Cannes: 150 years of memories from a film-loving journalist

Cannes La Croisette André Abbe Photo

How many Cannes Festival attendees really know Cannes? How many share a passion for cinema?
Immerse yourself in Cannes and its festival, through the eyes of a child from Provence, who became a cinephile at an early age.
Travel back in time to Cannes with André Abbe from the 50s, then through the events of '68, then from inside the festival as a journalist. And today, as a retiree.

Last update: August 15, 2023

19th century - Cannes by cart

The last village cart was used by Monsieur Fabre in 1973 in Roquebrune sur Argens (Var).

I've forgotten what my father told me. A relative of Abbe's would leave Roquebrune in the evening, his cart loaded with barrels full of his wine. He would arrive in Cannes the next morning to deliver his precious merchandise. In a dozen hours, his horse had covered the 45 km of the Estérel road, not yet tarred at the time. Who was this relative? How much wine was transported on each trip? I know that the wine was destined for a café in Cannes, a town that plays an important role in our family history. 

On foot with a cart, it's a twelve-hour night walk and 400 meters of ascent to reach Cannes from the Var. The same for the return journey. Map: Google

20th century - A single projector, then two village cinemas

A mayor who loves movies

Mayor Jean-Baptiste Giboin votes to buy the village's first cinema projector. Postcard: Archives du Var

Between 1922 and 25, Jean-Baptiste Giboin, mayor of Roquebrune sur Argens, purchased a film projector for use in schools.

To raise money, he organized paying screenings of silent films (of course) for Roquebrunois. I read about it in the minutes of the town council meetings, but it was never mentioned in the family. Jean-Baptiste is the father of my mother's mother.

The village's two cinemas: the Star and the Vox

The Star cinema in Roquebrune sur Argens in 1974 - Photo Jean-Paul Martin

Later, talking pictures arrived. Roquebrune had two cinemas: Vox, the chicest, and Star, the shabbiest.

The dilapidated, rotten-sounding Star was owned by Pitone du Puget, a cinephile. I remember seeing "Topaze" with Fernandel(watch it on Youtube). 

A session was scheduled for Thursday afternoon, but Léon, the projectionist, and Toni Salvetti, the cashier and supervisor, would only start if there was a minimum of ten spectators. On at least two occasions, I went out into the street to try and persuade ladies to join us. More recently, I was alone at the Vox in Fréjus during a screening...

Some of my friends would only go to the cinema if there were Mickeys (cartoons) opening. On Sunday mornings, they'd ask people who'd been to the Saturday night show.

Cinéma le Vox in Roquebrune - photo Fernand Chauvier - collection Jean-Paul Martin

At my first screening, I must have been 4 or 5 years old. I'd seen a poster for a movie starring a dog. The Star films were posted under our house, near the fountain. On Sunday, my mother took me to see this dog who looked so unhappy in the film, I started to cry and we walked out in the middle of the projection. I remember it like it happened yesterday. It's amazing, I tend to forget everything.

When I was about ten, the ticket cost 30f at the Star and 50f at the Vox, another precise memory. The difference was due to the higher standing of the Vox, which offered two rates, and was cheaper in the first rows (the same at the Casino in Saint Raph, where the balcony was more expensive). Thirty francs is 3 centimes today. Yet there were free-riders, even among the rich. Some parents thought it was a waste of money to pay to see a bunch of crap.

1949 - The B14 not chic enough for the Croisette

The Citroën B14 wasn't chic enough for Cannes - Photo: CJP24

I've had occasion to talk about our B14 outings, which were hazardous. The B14 remained in the garage until around '49, as there were no tires or spare parts available. My father had bought this 1930 model before '39 and converted it into a pick-up. The B14's plateau is at La Bastide. My brother-in-law Jo stores wood there, but no longer builds fires.

I'm sorry we don't have any photos of our B14. It didn't have a wiper motor. When it rained, the passenger had to turn a handle to operate the single wiper. Nor did it have a turn signal. The driver used his arm to turn left. Turning right was rather optional. If there was a passenger, he put out his arm. It seems to me that one day turn signals became compulsory and my father had to have them installed.

