Last week the 60th Cannes Film Festival began and it reminded me of the first time I attended the festival four years ago today. Below is the article I wrote about that weekend which was published soon after in a Philippine newspaper. (I also attended the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.)
Gourmet Traveller: Weekend in Cannes
Our arrival in Nice very early on the 23rd of May was greeted by the blue skies and blue sea that live up to the name Cote d’Azur. As a Francophile, it is always nice to be back in France but this year was extra special because it was the first time I was going to attend the Cannes Film Festival as an invited guest of Baron Philippe de Rothschild Wines and as a companion to my mother, Tita Trillo of Titania Wines.
The Hotel Martinez was crawling with black-suited body builders with earpieces guarding the entry of the hotel and keeping fans and photographers behind the temporary barricade set up for the duration of the festival. We checked-in and changed for lunch which was al fresco at the terrace of Le Relais Martinez and was the first opportunity for the whole group to get together. Jennifer Santi, Miss Mouton Cadet 2003, was there with Frances Lim, first runner-up, along with Boni and Rose Pimentel, proprietors of Ilustrado restaurant in Intramuros and our hosts from Baron Philippe de Rothschild (BPhR) – Thierry de Tourniel, Emmanuel Lebas and Anne Cusson. It was a long and enjoyable lunch where everyone had a taste of Mediterranean cuisine accompanied by Mouton Cadet Blanc and Rouge.
The first evening we had to be dressed and ready for the walk on La Croisette, Cannes’ main promenade flanked by the sea on one side and the grand hotels on the other. The boulevard was closed to traffic to accommodate the many pedestrians ogling for a chance to see someone famous walking by. Over 200,000 people converge in Cannes during the last 2 weeks in May to participate in this world-famous event tripling the population of this seaside town.
That evening, the paparazzi were in full force and were soon photographing Jennifer and Frances while some passersby even stopped to ask for their autographs. Tickets to the evening screening are so difficult to come by that many wait out front already dressed in black tie or evening dress hoping for an extra ticket and a chance to walk “le tapis rouge” (the red carpet)and maybe become famous. The closer we got, the more crowded it became and before long we were in front of the immense red carpet fronting the Palais du Festival. The long walk up was exhilarating! Film soundtracks were played on the loudspeakers, everyone walking up was broadcast on the gigantic screen on the steps and inside the theatre while the crowds cheered and the flashbulbs didn’t stop.
We were finally seated inside the Grand Theatre Lumiere where all the main screenings for the films in competition are held. Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, walked by and then we all stood up to welcome Clint Eastwood for the showing of his film Mystic River. He was with his wife, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Laura Linney. The film which was reviewed as “dark and overpowering” by the New York Times was indeed that. The story is a thriller that delved into the lives of three boys who grow up in a working-class neighborhood of Boston and then come together again many years later because of a murder. The actors, especially Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, played their parts perfectly and the film was well received with a standing ovation although the overall effect of the storyline was heavy and so close to real life that it left the viewer with a feeling of helplessness.
We certainly looked forward to our dinner at Fouquet’s, the traditional French brasserie, at the Hotel Majestic. There, a restaurateur couple from Montreal and Olivier Lebret from BPhR’s New York office joined us. I was seated on one side with the French contingent in a typical banquette table and facing these gigantic mirrors to enjoy the view of the other diners flooding in from across the street.
As it was our first dinner in France, I opted for the classic Cote de boeuf (ordered saignant or rare) with Pommes Frites and Sauce Béarnaise that I gladly shared with Boni Pimentel. The rest of the group, obviously watching their figures, ordered salads and grilled Dover sole. Baron’arques, a red wine from the Languedoc region complemented the meal. The fantastic desserts were very tempting but I skipped that for a double espresso to beat the jet lag. Dinner finished past midnight and the walk home that evening was relaxing. We even saw the Cinema de la Plage where nightly screenings are held open-air and right on the beach.
My mother and I got up very early the next morning and were the first one’s awake and at the terrace to enjoy our croissants with large café au laits and the view of the sea. Next on the agenda was a scenic drive around the winding cliff roads overlooking Cannes and a trip to a perfume factory in Grasse. The morning went quickly with all the sniffing and shopping at Fragonard and we then continued to our gourmet destination of the day.
