Cannes prepares for lift-off -- and 'the Americans are back'

With a bright sun, clear sky, and the Mediterranean Sea gently lapping in the background, it’s the calm before the (hopefully figurative) storm here in Cannes one day before the festival kicks off. Calm at this event is a relative concept, of course.

If the big film people have not yet descended on the famous Croisette for the screenings (that starts tomorrow with Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, the opening film), there is still a constant hum of activity and anticipation: journalists are scrambling around in a quest for press badges and screening schedules; workers are putting the finishing touches on building entrances and stairways; party planners are barking orders at assistants while tables are set up and bars are stocked on the beach and on posh hotel terraces; anonymous models are stalking around on very high heels barely giving the photographers snapping their pictures the time of day.

And, as always, the contingent of the Cannes faithful gathers across from the famous steps over which the red carpet will be rolled out tomorrow, waiting for it all to officially begin. These are the people who come year after year, stake out their spot on the sidelines, and watch the celebrities arrive for the gala screenings. Some of them are hoping for an autograph; others will settle for a wave and a smile. Many know each other, forming an unofficial family of movie buffs, star gazers, and steadfast devotees of an event that for them remains magical.

Corinne has come to the same spot on the street behind the red carpet for ten years. “We sleep in shifts so that we can hold the spots overnight," she said. "Over the years, the festival has grown to include world cinema, movies from Asia, Africa, Arab films. It opens your mind…” But she added: “This year, the Americans are back, which is good. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp. Robert De Niro as jury president is the icing on the cake.”

Bruno has been coming for 18 years and has the photo album to prove it. “Seeing the actors we love up close is a whole other experience…I’m pretty easy, I like all the stars that come here. But my favourites are the Americans. This year, there's De Niro, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster. They’re the ones who put on a show.”


Who ever said the French hated the US?


Meanwhile, Marcelina and Karolina (below) are two models from Poland. They have come to Cannes with their agency and say they will be attending various parties over the course of the two weeks.


Will they be invited to the bash being set up below?


The outdoor bar of the famed Grand Hotel (below) was relatively calm on Tuesday. By the middle of the week, it will be teeming with industry types -- producers, actors, wannabes -- cutting deals, discussing projects, and making promises they may or may not keep.


Beachgoers took advantage of some final relaxing moments before the shores of Cannes are taken over by parties, TV and photo shoots, and outdoor screenings.


I'll be back tomorrow after Woody Allen’s much anticipated “Midnight in Paris” opens the festival, and the build-up gives way -- at last -- to the real thing.

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