Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #3: Palor 1, Vitamin D 0

by Lisa Nesselson

My excellent colleague at The Paris Free Voice, theater critic Molly Grogan, points out in her May column that due to the unusual location of the Theatre National de Chaillot - deep underground in a spacious sub-basement of the Chaillot Palace - the theater's "technical staff receives the same bonus miners do for spending long hours underground."

Hmmmm. Were my name Dostoyevsky, I might be tempted to write my own "Notes from Underground" - or "Notes from Indoors, as lived, 12 hours a day, by a professional film critic."

Bear with me while I make a roundabout observation.

Veterans of Cannes may have noticed that the local taxi system varies greatly from the one in use in most American cities. In Chicago or New York, if you require a cab and there's no busy thoroughfare nearby on which to hail one, you pick up the phone and tell a cab company to come pick you up at home. Which they do.

You'd be mighty peeved if the meter already showed some peculiar amount, say $13.92 or $14.28, wouldn't you?

Well, that's standard in Cannes because the way the driver sees it, it is incumbent upon YOU, his eventual passenger, to pay whatever it costs him to cover the distance between where he happens to be when the dispatcher informs him of your call and where he ends up when you climb into the cab. You have not in any way benefited from this little trajectory - you have not glimpsed the sights or felt a Mediterranean breeze caress your face - but you've gotta pay the fare on the meter just as if you had.

A few years ago, when a cab driver showed up at my rented Cannes apartment (a 15 minute walk from the Palais des Festivals) with 85 francs already on the meter (a stiff 17 bucks at that year's exchange rate) I pointed out that it was irrelevant to me from whence he'd come. From my location it would be a 10 minute drive at most to the station for my 11 a.m. train back to Paris and I was prepared to pay a reasonable amount plus tip when he provided that service. The driver exclaimed, "But Madame, surely you don't expect ME to pay for the gasoline expended, the wear and tear on my tires, the additional fatigue to my eyes and back invested in coming to pick you up!"

I asked him "Have you never heard of incorporating such expenses into the general cost of doing business?"

The cabbie refused to believe that anyone could make a living driving a cab in America if there was a fixed cieling of two or three dollars on a "house call" whatever the distance involved when the customer placed his order.

I explained that since cabs were not horribly costly, people didn't hesitate to use them, which created a constant volume of business. The notion of charging less and earning more as a result fell on deaf ears.

So, I think it's grand that techies at Chaillot receive "hardship pay" for toiling underground and, as a professional corollary, I propose that film critics receive a bonus for working long hours in the dark. I think I should start my personal "meter" running when I head out for the first screening of the morning and whatever publication I'm writing for should pay me a stipend based on how long it takes me to cover the distance on foot to the Grand Auditorium Lumiere, with a few cents thrown in for shoe leather and disability payments should I step in particularly tenacious dog excrement en route.

Unlike America, France is not a litigious society. A great many events that would lead to an instant lawsuit in the U.S. fall into the far saner , if not always fair, category of "These things happen." Did you crack a tooth on the metal band that made its way into your guinea fowl in a restaurant? (This actually happened to me.) Try telling the waitress about it and asking to see the chef.

"What do you want to bother him for?" replied the waitress, laughing, no less, at my misfortune. "It's just the metal band that attaches the game bird's feet when we receive it."

"Indeed. But the menu says 'guinea fowl with cabbage and bacon' not 'guinea fowl with potentially lethal snippets of metal.' When I entered your fine dining establishment, my tooth was in one piece - it is now in two. I have reason to believe that had I not ordered this particular plate of food, my tooth would still be intact."

More laughter. It's not as if the chef put the metal band in my dish ON PURPOSE. It was a human error and I happened to have borne the brunt of it. Big deal. These things happen. No apology. No offer to deduct the price of my (tasty) main course from the final bill.

Such incidents aren't compensated because they are the exception, not the rule, and no malice was involved. There is such a thing as bad luck.

But stagehands who work deep underground get coal miner-style bonuses.

I think film critics should also qualify.

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