Cannes Loses Some of Its Fun

“I’m an auction whore!” cried Sharon Stone, slithering across the stage in silver lamé at amfAR’s 14th annual Cinema Against AIDS dinner at the famed Moulin des Mougins restaurant in Cannes on Wednesday night.

And indeed she was.

She raised the stakes on a luxury yacht cruise, replete with a Chanel surfboard and other choice goodies, by offering a kiss by George Clooney to the winning bid right then and there. A svelte young brunette woman won, at $350,000, and trotted up on stage before 600 black-tie VIP guests to get her bonus. “Lay it on her, George!” Stone wailed. And with a gentle swoop, arm firmly around the woman’s waist, he did.

During its 60-year existence, Cannes has been known as much for its parties as for its films. Big blowouts for a thousand in rococo villas overlooking the Mediterranean, small postscreening dinners for a hundred at the beach. There’s the Vanity Fair party, a swank ‘do around the pool at the Hotel du Cap, and amfAR up in the Provençal hilltop village of Mougins. There’s the opening-night gala and the closing-night gala. “I’ve got to leave early,” one French film critic confided at amfAR last night. “I’ve got another dinner down in Cannes at 11.” Two black-tie dinners in one evening? That’s a slow night in Cannes.

On Sunday, the festival added to the social melee by throwing a 60th-anniversary fete at the far end of the Croissette. Like what is increasingly happening in Cannes, they hosted the VIPS—including 33 top directors, who each made a three-minute vignette for a film called “To Each His Own Cinema”—for a gorgeous three-course dinner in a tent while the hoi polloi mingled in the garden, scarfing down canapés. The crowd united for an extraordinary fireworks display, shot from a barge and little boats scurrying about in the calm bay.

At the New Line party Tuesday night for its upcoming movie, “The Golden Compass,” VIPs were scurried off for a private reception in the gorgeous Villa Rothschild, while the rest of the guests—writers, producers, marketing people, the film business’s working stiffs—milled on the lawn, drinking Champagne and eating cold fish off an ice bar. There was a band playing good dance tunes, but by midnight no one was on the dance floor.

The division of the celebrities and so-called important people from the other 30,000 who descend on the Riviera resort for the 12-day event is slowly but surely killing the festive spirit of Cannes. Before, you could find yourself boogieing with Danny DeVito, or getting escorted into a black-tie dinner by Gael Garcia Bernal, or talking movies with Martin Scorsese or Curtis Hanson. Now you get waved away by Ellen Barkin like an annoying gnat and shoved by her bodyguard for good measure. “If I get pushed by another bodyguard, I may scream,” a PR woman for a top luxury fashion house who dresses celebrities for a living said at amfAR. And that was at a $5,000-a-plate fund-raiser. Everyone was a VIP.

Instead of being an inclusive celebration of film, as it has been for decades, Cannes has become a center for fund-raising. George Clooney, for example, pre-empted the traditional lavish studio bash for 1,000-plus to celebrate the premiere of “Ocean’s 13” with a dinner and auction for 200 on a yacht Tuesday night that raised $9.2 million for his charity, Not On Our Watch. (Steven Spielberg himself wrote a check for a $1 million). “We’re going to use that money for refugee camps in Chad and Darfur to pay for food and mosquito nets,” Clooney told NEWSWEEK at the amfAR dinner before being hustled off to be with his “Ocean’s 13” clan. (The Martini drink brand hosted a reception Thursday night for 500 film movers and shakers after the “Ocean’s 13” premiere, but a PR woman warned, “There won’t be an opportunity to chat with the cast or filmmakers.”) Auction whore Sharon Stone managed to raise a record-breaking $7 million for Cinema Against AIDS by selling a dozen luxury packages including impromptu performance by Kylie Minogue for $300,000 and a Chopard diamond, pearl and sapphire necklace, worn by Michelle Yeoh, for a cool half mill. Admirable causes, indeed, but for an elite few.

The whole thing is nicely encapsulated in a scene in the latest “Ocean’s” movie, when Carl Reiner is whisked out of a long line by casino executives. “Why is he getting special treatment?” asks actor David Paymer.

“Because he’s a VIP,” a bellman responds.

“And what am I? A VUP? A Very Unimportant Person?”

Yep, pretty much.