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A Story Worthy of a Movie: My week at the Cannes Film Festival

15 June 11:00am

Sophie Pipitone

It’s hard to say whether or not my job found me or I found it. There’s a great possibility that some divine power above chose to marry two desperate situations into one, creating both a powerhouse duo (if I do say so myself) and a killer friendship. Talent casting is not a business most find themselves in, and when I woke up with the job, I was surprised to myself there. At the time, my path didn’t feel like it was converging with options, it felt like a dead end. Luckily, after strapping myself in and tightening the buckles, there haven’t been many stops on my roller coaster. If someone had told me there’d be upside down loops and turns that would flip my stomach, I would’ve asked to get off. I’m glad no one told me.

Needless to say, I knew life was never going to take me down a straight path.

Little did my boss know that a month before hiring me I had been fawning over her social pages, drooling at the sight of her adventures. So, when she mentioned the prospect of bringing me (me!) along to the Cannes Film Festival come May, a camera roll of visuals streamlined through my imagination. You see, when one (ergo: me), dodges the college bullet, the whole study abroad thing becomes something you have to do vicariously through Instagram. It’s a mirage somewhere far in the distance, seemingly untouchable. Don’t get me wrong, I had a full-blown case of Insta jealousy. I have no problem admitting it. In between the tickets booked and actual takeoff, I had a few months to seriously get my shit together and do all the things I never imagined myself doing—exchanging American dollars for Euros, buying outlet converters, debating whether or not I should buy a new suitcase instead of using my parents which still had a luggage tag with an outdated address on it.

Me in Cannes with my friend and boss, Sitora.

The moment my toe touched French soil, I knew somewhere deep inside that this experience was going to be more than watching movies in a foreign country, it was going to an invaluable education. It would be a day-to-day whirlwind in which I could come into myself, building upon who I’ve become since leaving school, and it would have nothing to do with classes or writing papers or homework deadlines.

The week prior we’d spent in Amsterdam where it’s hard to feel like a tourist when you’re surrounded by tourists. Among the melting pot of people, you’re just another one of them. It wasn’t until we arrived in Cannes and a local began rambling to me in French that I came to terms with the cold hard truth: I am as far from being European as I am to being a professional athlete. Like, never gonna happen. Everything inside of me wished I could flip some switch and temporarily become the French girl every American girl dreams to be, but instead I just stood there, mouth agape, wordless. The girl smiled at me, then spoke again, “Which movie is for this queue?”

“Sofia,” I said. She got in line behind us.

Glorious Cannes.

We checked nine movies off over the next five days. The House that Jack Built, BlacKkKlansman, Under the Silver Lake, Sofia, The Gentle Indifference of the World, Capharnaum, In The Room, Heart + Knife, Todos Lo Saben. I’m not in the business of critiquing movies, but I am in encouraging people to see movies. Film, akin to reading, is one of the simplest pleasures in life. When my eyes had opened to the fact that I was a twenty-year-old (on the very cusp of twenty-one) walking around the Cannes Film Festival, I floated in a surreal state of mind. We would wait in line for hours to secure a seat, but instead of loitering in a popcorn scented lobby, our view was one you’d see on a souvenir shop postcard. The sea breeze and sun kissing our skin, yellow flowers tracing a pathway, different languages being spoken from every other direction.

And after the credits would roll, we existed to the same scene, only now touched with pink and orange skies. It was unbelievable.

My initial approach to Cannes was driven by red carpet content I’d seen over the years. Women and men dressed in head-to-toe designer, makeup done like porcelain dolls, hair swept and staled by cans of hairspray. But that doesn’t skim the surface. The festival’s foundation is a community of people who gather from every corner of the world to bond over film and share in passions that fit every ounce of the creative spectrum. Pavilions representing every country are erected along the beach, built for the sole reason of networking with people alike, yet you otherwise would never meet. The American Pavilion gave us an Italian photographer sporting a fedora (adorned with a feather), Joe Madden-esque eyeglasses, argyle socks, and patent leather pointed-toe shoes; a wanderlust Parisian session musician with a man bun and long stories about his hippie parents; an English director who was shocked by the American obsession with the royal wedding. Cannes surpassed it’s visual beauty in the moments I could see inside of it—listening to the people, eating the food, indulging in every aspect that Milwaukee, Wisconsin may never provide me.

International tents on the waterfront, at Cannes.

There was never a moment we were subjected to the American grind, either. I kept asking myself why we live this life of go go go. Why do we accept big dishes for big portions for a short amount of time so tables can be turned and customers can be shoved out? The European culture is about company. Let’s sit, have a meal. Maybe wait two hours and order desert. Maybe a drink here, a smoke there. You couldn’t use your phone even if you wanted to. WiFi is scarce while dining in Cannes.

I had finally realized that all of my favorite things were colliding in one central place. I had fallen hard and fast.

My mind kept snagging, caught thinking of all the people I wanted to bring the next time I would find myself in Cannes. My dad and his camera, my mom and her impeccable taste, my brothers for the food, my closest friends because La Croisette could easily become our playground. By the time we were sitting on the airplane ready for departure, I knew the South of France was officially bookmarked under a place I wanted to share with people. There were moments ready to happen and stories prepared to be told. It would be no different than having someone you love read your favorite book or watch your favorite movie. Bringing my loved ones to Cannes would be like showing them a little piece of me.

The poster for this year's Cannes Film Festival is a still taken from Godard's New Wave masterpiece, Pierrot Le Fou.

A point will never come that I won’t be grateful for my boss—the one who showed me a piece of herself through her fearless way of travel. We had mutually agreed that The Gentle Indifference of the World, the third film we saw, was by far the most captivating. Every scene was shot with beauty and intention, every move in unison with the next. It was as if a mirror had been placed on our experience, mimicking each motion. We established our own beauty with our own set of intentions. We had moved with eyes wide, sun following us wherever we would go. If I were to chose one thing to hold on to from my Cannes, it would be just that. The memory and feeling of our time though my own little lens. To remember that everything, from here on out, should be done with that same focus.

Me, in Cannes.

(P.S. If you’re currently in the market to vicariously roam abroad as I once did, my Instagram is now a chain of recent travels. As much as I have made fun of the study abroad content that’s reached my Instagram, I wanted to participate in my own rite of passage. So I did.)

About the author

Casting Assistant, writer, film-lover, former fangirl

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