Todd McCarthy At Cannes: It’s Covid, Jake

Cannes is supposed to be all about films, films and more films, but since I arrived here 24 hours ago, it’s all been about Covid, Covid, Covid.

There were plenty of people lining up for flights during the busy afternoon hours on the Fourth of July at LAX’s international terminal, but the high-end gift shops resembled a ghost town of galleries, with listlessly elegant employees standing around or on their cellphones.

The Air France flight to Paris was packed, with all passengers required to wear masks for the 12-hour duration, other than the unusual number of babies on board, who kept the decibel level at an unusually high level much of the way.

When we finally arrived in Nice, it was as if we never left L.A.—exactly the same temperature, climate and foliage, and some of the same people, except far fewer of them.

Cannes Film Festival On-Site Covid Testing Hits Early Snag

What you saw, instead, were thousands of tourists, but French tourists, waves of families, couples and teenagers, plus a range of rich and poor; the harbor is jammed with more yachts than during the festival’s usual dates in May, and the hustlers and beggars are about as always.

But on one matter, the French public seems united: Young or old, rich or poor, nobody—and I mean virtually nobody—was wearing a mask. Along the Croisette and in the back pedestrian streets crowded with wall-to-wall outdoor restaurants, it’s as if Covid didn’t exist for the Riviera’s fun-seekers, even though the plague remains something of concern in France. It’s as if they all decided at once, ca suffit.

Cannes Film Festival 2021

The restaurant Le Cirque in the busy streets behind the Croisette
Todd McCarthy/Deadline

By contrast, the festival is taking the risk very seriously indeed. Even though I had a Covid test done in Los Angeles on Saturday, today I and everyone else wanting to enter the Palais des Festivals was required to get a new test if their last one was more than 48 hours ago—and we will all be required to be tested again every two days for as long as we want to enter the Palais building, which is where the vast majority of screenings take place.

This previously unknown requirement meant we all had scurry today to get vaccinated, either at the Palais itself or, for a nominal charge, at a nearby drugstore. I chose the latter and was in and out within 20 minutes, so I must compliment the game employees who were unexpectedly dragged into service to help the festival with a job no film festival types were remotely prepared to tackle. This naturally triggered some ill-tempered annoyance on the part of the easily annoyed French, and probably raised the same question in everyone’s mind—did we really come halfway around the world to do this?

Cannes Covid Testing

The Covid-19 test screening center at the Palais des Festivals
Sipa via AP Images

But the way these things often work, the hardy survivors often rationalize their adversity by coming to consider themselves part of a so-called survivors’ club, so that, years from now they can say, “Well, let me tell you how it was back in ’21.” Hopefully that’s what it will come to, sooner rather than later.

But while the city is full of vacationers and merry-makers, it remains to be seen, starting tonight, how festivalgoers will adapt to the new requirements. Now that we’re here, we’ll almost certainly grin and bear it, though no one will be able to tell due to the masks covering our mouths.

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