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Plates of foie gras, flattery on the side

A sparkling soiree sets the stylish tone at a French Riviera movie mecca. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

May 16, 2003|Mark Ehrman | Special to The Times

CANNES, France — Even with Franco-American relations sinking lower than the Titanic, and an oil slick threatening to literally blacken this preciously expensive seaside idyll, the mood at this fete seems robustly buoyant.

Wednesday evening, about 700 guests in black tie streamed into a Palais des Festivals salon, the heart of this annual gathering. They'd just seen a screening of "Fanfan la Tulipe," the Gerard Krawczyk remake of a popular 1952 French swashbuckler. Now it was time for the 56th Festival de Cannes' kickoff dinner.

"All of you talk at the same time -- I'm lost," said Andie MacDowell, surrounded by French admirers, as she tried out the ligua franca along with her entree. Others worked the room strictly in English.

"I'm just here as a civilian," claimed perpetual-motion-man Harvey Weinstein, schmoozing his way around the blue-draped ballroom, zigzagging among tables and tracing the shortest possible route between celebs. These included Meg Ryan, Steven Soderbergh and "Fanfan" co-star, Penelope Cruz, at whose seat the Miramax mogul dropped to his knees. "I'm so pleased," he gushed, as Cruz sat regally in a black John Galliano dress and jade necklace. "I told everyone how much I love the movie."

"The Matrix Reloaded's" Monica Bellucci had introduced the festival's jury prior to the screening but had to run off. "I had to do a television appearance," she said, wrapped in a light blue Christian Dior gown. "This is the first day and you have so much responsibility when you're the mistress of the festival."

Nearby, and higher up the royal food chain, sat the Prince of Monaco (engendering a "Prince Albert in a Cannes" joke or two) who shared a table with Indian actress, former Miss World and current jurist, Aishwarya Rai.

This scene occurred on the side of the room where the higher-echelon guests sat, while on the opposite side, the (relatively) ordinary guests didn't have to worry about being scrutinized.

They unhurriedly nibbled their way through Provencal vegetables, foie gras and crushed white truffles, and baked Mediterranean bass with asparagus. They finished their meals with chocolate and passion fruit tartlets -- and helped themselves to all the Mouton Cadet, Baron Rothschild and Piper-Heidsieck they cared to drink.

It all tasted delectable enough, but while the Yanks appeared genuinely pleased to be here ("I'm on vacation," Soderbergh, for instance, insisted, though he's actually doing film jury duty), the hometown crowd registered some quibbles. The rolls were an embarrassment to France, insisted one.

Another local who managed, sans invitation, to slip past the daunting security, still griped. "Only one main course?" she asked incredulously, in heavily accented English. "Last year we had two!"

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