100 Bewildering Hours at Cannes
New York magazine|July 19 - August 1, 2021
The most glamorous film festival remains unchanged—except for that pesky Delta variant.
By Rachel Handler

In the days leading up to the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival, I begin to wonder: Am I willing to risk becoming grievously ill in the name of cinema? covid-19 numbers are steadily climbing across Europe, with the mysterious Delta variant seeming to evade the vaccines more successfully than its older, weaker brethren; meanwhile, I am readying myself to sit in crowded, windowless rooms for 12 days straight with thousands of strangers whose vaccination status will remain unknown to me and many of whom are French, i.e., give no fucks. As I roam New York City buying integral supplies (KN95 masks and vegan-leather miniskirts), I send no fewer than 600 panicked messages to my patient editor, imagining all of the ways I might die on the Croisette directly in front of Tilda Swinton.

Somehow, I arrive in Cannes, courtesy of a flight on which I’m seated near a mopey Scandinavian teen who coughs on my head and an Uber driver who exclusively plays deep-house Coldplay remixes. In the weeks before the festival, attendees had received exactly one (1) email from the Cannes press office about covid protocols, written in the opaque and lilting style of all Cannes emails, which tend to evoke an image of a French person laughing maniacally and smoking three cigarettes while typing. “You may enter the Palais only if you can provide a vaccination confirmation,” it begins, “(if you come from the EU).” I read the email many times, then replied, asking if I was to understand that, because my vaccine was not administered in Europe but rather in the filthy trenches of America, I would be required to take covid tests every 48 hours, despite my having gotten the exact same vaccine they were administering in France.

Four emails and three weeks later, the press office confirmed that yes, everyone who is not blessedly European will be getting tested every 48 hours in a free on-site facility requiring advance scheduling on a website my laptop would subsequently recognize as malware. Later, when I show up to the festival-sponsored tent to muster several milligrams of saliva and drool them into a tiny tube, I think primarily of my oral surgeon, who only days earlier had yanked a spontaneously decaying wisdom tooth from my mouth and specifically instructed me not to spit during recovery. I explain this to the test administrator, who is happy to instead give me the most brain-probing nasal PCR I’ve received in my whole covid life. I test negative. This doesn’t actually matter, except to me, because they only check these results at random.

Cannes has long been the most glamorous and most insane of its category, a byzantine maze of retrograde fashion rules and hierarchical regulations meant to create and sustain an overarching sense of individual defeat and unworthiness. It’s kinky, really. Ultimately, it succeeds each year in encouraging a sort of universal Stockholm syndrome among its confused and jet-lagged attendees, who find themselves desperate for more pain and rejection in the hopes of glimpsing the back of Bella Hadid’s head 600 rows in front of them. But this year, it all feels particularly bizarre, more snarlingly intense even than the French men in tuxes who harangue you for a ticket to the gala screenings as you walk into the Palais des Festivals. It is as if everyone has agreed (sans me) to pretend everything is totally normal in the interest of preserving some kind of cinematic dignity that has almost been lost— and that, in fact, returning to deifying celebrity as a concept above all else will somehow save us from the possibility that things might go back to being bad. Nothing has changed at Cannes, exactly, and that’s the problem: Nearly everything has remained the same, despite that whole international mass-death event we’re still in the middle of. I can’t stop thinking, What in the European fuck am I doing here?

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The most glamorous film festival remains unchanged—except for that pesky Delta variant.

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