I must have written it somewhere, but never mind, I'll write it again. My parents in front, Jean Bérenguier (Jo's brother) and I on the set had gone to pick up my sister and Jo at the port of Nice. As we passed the Croisette in Cannes, we got caught out because our B14 wasn't allowed to drive on the Croisette, so we were diverted onto Rue d'Antibes. Every time I went to Cannes with my son Pacha, I told him this story, and one day he got fed up, pointing out that I was telling him the story for the tenth time. My shame at being French comes from this accumulation of sometimes minute details showing the contempt for the populo of our still monarchical republic.

I remember driving the B14 one last time down the boulevard to G. Escoffier, who had converted the flatbed into a trailer and sent the rest to the scrapyard. It seemed to me that the engine no longer worked. At the bottom of the freewheeling descent, we towed it with the new 2cv van.

1955 - Hollywood shoots "Les vendanges" in Provence

Scenes were filmed in the vineyards of Roquebrune sur Argens in 1955.

The beginnings of a cinephile

In 1955, not much was happening in Roquebrune sur Argens. But one day, Madame Blay's CM2 class heard the news. American cinema was coming to our town. A brief sequence from the film "Les Vendanges" was shot in front of the small vineyard in front of the vast Bagatelle house. The foliage of the vines had been covered with a red powder so that it would appear green in Technicolor. I'd seen it all.

Mel Ferrer and the man who played his brother, jacket over his shoulder, arrived and asked "Are you hiring for the harvest? An old farmer replied, "Look at our vineyard, it's been devastated by hail". Director Jeffrey Hayden shot the short scene at least ten times before getting the right take. I was amazed.

Released in 1957, the film wasn't a great success, but it wasn't a turnip. Michèle Morgan as the blonde and Pier Angeli as the brunette were superb, and saved the day.

Yesterday I saw Mel Ferrer again, an American actor of Catalan origin, in "The Longest Day". He played in a multitude of films without ever becoming a first-rate star. In "Les Vendanges", Michèle Morgan fell in love with him. Every time I see him, I think of Bagatelle, whose vineyard has disappeared. But my love of cinema remains.

Years 50-60 - Magali or my early love of cinema

Last night, I saw "Razzia sur la chnouf" thanks to the recently installed TNT. Magali Noël starred with Jean Gabin. I remember an evening at the "Théâtre de verdure" in Les Issambres, a grand gala organized by a certain Claude Tabet, who presented guest artists, then a singer, then a world premiere film. I remember a turnip set in the rainforest starring André Claveau. On another occasion, Edmond Taillet, a whimsical singer, did his tour de chant. "Je suis fait d'un seul bloc, je suis carûé dans le roc..." was his hit. He had a surprisingly tortoise-like profile. 

A few years later, we heard on TV that Edmond Taillet was an international gangster and major drug trafficker. I never heard from him again. I'd look him up on the Internet among friends. In chic summer dresses, Magali Noël, Rosana Podesta and Dawn Adams had answered Tabet's banal questions. I was amazed by their grace and charm. As someone who forgets proper names, I remember these names. None of the three had a star career, but you did see one of them from time to time in 50s and 60s movies on TV. I was about 15. I attended all these parties thanks to Mr. Bardou, who worked for Beaumont.

Much later, I had a "pink" accreditation, the best for the press, at the Cannes Film Festival, which opened every door for me, including the stars' press conferences. I never went. The pleasure of seeing actresses up close had passed me by. My favorite stars were Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly and Marilyn. In real life, however, I generally preferred brunettes.

1972 - Young Directors' Fortnight

On Monday, I wrote about my time at the Festival and my disappointment. But the real reason I came to Cannes was a pilgrimage, 50 years after my first festival joys shared with my wife. I wandered around Cannes, taking a self-portrait in front of what's left of the Star, under construction and hidden by signs. Feeling blue and nostalgic. To finish my day, I attended the organ concert at Notre Dame church. I discovered the new organ, new to me since 2010, and Henri Pourteau, a talented organist and lecturer.

At the beginning of May 1972, a childhood friend who lived in Cannes at the time explained to us that the "Quinzaine des jeunes réalisateurs" (Young Directors' Fortnight) had just been created on the bangs of the "official" Festival, and that if we managed, we could attend screenings.

Indeed, at the top of the rue d'Antibes, the three rooms of the Star and the room of the French presented feature films from all 5 continents. A new world for us cinephiles on occasion.

