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Disquieting calm on Cote d’Azur

CANNES — It’s Cannes Fest time and everything’s in place, from the Leopard Ladies on the Croisette to the audacious promo billboards advertising Angelina Jolie, Jean-Claude Van Damme and “Moulin Rouge” in front of the Carlton.

But there is a sense, noted by the vets of Cannes passed, that there’s something missing. Could it be . . . buyers of the product on display?

In the Cote d’Azur version of whistling past the graveyard, the show goes on.

“Moulin Rouge” is a terrific opening night film, full of attitude, color and humor. Will world audiences show up to recoup the $65 million production budget?

Back in the real world, where sellers and buyers schlepp product for foreign territories, desperately hoping to recoup the cost of showing up here in the South of France, the facade doesn’t mean bupkis.

Cannes is a tarted-up showpiece that attracts press attention, but the real attraction that draws crowds into Cannes hotels and restaurants is the commerce.

Commerce comes courtesy of the market and whatever the official stats for market attendance, the reality is as they say in the cowboy movies of eras past, “It’s quiet out there.”

That’s not to say there is no Cannes.

There are still tens of thousands of fest and mart-goers on hand. The fest competition lineup, while populated mainly by familiar names like the Coens, David Lynch, et al., also contains seeds of hope and, besides, there are other sections with filmmakers yet to become household names. Hope unspooleth eternal.

Perhaps Cannes will continue to draw the eternally optimistic fans of international cinema, full of hope to see a cinematic work of genius. Perhaps the streets will always bustle with the legions of filmmakers and their support teams, eternally believing that Cannes is the place to launch companies, initiatives and projects.

Slate financing, tax schemes and government subsidies continue to stir the pulses of producers from Argentina to Amsterdam. The funding scheme of today is the Irish Film Board’s Company Development Initiative, their long-gestated plan to support the country’s indigenous film community.

‘Put up or shut up’

“It’s put up or shut up time,” says Ossie Kilkenny, chairman of the Irish Film Board, making it clear that the Irish government was determined to “put up.”

The new $6 million filmmakers fund is good news for Irish crews and filmmakers desperate for production funding assistance.

It may not sound like a big deal in American studio pic budget terms, but it’s racing the hearts of cash-strapped Euro producers. Cannes is still the place to make that point and make sure the world’s filmmakers take notice.

Cannes is alive. But it’s not the Cannes of decades past. Looking at the nearly empty restaurants and bars of the Croisette, it makes a veteran of this hallowed fest and market wonder how many habitues have fallen beneath the waves, and if all the subsidy boards and fresh-faced auteurs in the world can keep it afloat.

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