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What's also playing in France: real-life crime

May 14, 2008|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

But even the fanciest hotels along the Croisette can be dangerous. Attending the 2001 festival to present "Moulin Rouge," Robin Davids of 20th Century Fox publicity had her purse (and passport) stolen from underneath an outdoor restaurant table while she had lunch at the swank Hotel Martinez. Working for Universal Pictures in Cannes several years ago, film publicist Thomas Castaneda (now part of the publicity firm Nadia Bronson & Associates) lost his possessions when his Carlton room was burglarized.

Bill Pence, director of Dartmouth's film school and a co-founder of the Telluride festival, was lining up for a Cannes screening in the early 1990s on the Rue d'Antibes with his wife, Stella, when he felt a light touch on his buttocks. "I said, 'Stella, will you stop that!' And she said, 'I'm not touching you.' " A pickpocket was, and Pence's wallet was gone.

A few days before the 2000 festival began, the Pences rented a car at the Nice airport to visit the French Riviera on their way to the festival. While the couple paused at a stop sign, thieves opened the unlocked trunk, grabbed Stella's backpack and took off on a motorcycle -- with the Pences' passports and "lots of money," Bill Pence says.

Luddy, the Pences' longtime colleague, took extra steps to make sure his possessions would be secure. While staying at the Hotel Sofitel Le Mediterranee about five years ago, Luddy returned to his room to find the door half destroyed and the previously locked safe (which contained his wife's jewelry but not their passports) emptied. As upsetting as that was, the front desk's response was equally unnerving.

"The hotel at first tried to say we must have left our window open," Luddy says.

'Really freaked me out'

A.O. Scott, a film critic for the New York Times, experienced a similarly distressing incident at the same hotel during the 2004 festival. Late one night, Scott went to bed around 4 a.m., leaving his window open "just a crack." When he awoke in the morning, Scott discovered that someone had entered his room and made off with his wallet and laptop computer. "I slept through it. But what would have happened had I woken up? That was what really freaked me out."

He says the hotel argued he wasn't actually burglarized, refusing to call the police. "The managers could not have been less sympathetic," says Scott, who hasn't stayed at the Sofitel since. "I now stay a block away from the police station, but I don't keep the windows open and I keep things in the safe." The Sofitel declined to comment.

John Anderson, a freelance reviewer for the Washington Post, says proximity to law enforcement doesn't necessarily guarantee safety. Returning from a black-tie Cannes benefit a few years ago, Anderson and critic Howard Feinstein ended up in a fistfight with a stranger after Feinstein was cold-cocked near a police station. "The guy was really deranged and he was screaming in French, so I had no idea what he was talking about," Anderson says.

Even though the station was nearby, "it must have taken the cops 20 minutes to come out," he says. "They let us go without asking us any questions and seemed chummy enough with [the assailant]. There was no follow-up."

Gilbert Morandi, the chief commissioner of police in Cannes, says "there have been different incidents" but "things have gotten much better because we have more officers who are deployed at different times of day and we are better coordinated. In the past two or three years, we have really adapted to the issue."

Video surveillance cameras have been added in the streets surrounding the Palais des Festivals, and a team of municipal police monitors a wall of screens around the clock, sending officers out when something suspicious arises.

John Gentzbourger, a retired Cognac distributor who's a Cannes resident, says Mayor Bernard Brochand has helped increase security.

"There have always been pickpockets, but that's true in all big events," Gentzbourger says. "There are fewer muggings -- and really, all important stars have their own security. What's more, the festival takes place in a confined space, which is easy to watch over. Then again, if ostentatious people walk around with lots of jewelry, a Rolex watch and a chinchilla coat," they are easy targets.

But Vincent Maraval, co-head of France's film finance, sales and distributor company Wild Bunch, says, "I don't find Cannes dangerous enough. It's a bit boring."


Times special correspondent Nancy Tartaglione-Vialatte in Paris contributed to this report.

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