We went on Thursdays, at the end of the week and sometimes when the program was attractive, after my wife's school trip. Normally, the entrance was reserved for professionals, but the controllers let the public in when there were still seats available. A good-natured atmosphere at the time. But that soon changed... in short. I found a few films on the Internet that we'd liked: Ken Loach's "Family Life", already there, Manuel Gomez's "Los dias de l'Agua", Alberto Isaac's "Los dias del Amor". We were discovering Latin American cinema.

The Star was located not far from the former Palais, now the Hilton, convenient for the comings and goings. Today, the red carpet and the bunker are at the other end of Rue d'Antibes, and our Star has lost all its appeal for Festival organizers. I hope it will reopen after modernization. I fear it will be replaced by chic boutiques. As for Le Français, it disappeared a long time ago.

If I hadn't accompanied Nana to the station, I wouldn't have gone to Cannes; the page has now been turned on the Festival. Clap de fin, with no regrets.

I owe my best memory of x72 to the screening, in the company of my wife and this childhood friend, of Claude Miller's medium-length film "Camille ou la comédie catastrophique", starring Philippe Léotard and Juliet Berto, who passed away a long time ago. We laughed a lot. A forgotten gem...

I'd like to see it again, but I don't know how to find it. If you know a way...

1974 - Descend the steps

The former Palais is now a hotel

In the days of the old Palais des Festivals, actors, actresses and producers descending the steps faced the sea, with the Lérins islands to their left and the Estérel peaks to their right. Nowadays, the descent of the steps is made facing posh but ugly buildings. But there are more steps to go down...

A Hilton hotel has replaced the old Palais des Festivals. I'm one of the people who signed petitions to preserve the Palais des Festivals as a reminder of an era, facing the sea on the Croisette. In the basement of the Hilton, a room has been built that looks a little like the old one. Just the thing to make the old-timers nostalgic. This is where the Directors' Fortnight presents its selection.

(By 2022, the Hilton is no longer a Hilton, I hear.)

Michel Piccoli came to protest with us

I took part in the first demonstration against Giscard d'Estaing, who had just been elected president a few hours earlier. In a modest cinema on the outskirts of Cannes, "Histoire d'A", a film on abortion, was due to be screened on the initiative of the PSU. The screening had been banned and the CRS had kicked us out. Taking small streets that our Cannes friends knew, we found ourselves seated on the Croisette in front of the Palais, in the presence of dozens of photographers and cameramen. The CRS who had arrived after us had hesitated to beat us up in front of so many witnesses. We shouted at the top of our lungs, "Just elected, he's got us beaten up! 

Then it was time to come down the steps, at the end of the film in competition. Piccoli was there in his tuxedo. We shouted "Piccoli with us, Piccoli with us!" and he did indeed come and sit among us. I regretted not having brought my camera. 

Men in suits and women in evening wear came marching down the Croisette, shouting Liberté d'expression. The most beautiful demonstration of my life as an activist against one of the most disappointing presidents of the Republic.

1974 - Arcand, or my modest presence in films

In "Les invasions barbares", Denys Arcand has one of his characters say, in essence, "The West has produced nothing between Virgil and Dante". I obtained his e-mail from the Brousseaus, and explained to him that before Dante there were the troubadours, whose work Dante claimed to continue. In the next film in the trilogy, "L'âge des ténèbres" (The Dark Ages), Arcand answers my question. He has a character say "I don't give a fuck about the troubadours".

In "Dupont Lajoie", Boisset has the local police commissioner say "we mustn't frighten the tourists, as Occitan bombings already frighten them". The film is set in St Aygulf, and it was my bombings that were the subject of it. "Tourisme piège à cons" - "Paris décide, le Midi crève". My bombings have been replaced by tags with no message today.

This is my modest contribution to Quebec and French cinema. But let's return to Cannes after a detour to Fayence.

Bombage, billboards... André Abbe's communication tools in the 60s. This poster can be seen at the Abbe house in Roquebrune sur Argens (Var) (it can be visited).

Once, with Pierre, who was staying with the Henriots on our little square, we went early to dig for white truffles in Saint Paul (with the permission of the owner of the truffle fields). I found at least a kilo of them, before going to the 8.1/2 a.m. screening at the Lumière auditorium. The truffle fields have disappeared in Saint Paul and the Lumière would be off-limits to me if I decided to go there.

