At the movies · Memories

The £30 bottle of Evian

May 1987, the Cannes Film Festival, an event that I attended most years back then because of my involvement with a Film Festival here in the UK. As usual, this celebration of cinema on the Riviera coincided with the FA Cup Final back home. I watched the game at the British Pavilion, an occasion that I recounted in this piece about Cup Final Foolishness. By the end of the game (Coventry beat Spurs 3-2 in extra time) I was rather drunk, and had plucked up the courage to talk to Philip French, the film critic whose work I admired the most.

I chatted to another writer who had just arrived to cover the Festival for the first time. I’ll call him Alan. I knew of him from a book of short stories that he had written, and which I had read, a few years earlier. Coincidentally I had read his stories in Monaco, just down the coast. It was on my first visit to that part of the world, travelling with an old school-friend by train through France and Italy. It was a trip that took us to Florence. While we were there we saw Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Nostalghie” at the cinema, as I recalled in this piece.

Our day in Monaco was brought about by the times of the trains we were permitted to use with our low-price tickets. We arrived on an early morning train from Cannes (we had been camping nearby) and were travelling overnight down to Pisa. We were touring Europe on a very small budget. We spent most of the day at an open-air public swimming-pool. I lay in the sun for most of the afternoon reading that book of short stories and thinking about the girl in Cambridge who had recommended it.

Anyway, back at the British Pavilion Alan seemed rather overwhelmed by the scene: hundreds of drunken men, all connected with the film industry in some way, cheering and groaning their way through a football match. It was not what he expected from his first hours in Cannes. We chatted about the sort of things he could expect from his ten days in town, but his experience was going to be different from mine and from most other people’s time there: he was staying down the road in Nice.

As you will know if you have visited that neck of the woods, Cannes, Nice and Monaco are well-connected by road and rail, but if you are attending the Film Festival it’s advisable to stay in Cannes itself. You can walk everywhere for a start. The journey by train from Nice is around 30 minutes, and the station is a 10-minute walk from the Croisette (the centre of the action for most festival-goers). Taxis might be quicker but during the day the traffic along the Croisette is often at a standstill. Whether he took the train or a cab, Alan would in effect be commuting to and from the town, which would limit how much he could see and do there.

The next evening, Sunday, I bumped into him again, after a screening, and asked how things were going. Had he just seen the same film as me? Was he planning to see anything else that evening? He seemed a little puzzled, not by my questions, but by how his afternoon had gone. He hadn’t really planned to come into Cannes at all. There was nothing he needed to see that day. He had a headache. But there was someone in town that he was due to meet up with at some point during his stay, an industry contact, someone he had never met before. Alan had called him at lunch-time to make an arrangement and it turned out that Sunday, early evening, was the only time that was suitable for him. They could have dinner. Alan had a nap to try and clear his headache, didn’t have enough time to take the train from Nice and took a cab (150 francs, around £15) to the hotel. He arrived to find that there was a change of plan. His contact had another dinner engagement, so he suggested a quick drink and they could reschedule for later in the week. They chatted for no more than five minutes. Alan had a 33cl bottle of Evian. He was still holding it when I met him, having just concluded the briefest of meetings. That’s why he seemed puzzled. He had come all this way expecting to have dinner with someone in the film business and instead he was spending 300 francs on taxis in return for a bottle of Evian. “This bottle of water is costing me £30,” he said, as much to himself as to me.

If he’d been staying in town it would all have been different. He could have walked back to his room without having to shell out 300 francs on cabs. As things stood, he was about to head straight back to Nice with only that £30 bottle of water for company. I wished him well, and headed off to my next screening.




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