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People walk past the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, May 15, 2012.

Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters

One of the best times to see Cannes is before the film festival – and the spectacle – begins, before going into lockdown for screenings in the Palais for 12 days.

First, take in the ocean where the yachts are anchored: About 60 of them converge on the jetty behind the Palais, most rented by financiers, bankers and film commissions for the festival. According to the Hollywood Reporter, prices range from $130,500 to $400,000 a week – which some companies consider a cost saving over renting hotel suites.

Next, see the hotels along the Croisette, where tourists and visitors stop to gaze at the big posters going up. The grandest is the Carlton, at 58 La Croisette, famous for its blue rooftop cupolas, supposedly designed to resemble the breasts of the First World War-era courtesan Caroline Otero. Hitchcock shot To Catch a Thief here, and this is where Prince Rainier of Monaco met that film's star, Grace Kelly. This year, another leader gets pride of place however: Sacha Baron Cohen's massively bearded poster for The Dictator dominates the main entrance.

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Prettier, and almost as grand, is the Hotel Majestic Barrière, which looks like Louis XIV's birthday cake. It's famous from films such as John Frankenheimer's Ronin and Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows, where it stood in for the Gestapo headquarters. This year, the entrance is dominated by an image of the late Austrian-born, German-French star Romy Schneider, the subject of a recent museum show in the French suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

Outside the Palais, meanwhile, paparazzi have already staked out their spots on the median of the Croisette, some with chairs or stepladders for the best view. The famous red carpet, at this point, is still brown, under this year's poster of Marilyn Monroe blowing out the candle on a cake.

Inside, where the press mailboxes are, it feels like any office building after hours. I find my way to my usual box, 1315, which is already stacked with brochures, announcements and book-sized film catalogues. In the era of the paperless office, Cannes is loyal to old media such as film and paper. A press colleague once saved every piece of paper he received during a single festival in his room – it came to more than a metre and a half high.

Now, on to the reading, and the viewing.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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