The celebrity I most want to meet is on the top floor of one of the posh hotels on the Croisette. He's the Cannes falconer and, all day, he orders his birds to scare off the seagulls and pigeons that remind the rich that they're in an overpriced, chaotic beach town. It works. Leftover baguette sandwiches rest peacefully in trash cans. But then one night I walked past a Belgian chocolatier and saw two seagulls eating a pigeon — the birds are turning on each other like it's the French Revolution.
Two streets later, I spotted the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette: a blonde in a gray dress with rhinestone shoulders who'd glued fat coils of hair the size of horns into a towering bouffant. She wiggled down the street past people who kept their cool, and then as soon as she passed them, spun around with their cameras. I hope she knows her effort was appreciated.
But that's Cannes: decadence and death. I fear the festival wants to kill me. There are parties every night and 8:30 a.m. screenings every morning. Everyone is underslept and hungover, yet this is the only festival I know of that bans bottled water. At the Toronto International Film Festival, you can watch a movie chowing on pulled-pork poutine. Here, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis became my hero by smuggling in an avocado and tweeting pictures of it on the stairs.
Perhaps this is Darwinism in action. Cannes wants only the strongest film critics to survive. My odds are shaky. Two nights ago, when I tried to leave a party early enough to sleep, I stood up, started to walk across the black carpet, and tripped over a camouflaged black footstool, toppling four feet away from Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. It was one of those record-needle-scratching falls, très embarrassing, made worse by the fact that no one else could see the footstool, either. I just looked drunk.
So I was in the right mood for Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper, which stars Kristen Stewart as a part-time medium trying to contact her dead twin brother. Her other job is selecting red-carpet threads for a nasty starlet named Kyra who forbids her from trying on her clothes. Naturally, she does — a bondage halter, see-through dress, and towering heels — and, less naturally, she climbs into her boss's bed and masturbates. I was excited to see Personal Shopper because Assayas's last film, Clouds of Sils Maria, gave Stewart a great role as the assistant to a famous actress. (He really likes seeing her submissive.) Here, she's basically playing that character again, only now navigating a half-dozen other plots that Assayas crams into the film: an angry ghost, a stalker, a murder, and the enduring drama of whether Kyra will give back two pairs of expensive leather pants.
I was with the movie for a while, despite the French man muttering what sounded like snide things to the woman beside him through the first half of the film until he fell asleep. Stewart is wonderful. (And she's even better in Woody Allen's Café Society, which opened the festival.) But after a 20-minute sequence that Stewart spends texting, I lost hope. C'mon, Assayas. At least turn off the annoying ringtone. Still, when the movie ended, I was surprised to hear boos. In the dark center of the theater, people howled like angry ghosts. It felt mean. But it also felt right.