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The Fickle Fetes: Cannes Parties Can Outperform the Pics

Cannes parties are legendary, but sometimes the shindig can outperform the pic

“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” — Jordan Baker, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

The 12-day Cannes gathering is actually four events in one: the festival, the market, the media binge and an international schmooze-a-palooza, where people from the other three groups can meet with colleagues.

There is one hallowed tradition that caters to all four needs: The Cannes party.

These events are often tied to a film’s global launch, but there is no correlation between the success of a film and the success of its fete.

Do you have special memories of “The Swan Princess,” “The Perez Family” or “My Blueberry Nights”? I didn’t think so. But some Cannes vets glow at the mere mention of those parties.

On the other hand, it’s hard to recall the galas after fest hits “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”; “Fahrenheit 9/11”; “Up”; and “Amour.”

See the pattern? No, because there isn’t one. Cannes pic parties are like marketing campaigns: They are supposed to reflect the film, but sometimes they don’t.

The festival always throws an opening-night dinner, which is invariably tasteful, smart and interesting. But film people like to do things their own way, so there is always a post-party party. Below are a handful that have entered into fest lore, for their scope, ambition and cash outlay.

Popular on Variety

1991: “In Bed With Madonna”
Nobody seems to recall details of the bash, except that it was the hottest ticket in the history of the world. Dino De Laurentiis, who was a mega-showman, was distributing the docu “Truth or Dare” (retitled “In Bed With Madonna” in Europe) so he threw an event at the Palm Beach Casino. Madonna and De Laurentiis held court with the 900 guests including Eddie Murphy, Roman Polanski, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tina Turner and Jack Valenti. Now there’s a combo for ya!

1997: “The Fifth Element”
For the opening-night shindig, French film company Gaumont built a massive event space by the sea, more than 100,000 square feet. Guests were given a special “Fifth Element” Swatch that served as their ticket to the party, which featured a futuristic ballet, fashion show of Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes and fireworks. Gaumont set a new standard for Cannes extravaganzas, at a record cost estimated between $1 million and $3 million.

2000: “Vatel”
Gaumont strikes again! The after-party in the Palais elaborately re-created the 17th-century French chateau depicted in the Roland Joffe-directed film, with nearly 100 actors in period costumes — including dancers, musicians, footmen and laundry-folding maids. Since the film features a fireworks display, there were indoor pyrotechnics, culminating with the flower pots on each table bursting into sparkling confetti.

2001:Moulin Rouge
After the film and the tasteful festival dinner, guests migrated near the Old Port, where Fox built a re-creation of the Moulin Rouge club, featuring velvet walls, can-can dancers and Fatboy Slim as DJ. The event lasted until nearly dawn and marked a new era of Hollywood’s heated-up romance with Cannes, after a subdued decade (Cliffhanger, Blues Brothers 2000, Mission to Mars and some offerings even less stellar).

2001: “The Lord of the Rings”
It wasn’t an opening-night bash, but it remains one of the gold standards of Cannes parties. New Line coordinated a four-day tubthump for the first “Lord of the Rings,” screening 20 minutes of footage to overseas investors and media members. The Croisette buzz culminated when the company bused 1,000 guests up to Chateau de Castellaras. At an estimated $2 million, the event featured endless amounts of food and booze; sets were imported from New Zealand so the crowd was wowed by Hobbit homes and giant ogres. As Variety noted at the time, “even the portable toilets were charmingly decorated.”

2004: “De-Lovely”
MGM invited 2,500 guests to a series of rooms built from Majestic Beach to the Old Port area, in an event that one exec confided cost $3.5 million-$5 million. (Hey, beachfront property is expensive!) Guests looked across the water toward the Cannes lighthouse to watch fireworks, film clips of MGM classics, and a concert of Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow and Natalie Cole warbling Cole Porter tunes. Years later, festgoers recalled the party more than the film.

2006:The Da Vinci Code
Anticipation was high. Dan Brown’s book had sold 40 million copies. Sony planned to launch the film on a record 11,900 screens globally. The cast, filmmakers and media rode a train from London to Cannes that was basically a 10-hour press junket. Sony brought 150 marketers from around the globe. Critics were given an unprecedented screening 24 hours before the opening-night gala. The premiere would take place in not one theater but two. Everything was on an epic scale — including the media backlash. The critics shocked Sony and fest honchos by breaking the review embargo, posting their withering reviews before the premiere. On opening night, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and company slunk up the red steps with frozen smiles. The party was elaborate and expensive, but even that got bad reviews. Sony had erected a giant pyramid near the Old Port for the gala, but ventilation was faulty and everybody was in a bad mood. If “Moulin Rouge” was the Woodstock of Cannes-Hollywood parties — peace, love, harmony and entertainment! — then “The Da Vinci Code” was Altamont. Pundits predicted that studios would never again spend so much to woo so few. But the film ended up raking in $758 million worldwide, so all was forgiven.

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