André Abbe harvesting a summer truffle with his weeder in 1977

For several years, Alain Martin's modest but comfortable yacht had served as our lodgings... 200m from the new palace. There, I had filmed a Provençal-language programme, telling viewers that they were being welcomed on Vaqui's yacht. A modest program, in a modest language, on a modest yacht, that pleased the loyal viewers.  

1989 - The pirate ship

Pirate galleon Cannes Abbe Photo
The ship from the film Pirates cruises off the old monastery on Saint-Honorat Island (Alpes Maritimes) - Photo: André Abbe

The "Pirates" galleon sets sail.
Thanks to Passadoc, I'm able to search for and find old photos. In May 1989, I was on the island of Saint Honorat, near Cannes.

And surprise! I had seen the galleon from Roman Polanski's Franco-Tunisian film "Pirates" (1986) appear behind the old monastery as it moved away.

For several years, the imitation of a pirate galleon used in Polanski's film, presented out of competition at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, remained docked in Cannes harbor. Outings were organized for tourists. I wasn't enthusiastic about the film, but I thought the galleon replica was a great success.

For me, the finest film on this subject is "La Flibustière des Antilles" (1951).
Already 70 years old, the beautiful Jean (a female first name in the USA) Peters playing the role of Anne Providence, the buccaneer.

La Flibustière des Antilles movie poster
What does Anne find in the hold of a ship she has boarded? The handsome Pierre François LaRochelle, a prisoner of the villains, played by Louis Jourdan.

An opportunity for me to pay tribute to Marseille's Louis Jourdan (born Louis Gendre) on the 100th anniversary of his birth, on June 19, 1921.

He refused to act for the Germans during the war, after a promising start, and joined the Resistance. He then spent most of his career in the United States, where he played "French lover" roles without ever becoming mawkish or ridiculous. He died in California in 2015. Who remembers Louis Jourdan today? An unfair oversight.

1995 - Gina Lollobirigida

In May 1995, I found myself standing behind Gina Lollobrigida in the Lumière auditorium in Cannes - I've written about it before, but I know more now.

Born
in 1927, she was 68 and gorgeous. I didn't ask her to stand up and compare sizes! I didn't dare talk to her, yet we waited 10′ before the screening and she wasn't in conversation with her neighbors. Mitterrand had just given her the Legion d'Honneur, the best thing he'd done in 14 years of finite reign. She had appeared in an Agnès Varda film that year, which explained her presence. Inaddition to the banal "I admire you very much", I could have talked with her about photography, her passion.

Since my missed meeting with Gina, I always look to see who's in front of me when I go to a show. Gina is the Bersagliera from Comencini's "Bread, Love and Fantasy" (1953), with whom de Sica's "Marechal" is in love. One Sunday I went with Charlot to the Rialto in Saint Raphael to see it. We had a wonderful time. Eskimo at intermission.

Persuasion

"Élégantes au lévrier", André Abbe, 1991 - André makes some surprising encounters during the festival

I lack the power of persuasion. Two recent examples: at the Cannes Film Festival, two doggies ask me where the Arcades cinema is. I point them in the right direction, but they keep walking in the opposite direction.

At the Opéra Garnier (Paris), I was at the basket level when two ladies asked me in English where the balcony was. I beckoned them upwards. Not convinced, they ask a woman who tells them to go down to the orchestra. And off they go! I've always had trouble convincing others, and it's cost me a lot.

June 2017 - Cannes, of all colors

A woman runs along the quays during the Cannes Film Festival 2022. At the stern, the yacht converted into a meeting and projection room by the European cultural channel ARTE. Photo: André Abbe

In the past, you could show your journalist's card at the reception desk to obtain a daily pass that gave you access to the participating companies' stands and pavilions, as well as tickets for screenings.

Yellow, blue, pink, pink with pastille and white, in my day these were the colors of journalists' credentials, and depending on the color you had few or many rights, including the right to attend press conferences.

2018 - Two palms

Two Palmes d'Or for a single Cannes Festival, a first.
Simple Palme d'Or for the Japanese film "A Family Affair".
The jury wanted to honor Jean-Luc Godard with a "special" Palme d'Or for "Le Livre d'Image" (I've seen image written in singular and plural, I don't know which to choose), an assemblage that didn't meet with unanimous approval.
Godard is capable of the best and the worst. As a young cinephile, I was disappointed and annoyed by his film "Masculin féminin" (1966).

