Graduate Halley Rose Meslin, Fishers High School, USA, tells us about her once-in-a-lifetime experience studying abroad in Cannes, France. She joins us this year as a 2018 alumni contributor to share her experience as a recent Diploma Programme (DP) graduate.
By Halley Rose Meslin
Stepping onto the red carpet, I turned to get a view of the exquisite mayhem below. Throngs of photographers lined the carpet flashing away at the procession. People pressed up against the barricades eagerly awaiting the arrival of the film’s cast. Gathering the gown’s sumptuous rose fabric in my hands, I mounted the steps and smiled at the sea of strangers. Stage lights beat down on the glittering avenue of filmgoers as we were ushered into the palace. After the final ascent up a white spiral staircase, I settled into my red velvet seat in the iconic Grand Théâtre Lumière for the première of The Square at the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival.
The glamorous chaos [of the film festival] tested my confidence and cultural dexterity.
I can’t say that I decided to study French so that I could attend a red-carpet film première but I suppose c’est la vie. I studied French as a higher level (HL) subject for the IB Diploma Programme (DP) and as a French major at university. As a culmination of my studies, I spent a semester in Cannes, France. For most of the year, Cannes is a sleepy, seaside village. But every May, the city transforms into the capital of cinema during the Cannes Film Festival. Movie stars, journalists, film producers and the world’s rich and famous flock to the French Riviera to see and be seen. The population triples, yachts arrive in the harbor and the streets buzz with chatter about international cinema.
It is difficult for the average person to see a film at Cannes. Badges and film invitations regulate every aspect of the festival. For example, entrance to the immaculate Palais des Festivals is restricted to film industry and media professionals. As a Cannes resident, I received the lowest level badge, which gave me access to some screenings but otherwise put me at the bottom of the food chain. Every morning I’d walk to the little white tent across from city hall that doled out invites and ask, “Avez-vous des invitations aujourd’hui?” (Do you have invitations today?). My morning ritual paid off and I saw several films. Although worthwhile, these films were considered low-stakes since they were not in the running for the festival prizes.
To attend a red carpet première you need luck. Alternatively, you need to look the part, have an elusive blue invitation and possess the right badge. I had a dress and secured an invitation from a friend interning at the Palais. But without an industry badge, walking the carpet was still a long shot as the guards were notorious for turning away interlopers.
The night unfolded like a modern fairy tale. I donned my ball gown and made my way alone down the palm tree-lined boulevards to the “palace” (palais). In any other context I would’ve been an odd sight, parading down a busy street in a pink tulle gown and sequined pumps. But this was Cannes. I glided past cafés filled with patrons decked out in tuxedos and designer dresses. I shook off the vagabond grains of sand from the folds of my gown and took my place in line at the carpet’s edge. My ballet training came in handy as a took three long strides toward the security guard, with my head up, back straight and shoulders down. (The following conversation has been translated from French.)
-ME: “Good evening,” I murmured pleasantly to the guard as I displayed my invitation, trying to hide my nerves.
-GUARD: “Good evening. Do you have a badge?”
The moment of truth had arrived.
-ME: “Yes, here it is,” I responded.
I unclenched my grasp on the beaded handbag and nonchalantly flashed my (meaningless) resident badge. One quick, cursory glance later and I received the coveted nod of approval. In a classic case of walking the walk and talking the talk, I was allowed to pass.
I thrived in the whirlwind atmosphere of the Cannes Film Festival thanks to my French language and culture skills. The glamorous chaos tested my confidence and cultural dexterity. I became an active participant in an international community as I saw foreign films, attended soirées and communicated with people from all over the world. Academic preparation brought me to Cannes, but an open mind convinced to take chances and soak up this once in a lifetime experience.
She is beginning her career as the executive assistant to the owner of SHED, a farm-to-table restaurant and events hub in Healdsburg, California. She is a recent graduate of Indiana University, with degrees in French and environmental & sustainability studies.