Cannes, May 11, 2000 - The International Film Festival is getting too big for my breeches. The opening night gala dinner following the world premiere of Roland Joffe's Vatel would have fed an entire Third World country for a week. Of course, Vatel is about food, love, sex, power – how French! Monsieur Vatel, played by Gérard Depardieu, was the 17th-century chef and "master of pleasures" for the Prince de Condé and the action takes place during a feast that the declining Prince (Julian Glover), ailing with gout, held at his Chateau de Chantilly for king Louis XIV (Julian Sands) whose favor he sought to recapture. A three-day feast complete with fireworks and water ballet, a once-in-a-lifetime endeavor persistently undermined by the Marquis de Lauzun (Tim Roth in a bewigged Pulp Fiction-meets-Rob Roy mode). Despite some unexpected help from Anne de Montausier (Uma Thurman), a courtesan on her way up, when fresh fish fail to arrive in time for the final banquet, Vatel commits suicide.
Despite piddling rain, you could feel, as guests and stars began to walk up the red-carpeted stairs, that this was going to be a night to remember. In town to officially close the symposium on "Cinema and the Future", Prime Minister Lionel Jospin attended. The Jospin couple was a study in contrast: he was straightforward, simple, slightly grey, obviously pleased yet somewhat surprised to be here. A bit like a high school teacher invited to a royal wedding. On the other hand, Ms Jospin, a well-known and respected writer-philosopher, was a tsunami in fuschia, with billowing dress and oversized hoop earrings the coral-like curlicues of which went all the way down to her shoulders – and she has a very long neck. L'Oreal dispatched its usual contingent of ambassadrices de beauté, which included Andie McDowell and Gong Li, beautiful plants all, but strikingly out of tune with the festive atmosphere, walking and smiling billboards dismissed by viewers and fans as "the L'Oréal Gals".
Then Uma Thurman came. Half the crowd went "Wow!," the other half went "Yes!" A hint of a front, sort of metallic, stopping way above bare midriff, and no back. At all. You knew that if she so much as sneezed, the "dress" would gently fall at her feet. "You gotta have a perfect body to wear that," said a fan in awe. "Worse," said his definitely more envious companion, "you gotta know you have a perfect body to even contemplate wearing that."
The three top floors of the Palais des Festivals had been reconfigured and redecorated to represent a 17th-century Farmer's Market (complete with farmers' daughters in full regalia) leading to Vatel's kitchen and pantry (enough vegetables, fruit, venison and elaborate gâteaux to feed three thousand aristocrats for three days), leading to the humongous dining room formerly known as the Salon des Ambassadeurs. When all the guests were seated, a herald announced: "Le dîner du Roy" ("The King's Dinner"). A dozen maître-chefs paraded the hors-d'oeuvre on silver platters which they held above their heads, then two hundred waiters – in costume – scattered around to serve the guests. Then came the "King's Fish", then the "King's Roast". The only thing they didn't serve was "The King's Diet Pills". By the following morning, not an ounce of Slim Fast was to be found in Cannes…
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