Le Mas Candille is a 39-room hotel housed in an 18th century farmhouse high up in the medieval town of Mougins. The hotel restaurant, Candille, is known for its’ Provencal cuisine concentrating on fish and seafood plus what the local markets have in season. The day we were there, as the weather was warm and clear, we decided to lunch on the terrace with the flower-filled valley of Grasse below us.
A Menu du Marche was the special of the day which is a four-course set menu incorporating local herbs, spices and fresh ingredients from the nearby market in Forville. Self-taught chef Serge Gouloumès enticed us with the wonderful scents and flavors of Provence – thyme, rosemary, basil, tarragon and lots and lots of dark-green, spicy extra virgin olive oil. We all started our meal with an amuse bouche (the first little bite to delight the appetite) of poached crayfish on a cold puree of watercress – refreshing and flavorful at the same time. I then had roast veal sweetbreads accompanied by a morel cream sauce – the most heavenly mix of warm soft sweetbreads with earthy mushrooms. The main course was a simple pan-fried St. Pierre (John Dory) accompanied by a balsamic vinegar glaze. The first two courses were served with a dry Mouton Cadet Sauvignon Blanc and then followed by Baron’arques to complement the main courses. A small palate cleanser of red berries and crushed pink champagne ice followed before they wheeled out the large trolley of fresh cow, sheep and goat’s cheeses. I opted for the smelly but wonderfully ripe Chaumes and a sliver of some hard sheep’s cheese with some fresh fruit chutney, pine nuts and walnut bread.
For dessert, we let the pastry chef Patrick Pomares choose for each of us that we then passed them around so everyone could try his creations. I was presented with what I thought was the typical molten chocolate cake but was pleasantly surprised to find out that this version was spiced with chili and served with jelly of red and yellow peppers plus a red pepper / strawberry sorbet – the first time I ever tried anything like it. The combination of flavors was original and worked very well with the bitter chocolate. Espressos and petits fours were served on the patio. Although we were ready to linger and enjoy the view, we realized that it was already half past four. Lunch had lasted three and a half hours and we barely had any time left to get ready for that evening’s film.
That evening there would be screening of the last film in competition before the closing ceremony and the awarding of the Palme d’Or the following night. We walked down the long and crowded Croisette as before and this time cleverly avoided photographers as we were rushing to get to the film on time. We arrived at the Palais du Festival and were joined by the managing director of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Xavier de Eizaguirre.
The screening that evening was The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part I – The Moab Story. With a title like that, we had no idea what to expect and all we knew was that the film was directed by the avant-garde Welsh filmmaker, Peter Greenaway. The actual film, if it can be called that, was composed of flashing multiple images, overlapping scenes and repetitive dialogue and loud music. It was incomprehensible and very, very difficult to sit through. Many viewers even left midway through the film. I was tempted to do the same but stayed in the hope that the film would get better. After two hours, I have to say that we were relieved that it was over and shocked that some people were even applauding. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to leave our seats until Mr. Greenaway finally left the theater.
The finale to our Cannes weekend was a special dinner at the adjacent television studio where every year, Baron Philippe de Rothschild has a special terrace open to all the actors and actresses, including the jury, and served all their wines during the two weeks that the Film Festival took place. We were treated to a fantastic panoramic view Cannes including Vieux Cannes, the old part of the city, and the sea. There was even a slide show projected on the tower of the old town where famous sayings of people in the film industry were flashed all night long.
True to the winery’s classic French style, the tables were decorated simply but elegantly with a paisley print cloth and large pink peonies and roses. Each place setting had a little gift – a glass stopper for wine barrels engraved with their logo and the detailed menu and wines for the evening. We couldn’t wait to sample the wines as we saw the many bottles uncorked and left to air out for three hours.
The menu was simple – a cold lobster and crab mélange, lamb loin and cannelloni of chanterelle mushrooms, the always-present cheese platter and some fresh fruit – but the wines that evening were exceptional. There was Mouton Cadet Reserve Graves Sec 2001 and Baron’arques 1999 followed by Chateau d’Armailhac 1996, Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1990 (with a label designed by the artist, Francis Bacon) and Chateau Coutet 1995 to accompany the dessert. The Mouton Rothschild was excellent and can still be enjoyed 10 years from now. We lingered over coffees and chocolates plus cigars and eaux de vie for the men.
Again the evening ended late and as we walked slowly back to our hotel enjoying the view, the weather and the lively atmosphere of the Croisette, we savored the fitting end to our gastronomic, luxurious and star-studded weekend in Cannes.