New Kid on the Croisette

How do you get tickets for a film at the Cannes Film Festival? What's the dress code? And how do you stay on the right side of Cannes Karma? Student and Curzon Oxford staff member Julius Cassebaum made his first trip to the Cannes Film Festival this year, and here he passes on all his top tips for Cannes newcomers.

Traveling to Cannes for the first time was always going to be interesting. I was a curious Cinephile, with myriad visions of what this trip could have in store. I figured obtaining tickets as a fresh-faced recent graduate without any Cannes badges or connections would prove a challenge, but luckily for me I was staying with three film students, two of whom had been to the festival before and knew just how and when to get their hands on those coveted pieces of paper with a palm leaf on them.

12th May

I arrive in the early hours of the morning on Saturday 12th May, having already missed the first few days of the festival. On this, my first day, I set myself two goals: see Girls of the Sun (dir. Eva Husson) and Fahrenheit 451 (dir. Ramin Bahrani).

If you have a badge pass, an orange or blue ticket will get you into a screening. If you do not, a blue ticket is your only hope. I'm in a group of six people who all want to see both films, so getting our hands on enough of those blue tickets seems unlikely. But there are two ways you can try. You can pay a visit to the Hotel de Ville, where local citizens (who receive free admission every year) with no interest in the festival give their tickets away. Or you can resort to option two: standing outside the Grand Théâtre Lumère (GTL) with a sign reading ‘Invitations sil vous plait’. 

Girls of the Sun (dir. Eva Husson)

Girls of the Sun (dir. Eva Husson)

The place is packed. It appears that everyone in Cannes wants a ticket to Girls of the Sun. One of my friends, attending the festival for a third time, says he has never seen this much traffic for a film. Hype is building and it looks as though there is no hope until out of the crowd comes a woman offering unto us four tickets. Perfect. Except the tickets are all orange!

After about an hour, slowing cooking in the southern french sun, a saviour offers us seven blue tickets to Fahrenheit 451 and a single ticket for Girls of the Sun. I am graciously allowed the ticket to Eva Husson’s film. But the story doesn't end there. Waiting in line, wearing a smart shirt and leather shoes among people dressed more casually than I, security tell me I can’t enter, that I "need to wear a bow tie". Doors close in ten minutes so I sprint to the nearest clothing store and purchase a bow tie before hurrying back. Call it the Cannes dash. But again security tell me I can’t enter, that I'm "wearing the wrong shoes”. Guess I don’t have the ‘Cannes’ look. Annoyed and defeated, I pass my ticket on to a man dressed in a full tuxedo who clearly got the memo.

Fahrenheit 451 (dir. Ramin Bahrani)

Fahrenheit 451(dir. Ramin Bahrani)

Later that night, determined not to repeat my mistake, I dress to the nines for the midnight premiere of Fahrenheit 451. Our seats are in the Orchestre, the most coveted area, allowing us to walk the entire length of the red carpet. We cannot believe our luck. Sitting centre stage in the third row, I'm within a mere three rows of the film’s cast and crew, including stars Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. They are the last to walk the red carpet and as soon as they enter the room, a thousand phones appear to snap them walking in, accompanied by thunderous applause. Following a short announcement, the film begins. I arrive home shortly after 3am, the first day having been filled with both disappointment and joy, but overall a great success. 

13th May

If there's a plus side to not having a badge, it's that your options for film viewing are limited. There are only so many hours in the day and only so many films one can watch. Knowing that each day you only have the option to see two or three makes deciding on a film significantly easier.

On my second day I set myself two new goals: see Happy as Lazzaro (dir. Alice Rohrwacher) and Shoplifters (dir. Kore-Eda Hirokazu). The first film starts at 4:30pm. Due to poor organisational skills and an extremely delayed bus, we don't arrive in the city until 3:30pm, far too late to stand a chance at getting a ticket. Nonetheless, we stop by Hotel de Ville, to learn that all the resident's tickets have predictably been given away. So it's to the GTL. 

