CANNES, France (CNN) -- "Au secours!" is one of the first phrases you will find in French travel dictionaries but I have never heard it used -- until now. It's 1.15am and we have just locked an elderly French lady in a lift, so the phrase is now being used in its most urgent form.
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We are returning to our apartment in Cannes at this late hour because we have been working long hours, shooting celebrities, perusing press conferences and staring at screenings -- like the one by French director, Michel Gondry in which a Japanese woman inexplicably turns into a wooden chair to live a new life as half-chair half woman. Clearly a case in which wooden acting was a virtue.
We never got the chance to ask the film-maker the obvious question, "why?" as he didn't turn up to his own press interview. A suitably Gallic shrug from his PR person and a simple, "Eee is not eer," was deemed sufficient explanation for our fruitless diversion. So, on we stumbled to the next engagement in our overstuffed schedule.
But back to the lady in the lift. We've been to Cannes before. We know what to expect. After spending long, hot and sweaty days in 90 degree heat last year hauling heavy camera equipment to and from our room-with-a-view apartment 15 minutes from the Palais -- the hub of the festival and location of those famous red-carpeted steps -- we decided to go for a more modest apartment closer to the happenings.
So, we split our team into two -- one apartment for the girls is nicer but ominously located on Avenue de Grasse -- and seems halfway to the town famous for its perfume industry. The other apartment -- for the lads -- is two minutes from the Croisette, the main promenade where all the top hotels housing the stars, the film-makers and the PR empires are situated.
It's a fairly simple name for anyone with a modicum of French to pronounce, but for this simple team of Australian cameramen and British producers, "The Croisette" has become known variously as Le Croissant, La Courgette and, ultimately, by its American equivalent The Zuchini.
We had barely finished congratulating ourselves on the labor-saving location when we discovered that the elevator to our 4th floor apartment was broken. Half an hour later, we were broken men, having hauled 20 cases of heavy camera and lighting gear up four flights of stairs.
Several days later we spotted some of the regular inhabitants of the building opening a metal cupboard and fiddling with a fuse box. There was a bang and the distant sound of a lift door closing and the lift moving down the shaft. So that was the secret! The fuse kept tripping out and now we knew the solution.
This made life in the apartment easier but tonight before fiddling with the fusebox we had not checked whether anyone was actually using the lift at the time -- the result being our unintentional capture of Madame Lavisse.
"Au secours!" It took a minute or two more of fiddling and shouting to reassure her but eventually the lift was rebooted into life and the poor woman was released. She embraced us as rescuers rather than the cause of her torment and we could not muster the moral fiber necessary to correct this misapprehension.
Cannes requires a certain degree of formality. It's known for the world's best-dressed paparazzi -- forced into an uncomfortable show of smartness like a scruffy schoolboy scrubbed and polished to visit a venerable great aunt. They -- in fact "we," as we are regarded as little more than paparazzi with microphones -- are rewarded for such good behavior by a parade of the great and the good to fill the pages of publications around the world.
We decided that if we must wear tuxedos then we would try to customize them so they would set us apart from the rest of the flock of penguin-suits patrolling the courgette, er Croisette. The occasion clearly called for kilts -- a move which mildly offended one Glaswegian emigré but otherwise afforded us a degree of distinction which led to our invitation beyond the red carpet coverage to access inside a variety of shimmering events at which we could observe the shimmerati at play.
A less welcome side-effect of wearing kilts was the regular stream of promenaders keen to check our Caledonian credentials in the most intimate of fashions. We also observed that the sporran makes an extremely handy man-bag in which to store festival essentials -- Blackberry, press pass, and Zimbabwean amounts of Euros, with which to purchase endless espressos and thereby ensure wakefulness during the most demanding screenings, in which a half-woman, half-chair would represent a relatively conservative plot.
The festival is like a swan -- all elegance and beauty above the water as the Angelinas, Gwyneths and Mischas reward the photographic phalanx with a dazzling dress and a sequined smile -- and beneath the waterline there is a flailing and scurrying of limbs as press and publicists beat each other over the head with whatever weapons they can muster.
