• Film
  • Zhuo-Ning Su: A Berliner in Cannes


Zhuo-Ning Su: A Berliner in Cannes

Our film writer Zhuo-Ning can't contain his excitement. After a decade of Berlinale patronage, he's finally going to Cannes. Is it everything he hoped for? Read part one of his three-part series.

Image for Zhuo-Ning Su: A Berliner in Cannes
Photo by Chris Yunker (ChrisYunker; Flickr CC)

A couple of weeks ago, this writer received notice that he’d been granted accreditation to cover the 68th edition of the Cannes Film Festival! As a decade-long Berlinale-goer, Cannes has always seemed like the elusive, more glamorous cousin with a superiority complex. Now it’s finally time to explore the Croisette and see what the hype is all about. 

Of course finding affordable accommodations is no walk in the park. While Berlinale visitors have plenty of hostels and cheap hotels to choose from many even smack in the Mitte, the Côte d’Azur can be for Berliner a budgetary nightmare. The numerous air bnb / holiday home offerings tend to triple –  not double – their normal asking-price during the yearly fest. There’s even a (invite-only) Facebook group dedicated specifically to the exchange of information on housing during the Cannes Film Festival. Once you’ve gotten past the ludicrous notion of comfort, you’ll see there’s actually always a shared bed, a couch, a blow-up mattress, a floor space on a boat… available.

I was lucky enough to find an entire studio for myself, which a German lady occasionally rents out to acquaintances in the 20 years since she’s lived in Cannes. The downside of the small but perfectly self-sufficient place is that it’s a bit of a journey to the fest. But my landlady shrewdly advised me that there’s a shuttle bus service set up at the hotel across the street for commuting guests. Voila! I’ve found my golden carriage.  

And so I boarded my plane to Nice, took the shuttle bus to Cannes, and before my disbelief even settled in, I found myself in the cinematic Mecca, ready for 12 days of premieres, parties and fun. Or so I thought.

The sense of entitlement one gets with a Cannes badge proudly dangling around the neck is very quickly dispersed once one starts going to the screenings. Accredited journalists are divided up by colour in a way that’s not unlike the caste system. If you get a white badge, your access to the official screenings across all sections is basically secured. A pink one also gives you a pretty good chance. The blues are next in line, and then there are the yellows – to which yours truly belongs – who make up the very bottom of the pyramid and literally need to fight to be allowed in. 

Then there’s the coloured-queue waiting. And no matter how long you’ve waited in the yellow line, they always let in the superior colours first. And even when there are no more pinks and whites to be let in, they actually go that extra mile and wait for more to show up, while the unworthy blues and yellows wait in the baking sun. On the first day of the festival, I learned this the hard way by getting shut out of Japanese competition entry Our Little Sister twice in the afternoon and couldn’t get into Italian competition film Tale of Tales in the evening. That’s about four hours of waiting altogether without seeing a single frame of film. The physical demand need not be said, but just on a psychological level, this system does something to your sense of self-worth that’s quite devastating. A pang of longing for the more egalitarian structure of the Berlinale is definitely felt.

Not making matters easier is the fact that food or beverages of any kind, including water, is strictly prohibited inside the Palais des Festivals. The bag-check and body-scan before every screening here ensure all your alimentary supplies would be identified and promptly thrown away. So hunger, thirst, sweat and nerves are all part of a highly stressful, exhausting routine.

Still, our love for cinema would not be defeated. Even under such extreme conditions Exberliner is ready to battle. First triumphs and surprises will be shared next.