was a Jew by France’s col­lab­o­ra­tionist gov­ern­ment. His ashes were moved to the Pan­theon in Paris in 2015 as one of the lead­ing he­roes of the French Re­sis­tance.

2 Lap of Lux­ury

The myth of the French Riviera was cre­ated at the end of the 19th cen­tury by the crowned heads of Europe who win­tered there. Their legacy—and of­ten their pala­tial vil­las—has nowa­days been taken up by Rus­sian oli­garchs and wealthy Gulf po­ten­tates.

To serve their ev­ery whim, Cannes has more

lux­ury goods shops than any­where else in France out­side Paris. Chanel, Chopard, Rolex, Prada, Louis Vuit­ton, Dior... no less than 70 top name brands have shops squeezed into the 800 me­tres (2,600 feet) of its seafront Croisette.

3 Cat bur­glars

Like bears to honey, where there is great wealth, there are al­ways crim­i­nals ea­ger to re­di­rect a lit­tle of it their way.

The Croisette has wit­nessed some of the big­gest and most dar­ing jew­elry heists in his­tory.

A soli­tary rob­ber, thought to be one of the in­fa­mous Pink Pan­thers, took gems worth 103 mil­lion Eu­ros ($112 mil­lion) from the Carl­ton ho­tel in 2013 where they were be­ing dis­played at an “Ex­tra­or­di­nary Di­a­monds” ex­hi­bi­tion.

The sur­pris­ingly sim­ple raid still holds the world record as the big­gest heist of all time.

That same year at the film fes­ti­val, a 1.6-mil­lion Euro neck­lace was stolen and gems worth only slightly less also went miss­ing.

Then in 2015, only a few days be­fore the fes­ti­val be­gan, 17.5 mil­lion Eu­ros’ worth of jew­elry was taken from the Cartier shop on the Croisette.

If this seems like some­thing from the movies, it’s be­cause it is. That con­nois­seur of crime Al­fred Hitch­cock made part of his 1955 clas­sic To Catch a Thief about a Riviera cat bur­glar in the Carl­ton ho­tel.

It was dur­ing the film shoot that Hol­ly­wood star Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier, the ruler of nearby Monaco. Their fairy­tale mar­riage later sealed Tin­sel­town’s links with the coast.

4 It’s Bri­tish, Ac­tu­ally

Cannes is a French town, but it was ac­tu­ally the Bri­tish who made it what it is to­day. Henry Brougham, first Baron Brougham, is the man who turned the sleepy fish­ing vil­lage into a fash­ion­able re­sort.

An anti-slav­ery cam­paigner and Lord Chan­cel­lor, the head of the ju­di­ciary, he en­cour­aged wealthy Bri­tish aris­to­crats and in­dus­tri­al­ists to build their win­ter homes there in the late 19th cen­tury.

He also holds the record for speak­ing non-stop for six hours in the House of Com­mons.

5 “French Hol­ly­wood”

From the dawn of cinema, when the Lu­miere broth­ers shot their first short reels by its glit­ter­ing shore, the Cote d’Azur has al­ways at­tracted film­mak­ers.

After the Lu­mieres’ stay in 1897, some of the great­est di­rec­tors of the silent era de­scended on the coast to shoot ex­te­rior scenes, a trend that was to con­tinue with the ad­vent of the “talkies.”

The Vic­torine Stu­dios in nearby Nice were once called “French Hol­ly­wood,” with Mar­cel Carne shoot­ing part of Les En­fants du Par­adis— of­ten re­garded as the great­est French film of all time—there in 1944.

Nowa­days, how­ever, Cannes has mor­phed into one of Europe’s con­fer­ence cap­i­tals, host­ing MIPTV, the world’s big­gest tele­vi­sion mar­ket, as well as the film fes­ti­val ev­ery year. •

French ac­tors Mar­ion Cotillard and Mathieu Amal­ric

Above: Lily-Rose Depp Top: Bella Ha­did Left: Stacy Martin, Michel Hazanavi­cius, Berenice Bejo, Louis Gar­rel, Misha Lescot, Gre­gory Gade­bois, and Anne Wi­azem­sky

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