Happy as Lazzaro  (dir. Alice Rohrwacher)

Happy as Lazzaro (dir. Alice Rohrwacher)

People are already being allowed into Happy as Lazzaro when we arrive. We hold up our signs, as usual, with little hope in our hearts. Just as the final people enter the screening, one of my friends comes rushing over with tickets. Two blue and two orange. The orange ones need to be exchanged. We get in line and spy two people up ahead with badges and blue tickets. This is the first film they are attending so they are unsure about the different type of tickets. I plead and try to explain that they can get in with either colour tickets, while we can only get in with a blue one. The lady that I’m speaking to seems a bit hesitant, unsure whether she should trust the spiel from this man asking her to give up her perfectly good ticket for his. I promise to stand with her through security until we get into the screen and, still a little hesitant, her friend gives her a nod of approval and she agrees. Sure enough we enter, once again amazed at our luck. The icing on the cake, Roberto Begnini walks the red carpet, jumping, prancing, making silly faces... surely our luck has to end soon. It's all too surreal.

Shoplifters  (dir. Kore-Eda Hirokazu)

Shoplifters (dir. Kore-Eda Hirokazu)

We leave the cinema around 6:45pm, still without tickets for Shoplifters. A friend and I sprint back to the Hotel de Ville, which closes at 7pm. At 6:57pm, a lady is already closing the doors. All the tickets are gone. For the evening’s film, we need only two tickets, so after a quick bite to eat we head back to the Palais, drawing up new signs. This time around it isn’t as busy and our competition is small. After about twenty minutes a man hands me an orange ticket. “Merci beaucoup monsieur,” I say. I'm half way there. Not two minutes later I receive another orange ticket in passing. I try to explain that I already have one but the man just smiles and shrugs. By some miracle my friend obtains a ticket to the Orchestre again and I am able to exchange the two orange ones for a blue, also seated in the Orchestre. For the second night in a row I am able to walk the red carpet. ‘Young hearts, run free’ by Candi Stanton plays and I do a little dance, my jig briefly appearing on the screen above the red carpet. 

The film finishes at half past midnight to thunderous applause, with a standing ovation that lasts over ten minutes. The cast is escorted out with praise from everyone they pass. Palme d’Or frontrunner? It's certainly my favourite film.

14th May

In the quest for tickets, if you don’t already have some to trade, three things are important: Location. Appearance. Effort. 

Today's agenda: BlacKkKlansman (dir. Spike Lee) and The House that Jack Built (dir. Lars von Trier). Both are evening showings, but we know we have to get there early to stand a chance at getting some tickets. We arrive at the Hotel de Ville just before 4pm, where we're told that there is only one ticket left for BlacKkKlansman, and we are by no means the first in line for it. So we head to the GTL, where there are placards and signs galore wanting tickets for both films. And then heavens open. Six of us wait outside for three hours, but today there is no luck, only rain.

BlacKkKlansman  (dir. Spike Lee)

BlacKkKlansman (dir. Spike Lee)

The day is later redeemed by none other than Lea Seydoux. She walks past me, looking at my sign and smiles as she disappears into the distance. Wet and tired, a quick meal replenishes our energy ready to hit the GTL in search of tickets for the 10:30pm showing of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built

As mentioned, three things are important in getting tickets: 


Know Your Exits. Experience has taught us from which exits we're most likely to get a ticket. So we ensure one of us is marking each of them.


Look The Part. Always dress in evening gowns, full tuxedos and suits to give the impression that you are genuinely interested in seeing the film for its artistic merits.


Put In Work. Make sure your sign is large enough and legible from a distance, and be neat or creative. It can go a long way. And a little smile never hurt anyone.

After ninety minutes of waiting, having put all these rules into practice, we still haven't got any tickets for The House That Jack Built. The line to get in is growing longer and none of the hundreds of people that pass me are feeling generous today. Just as we are all losing hope, I receive two tickets within five minutes. I meet my friends and find that they have all had the same stroke of luck. 

