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TOURISM

French Rivera tourist businesses eagerly await return of Cannes film festival

The five-star palace hotels are in full swing, the sound of music drifts across the beach and after a 'horrible' year blighted by coronavirus, Cannes is buzzing again for its international film festival.

French Rivera tourist businesses eagerly await return of Cannes film festival
Hotels in Cannes are keen to welcome visitors again. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

“We can’t wait,” admits Pierrick Cizeron, chief executive at the Majestic hotel that overlooks the Mediterranean and the festival convention centre.

In 2020, the festival that draws stars from across the world, had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.

With France under a partial lockdown in Spring, the 2021 edition has been delayed from the usual May date to July 6-17.

The festival pulled in 40,000 people a day pre-Covid – only about half that number are expected this year – and provided 20 percent of annual hotel turnover.

“It’s more than just the excitement, we are in the middle of recruiting 250 people for the season,” says Yann Gillet, director of the luxury Martinez hotel, which was full for the late May bank holiday weekend.

Last year’s cancellation,he says, left staff “heartbroken” at a hotel that usually fills with celebrities for the festival.

The movie extravaganza, “is a real driving force and punctuates our year,” Gillet says.

“Often clients come to see us and ask if it really was Brad Pitt’s room.”

On the seventh floor of the Martinez, which was totally renovated in 2019, the final touches are being made to a double penthouse suite booked by Chopard jewellers for the duration of the festival.

The Riviera resort had lived well off tourism and conventions, but the hotels and restaurants that provided most of the local jobs have been shut for long periods and had to rely on government handouts to try to keep mounting debt under control.

Despite high hopes for the festival, the hotels, which had been shut since September-October, are far from fully booked.

“We are only 10 percent full in June and 25 percent in July,” says Cannes hotel union leader Christine Welter.

“It’s an unexpected opportunity for people to come to the festival because in normal times it would be complicated,” with hotel rooms at a premium and all booked out.

“And that’s a good thing this year,” she adds. “We have two-star hotels in the middle of town starting at 100 euros a night where normally there would be no rooms available during the festival.”

In previous years the cheapest hotel rooms that start at €40 a night could fetch €260 during the festival.

The authorities are trying to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible and health protocols are firmly in place, says Welter, as business builds up again.

On the Croisette, that runs along the seafront, a flower delivery man zigzags through the crowd carrying a display in each hand. Out at sea, a speedboat pulls a parachute covered with advertising.

In the expensive shop windows, handbags, dresses and shoes await visitors with money to spend.

The festival “puts a rocket under our sales, we have magnificent clients,” says 42-year-old Olivier Zambrana, who works at a Jimmy Choo boutique.

He would usually buy in double stocks for cashed-up festival-goers, but for now, he says, the shop will wait and see how things go.

At Giry’s, caterer to Cannes for 50 years, business is slowly picking up.

In his office, with most of the staff still on furlough, Luc Guibout is recording his first orders in a year.

“There’s no big bang but it feels like things are starting to kick off again,” he smiles, after what he describes as a “horrible” year.

On the other side of town, in the La Bocca quarter, workers are busy finishing a new multiplex “Cineum” with 2,400 seats. The festival will inaugurate four of the 12 auditoriums.

The Cineum backs on to a new audiovisual studies campus that will take in its first 900 students in September, as city hall looks to capitalise on the global reputation of the festival.

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HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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