This is a carrot and stick approach -- in which the carrot may be the lure of an exclusive interview, and the stick is the publicists' insistence that you should cover disturbing half-chair half-woman type films as a trade-off to gain access to the cast of a great one.
In this subterranean level -- literally, as the film market is confined to the basement of the Cannes Palais, a place without natural light but much neon humming -- alongside the buzz of bargaining and budget-crunching, the musketeers of marketing do battle to "acquire" (buy) or "distribute" (sell) "content" (films) in a marketplace distorted by a dollar weaker than a French cup of tea.
The personal fortunes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford would presumably be robust enough to cope with a mere credit crunch and they rode into town for the festival's traditional Hollywood blockbuster night, reviving the spirit of Indiana Jones almost twenty years after his now apparently prematurely named "Last Crusade."
But would Indy, at 66, be able to conquer the steps of the Palais in the same sprightly manner as 78-year-old hardman Clint Eastwood? While steeling themselves for possible poor reviews, the trio was in lively mood and keen to impress reporters that this was a labor of love back by popular demand -- not through studio pressure. Whether critics lash out or lavish praise on the movie, they will expect to see film fans propel it to box office success as the latest in a billion-dollar franchise.
At the other end of the scale is "Waltz with Bashir" a minnow to Indy's Moby Dick in budget terms, but a leading competitor for this year's Palm D'Or. It's an animated film by Israeli director and army veteran, Ari Folman which reveals painful and surreal flashbacks from his service in Lebanon in the 1980s. With the success of last year's animated film "Persepolis" in mind, "Bashir" is already being bought by distributors and bought into by critics.
Our adventures with The Screening Room's host, Myleene Klass, took us to interviews with über-producer Harvey Weinstein, Brazilian director Walter Salles and Christian Slater at the launch of the animated film "Igor," in which she has a cameo role. Yachts were boarded, helicopters flown in and parties crashed while we shot links to the show's different segments.
Filming on Cannes' concrete pier was interrupted when a gust of wind blew the scripts into the Mediterranean Sea. Fortunately Blackberry back-ups are not so easily airborne. We had a nasty moment in a restaurant when Myleene was surrounded by particularly persistent paparazzi pursuing pictures of her baby. As she stood up to leave there was a collective scraping of chairs from all around us and we realized that at least a dozen of our fellow diners were in fact photographers awaiting their moment to flash.
In the blitz of light which followed, James our giant Aussie cameraman picked up his own video camera and blasted 250 watts of power back in their faces, to the cheers of the restaurant users not employed in the pursuit of celebrity snaps.
Mid-way through the festival one of our team found her path to a particularly important screening blocked by a melee of movie fans. She concluded the quickest way round was through the middle. When she reached the epicentre of the crowd an oasis of space suddenly opened up and she cartwheeled forward, bumping into a distinguished looking man sitting amid the mayhem.
George Lucas may be used to fans falling at his feet but as she tumbled to the ground our nameless colleague quickly regained both balance and composure and raced off before he was able to pass judgment on her unintentional audition for CNN's stunt-woman of the year.
Five hours spent in a dark room watching Steven Soderbergh's Che Guevara epic "Che" was ample time to get over the movie mishap. But you don't have to collide with the creator of "Star Wars" to ensure a visit to Cannes Film Festival is memorable. Chelsea fans will remember this year's Eruopean Champions League final even though their team lost. It's just that Manchester United fans will have a happier memory of the occasion.
Similarly, if you only saw one film and it happened to be the fabulous "Waltz with Bashir" you might have a happier memory of Cannes than if it happened to be Michel Gondry's half-woman, half-chair story. For others it might be the other way round. It's all subjective. But there is something undeniably French about the festival -- and that is the much cherished value of liberation.
My own feeling of liberation as the plane took off from Nice airport headed for London could hardly have been bettered by that of poor Madame Lavisse as she stepped from her elevator prison and inhaled the fresh air of freedom.
In another 12 months I'll be ready for some more.
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