The House That Jack Built  (dir. Lars von Trier)

The House That Jack Built (dir. Lars von Trier)

Following his seven year ban, von Trier returns to Cannes with The House that Jack Built. The great Dane has never shied away from controversy and, given the subject matter of this new film, it seems unlikely that his return will be any different. And that proves to be the case. Dealing with some difficult subject matter, quite a few people start to leave the screen mid-film, but that would not be the first time that's happened with a Lars von Trier film. 

15th May

The day starts with a rush. One of the people I'm travelling with has managed to get tickets for the reprise of BlacKkKlansman. It starts in twenty minutes, and I'm still at home. I break into a sprint to the cinema and arrive, very sweaty, just as the last people are going in. There's that Cannes dash again.

By now we have our ticket system worked out to a T. And we're a diplomatic bunch. When we get our hands on some premium tickets, we divide them between ourselves based on previous good fortune and how badly someone wants to see a film. We receive a single ticket in the very first row for the evening’s premiere Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell) and, amazingly, it finds its way to me. 

Under the Silver Lake  (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

While waiting in line I strike up a conversation with a director from Sweden, a producer from Germany and a screenwriter from Austria who was supposed to walk the red carpet with her husband, only he was wearing the wrong shoes... I know that feeling. We discuss the buzz surrounding the evening’s film and who would be lead contender for the Palme d’Or (the unanimous answer: BlacKkKlansman), and when the time arrives to walk the red carpet I become the screenwriters surrogate date for a full 90 seconds. In my seat, I get talking to my neighbour who, lo and behold, is one of the cast members of Knife + Heart . An engaging conversationalist, we speak about his film career, sneakers and his love of Vanessa Paradis. The only disturbance of the evening comes when a member of the audience starts to snore during a particularly quiet scene of the film. Awkward. 

16th May

There is a rule in Cannes about obtaining tickets called the ‘Cannes Karma’. If you find yourself with excess tickets you are not to be greedy and hope to exchange them for better seating or to attempt a ‘two for one swap’. Once all members of your group have a valid ticket, any excess should be given away. If you do not, the ‘Cannes Karma’ will hit you and you won't receive any tickets for the next showing of your choice. We were all very careful to obey these rules and were, for the most part, very lucky.

Dogman  (dir. Matteo Garrone)

Dogman (dir. Matteo Garrone)

Today, due to an excessive amount of time spent at the beach, we only manage to see one film. Dogman (dir. Matteo Garrone) is the story of an Italian dog groomer and his relationship with a local bully. Grabbing a drink after the premiere I bump into the second lead of the film and manage to say hello, but due to a language barrier the conversation unfortunately doesn't carry any further. 

17th May 

Despite following the dogma of the ‘Cannes Karma’, luck is not on our side today. I try to get tickets for both Capharnaüm (dir. Nadine Labaki) and Knife + Heart (dir. Yann Gonzalez), in the hope of seeing my seat neighbour from Tuesday. Alas, I am not able to get any tickets for either film. 

Laskovoe Bezrazlichie Mira  (dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov)

Laskovoe Bezrazlichie Mira (dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov)

Right next to the GTL is the ‘Salle Debussy’, where films are shown under the ‘Un Certain Regard’ banner. While you can only get in to these screenings with a badge, I decide to try my luck with an orange ticket offered to me at the entrance. Security are not too fussy today, so I'm able to sneak in to see Laskovoe Bezrazlichie Mira (dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov). I guess a little bit of 'Cannes Karma' is still on my side.

18th & 19th May 

As the festival winds down, so too do the number of screenings and the amount of people with tickets to spare. For the final two nights we're unable to get our hands on any. We'll have to wait to see Ahlat Agaci (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan) and The Man who Killed Don Quixote (dir. Terry Gilliam). All is not lost, however, as we're still able to witness a live three-song concert by Sting and Shaggy, accompanied by the festival's big prize winners. With that, the final day is far from a write-off.

I leave Cannes delighted with my first experience. I've learned the ropes and will be back again next year. Just try to stop me.

[Words by Julius Cassebaum from Curzon Oxford]

Read about the rest of the Curzon team's trip to Cannes 2018 with our blog series, including all the film news and reviews you can use.

Ryan Hewitt