You could be reading Alberto Dagnino the Riot Act, but nothing would distract the Italian camera operator from the soccer game at hand. He may be at the Cannes Film Festival, but the only screen he’s interested in tonight is inside a local pub.
“Football, you know, is huge in my country,” the 31-year-old begins just as the action heats up. “Oh tira, Madonna!” he screams before swivelling around. “What was I saying?”
The Euros semi-final between Italy and Spain, still at a tense nil-nil, has just resumed after half-time and Dagnino is parked outside Ma Nolan’s, a bustling Irish pub a stone’s throw from the Grand Palais, where Opening Night festivities for Leos Carax’s “Annette” are underway. The Italian and Spanish soccer fans surrounding him — many of whom are also festival delegates — are similarly transfixed on a too-small television inside.
Along with the humidity and holidaymakers, a Cannes Film Festival in July coincides with major sporting events that the two-week May festival is usually spared. (The Champion’s League and FA Cup finals take place during Cannes but neither are national affairs). This year’s UEFA Euro Championship, however, adds another layer of considerations onto an already complicated Cannes: how do you do both?
Is it inconvenient for the festival to coincide with the final rounds of the Euros? “If you ask me, yes,” Dagnino turns to remark, before his eyes flicker back to the match. “Because I would like to be with my mates in Milan, but I’m here. It’s my job; I have to do it. But right now, I’m focused on other stuff.”
This is Dagnino’s third time in Cannes. On Tuesday, the camera operator, who is filming and editing footage from press conferences and other festival events, worked until 8 p.m., grabbed a quick bite for dinner and then rushed to the Rue Buttura pub alone to tune in to the game. “I work for Swiss Television, so my colleagues are Swiss and, of course, they don’t care.” (Switzerland was knocked out by Spain in a dramatic penalty shootout last week.)
Among those who were also headed to Ma Nolan’s was Giulia Casavecchia, head of sales at Italy’s True Colours. “I don’t usually follow soccer, but I’m not going to miss Italy playing the semi-finals, even though I’m at Cannes,” she says. “Even though I’d like to attend the festival’s opening night, I’m opting for the game.”
The heaving scene at Ma Nolan’s almost betrays a year of strife for the Irish pub. The business, which relies heavily on the various conferences hosted in Cannes throughout the year, was shuttered for 12 months from March 2020 until this spring — opening only for a few weeks last summer. Without the events business the city of 74,000 relies heavily upon, it was hard going for staff who feared for their jobs.
This week, signs of recovery during a unique summer festival are lifting spirits: Ma Nolan’s is fully booked with large groups who are in town for the film fest and tourists reserving tables for the Euros. “There’s one table of nine Danes coming on Wednesday [for the semi-final between England and Denmark], and they said ‘be careful’ because they’re heavy drinkers,” laughs Cormac Fiddes, a long-time bartender at Ma Nolan’s.
The regulars from the festival are slowly trickling in, says the 45-year-old, who welcomes a “huge amount” of return customers every year. It might have been even busier had France pulled through in the competition — “An England-France final would have been absolutely crazy,” Fiddes admits — and had Cannes been at fully capacity in terms of delegates. But after the last year, any business will do.
“The conferences are very important for the city,” says Jean-Pierre Guilloy, the founder of Morrison’s, another Irish pub on nearby Rue Teisseire showing the Euros, much like many restaurants and bars in the area that had big-screen televisions set up to accommodate eager fans (pictured above).
“We need tourists and business, and the film festival is a big deal for Cannes. This year, we aren’t expecting lots of people, but we hope [they’ll come]. Life is very noisy around the film festival. That’s very good,” says Guilloy.
It’s about to get a lot noisier. Italy’s thrilling win over Spain on Tuesday seals their spot in the Sunday final, with their opponent set to be decided at the hugely anticipated England-Denmark semi-final on Wednesday, for which British delegates have been planning for well in advance, and will likely skip industry events to watch. (They’re not alone: most of the team at Italian pubcaster RAI’s RAI Cinema — which has nine films at the fest — skipped the Opening Night gala to huddle in their apartment and watch Italy’s semi-final.)
Luckily, Dagnino won’t have to decide between work and soccer for Sunday’s crucial match. “Thank God, this year, I’m leaving on Saturday,” he says.
Nick Vivarelli contributed to this story.