Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #2: Vital Observations

by Lisa Nesselson

May 13, 1996

I live in France year 'round, but only during film festivals do I rediscover just how extensive is the range of idiotically designed toilet stalls in this fine nation where culture reigns supreme.

Clusters of harried women, each at the mercy of her bladder's capacity regardless of her mental capacity or mental log of film lore, overrun the toilet facilities in the Lumiere Auditorium, in the Debussy Auditorium, in the Noga Hilton, in the Palais in general. There's never enough room to maneuver - which is always maddening in a purpose-built facility. But the design feature I'll never, ever understand is the floor-to-ceiling, hermetically sealed ratio of door-to-stall.

The women of North America will tell you that you must have one of two features in a public toilet: either the lock must indicate whether the stall is Vacant or Occupied (via words to that effect or through the time-honored use of sliding red and green). Or there must be enough space between where the door ends and the floor begins for a reasonably agile individual to bend over and see for themselves whether or not a tell-tale pair of feet or legs is currently ensconced in a given stall. The toilet stalls of Cannes incorporate none, repeat, none of these features.

They do boast a space-aged flush-and-sanitize mechanism involving infrared heat. But the alleged absence of germs is scant comfort in the sustained presence of fumes and fragrances that have been sealed into the stall for the simple reason that the door extends all the way down to the floor. I'm a mere film critic, not a hygiene engineer, but I think it may be said in all fairness that if everybody thinks he's a critic, most of us share comparable bodily functions. And as surely as Jacques Rivette can no longer tell a story in less than four hours, I would think that when it comes to heavily trafficked restrooms, ventilation would be a priority.

Maybe there's an exceptionally powerful Union of Toilet Stall Door Manufacturers who dictate that all doors installed in new public restrooms must be, you'll pardon the expression, flush with the floor. And maybe some sardonic social engineer decided that people LIKE to be "interrupted" by the sound of some misguided soul yanking on the stall's knob in hopes that the locked door will swing open.

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