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Cannes Diary: What are the women in their dresses hoping for?

Nearly everyone I know who has seen the official poster for the 66th Cannes Film Festival -- a bird's-eye view of a kiss between a young Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward -- has been crazy about it. The couple's lips meet in the center of a perfect sunburst. She's two o'clock, he's eight o'clock -- between them, they've got the whole day and night covered. Adapted from a photograph taken in 1963 during the filming of Melville Shavelson's A New Kind of Love, it's as romantic a movie image as you could hope for, a link to cinema's past that also feels strikingly modern.

A gargantuan version of this poster has been hoisted high above the entrance to the Grand Théâtre Lumière here in Cannes, the theater where all the gala premieres are held. And while the festival is teeming with film professionals and critics who claim to be completely indifferent to all that red carpet business, I can't believe that their first sight of this image didn't thrill them just a little bit. The glamour quotient is part of Cannes, and even when it's pouring rain—as it was Wednesday evening, for the gala festival opener The Great Gatsby—the red carpet and its environs are something to see.

My favorite place for people-watching, though, isn't the red carpet itself. I love to find a perch on the Croisette, the better to watch the parade of civilians that turn out to see and be seen. I love seeing how so many people dress up, even just a little, to turn the night into a mini-event for themselves: the young girls and the older women, some of the latter turned out in trim faux-Chanel cardigans and clip-on pearl earrings, the former in long, sometimes unmanageably frothy dresses, tottering around on phony platform Louboutins, a look that's nakedly aspirational and all the more touching for it. Exactly what are these girls, dressed like resplendent, fragile birds, hoping for?

Then there are the Euroguys rushing about in black tie: Tonight I saw one particularly handsome specimen dashing across the Croisette, his face a Donatello-caliber vision of perfection except for the bulky white bandage covering his nose from top to bottom. Did someone break it in a fight? Did he walk into a door? Did his girlfriend clock him after finding him in bed with her best friend? Clothing often speaks louder than words, but a bandaged nose on a guy in a tuxedo is a novel waiting to be written.

 
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