I never went to see a Godard film in the cinema again, I made do with TV.
Godard used to say that seeing a film on TV is a sacrilege.
I take my Godardian sacrileges for granted.

2022 - Filing in action

Film enthusiasts have given way to business enthusiasts

The port and, on the right, the Palais des Festivals (the Film Market is held in the round building near the sea). A unique photo? André Abbe returns from India in the midst of confinement. He manages to catch the only plane to Nice. Photo André Abbe

You can no longer attend the Festival without accreditation, access screenings or enter the Palais to collect information. Controllers on duty scan your badge, which serves as an attestation.
My last visit to the Cannes Festival was before Macron's election. On this May 22, 2022, I went to the Festival under the illusion that, thanks to my press card and that of the Scam, I would be able to attend screenings of films selected by Acid and Semaine de la Critique. But no, the press card is as worthless and useless as a telephone token in Cannes. It's enough to make you wonder about access to information for the press. Our Festival is a victim of Americanization, the exact opposite of its 1939 vocation.

The spirit of Cannes Festival founder Jean Zay is long gone

Jean Zay had wanted to found a popular festival as opposed to the Venice Mostra, which was in the hands of the fascist government. A plaque in tribute to Jean Zay has been affixed inside the Palais, but I was forbidden to photograph it. Disillusionment.
I wandered around Cannes without a reason, without a destination, without an option, and to continue with my selection of "On", I found myself a bit of an asshole.

As an act of precision, it is possible to buy tickets to attend the "Directors' Fortnight" screenings in the basement of the Hilton... Provided that the accreditation holders don't occupy all the comfortable vermilion armchairs.

Then there's the 10 p.m. screening of "Cinéma de la Plage", open to the general public. On the 22nd, "Un singe en hiver", with Gabin and Bébel in action, was being screened, but by then I was already back home.

Cannes has preserved the vestiges of a Provencal village

Before it became a Jet Set resort and the setting for the Cannes Film Festival, Cannes was a Provençal fishing port dominated by the Suquet district.

"L'Escolo de Lerin" (the school of Lérins, the name of the archipelago comprising the islands of Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat), linked to the Félibrige, perpetuates the Provençal language and traditions in Cannes.

In Cannes, there's an organization that handles apartment rentals called "les Félibriges". Mèfi, there is only one Félibrige, founded by Frédéric Mistral and his friends in the mid-19th century. I've never asked for the honor of belonging to the Félibrige, but I have some very good friends there.

This painter from Cannes approaches passers-by in English, then in Nice. Photo: André Abbe

During my day in Cannes, on Sunday May 22, I met a painter in the antiques and fine arts market, who spoke to me in English and then in Nicoise, first to chat and then to discuss. After strolling along the Croisette ("la Crouseto- la Croseta- petite croix" in Provençal), on the way to my car in the evening, I passed the "Lou Suquetan" building (l'habitant du Suquet).

There's a saying in Provençal that once you've been to Cannes, you never want to leave, but I've forgotten the exact text. My memory's going, like Jeanne Moreau's.

Conclusions from 150 years of memories of Cannes and its festival

Philippe Léotard in Claude Miller's "Camille ou la comédie catastrophique" at the Young Directors' Fortnight in Cannes (1972). Click on the image to go to the Directors' Fortnight website, with extensive archives.

This passion for the 7th art started with this sequence with Mel Ferrer shot at Bagatelle (Roquebrune sur Argens), then our first Cannes Festival, my wife Francine and I in 72, at the "Directors' Fortnight". My subsequent bulimia when I had an accreditation, with sometimes 5 films a day to mix and match the next day.......

In over 40 years at the Festival, I've only spoken with one actor, Philippe Léotard, after a screening, to tell him that I'd enjoyed a film he made in his youth, Camille ou la comédie catastrophique. Accompanied by Nathalie Bayle, he was surprised and delighted that I should mention this rarity, which lasts less than an hour and has never been released in cinemas. I had seen it at the Quinzaine years earlier. Today, I regret not having tried to interview or photograph actors I liked and came across. Shyness or discretion. Most of them would have sent me packing and I would have been offended.

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