The world’s most glamorous artistic and commercial spectacle is over. And so is the Gaza Film Festival.
The thousands of people, who descended on Cannes this year as they do every May, have left. They are artists and aspiring artists, bankers and entertainers, producers and journalists, fans and critics, from all over the world.
But above all they are Red Carpet and non-Red Carpet people. Just like the airlines checking counter, they are First Class and Economy Class sections.
Over 10 evenings, a selected few strutted with swagger along the red path of glory to the sound of music and flashlights of photographers and cries of cameramen.
Men dressed like penguins strolled like peacocks, and women dressed like peacocks ambled like penguins.
The rest watched from the sidelines – Ohhh, Eeee, Ouuu, OMG. Like the millions at home, who watched on their TV sets, they dream that one day it’ll be they who shall walk Le Red Carpet.
So what makes the red carpet so magical? Why are people so eager to watch people in cinema cheer and congratulate each other while dressed in lavish clothes and expensive jewellery that are more expensive than their homes and cars?
It seems that walking a “crimson path” is an ancient ritual. And like most rituals it originates in either war or religion.
The same applies to the new showbiz theology where cinema and music are dipped in dazzle, grandeur and opulence, and where culture is served by way of entertaining and provoking curiosity.
For that purpose, the red carpet is designed to promote celebrity with glitz and glamour. To attract not intimidate, excite not bore, please not alienate.
It’s the secret behind turning uninterested or struggling peoples into passionate fans and infatuated followers. And thanks to the instant satellite and cyber reach, the red carpet is today a magical flying carpet that carries a designated few stars into every household worldwide.
Thanks to the instant satellite and cyber reach, the red carpet is today a magical flying carpet that carries a designated few stars into every household worldwide.
It’s no surprise then, that the Oscars, the Grammys and other spectacles throughout the world have elevated the stature of red carpet to attract spectators of all walks of life. It now leads and fronts all their spectacles, literally.
And so, after almost seven decades of its annual ritual, the Cannes red carpet has become a sacred part of its annual festival; it’s the most popular and most attractive and accessible part of this mega cultural manifestation.
But is that all there is to it?
Celebrity, the new gospel
The Americanisation or commercialisation of cinema and the arts has transformed these cultural manifestations into mega enterprises where the red carpet is an indispensable venue for the successful, the powerful, and the influential.
It’s a pathway to the modern Promised Land. Lit with glitz and draped with glamour, it elevates the concrete steps into a stairway to heaven. It’s iconic. It’s totally narcissistic.
And it works. Because star power is today at the heart of the film industry and culture in general, and therefore necessitates nurturing celebrity and fashion icons that everyone can identify or identifies with.
The competition among 19 films and tens of others from around the world over various trophies remains, at least officially, the mission of the festival, but mega brands from Dior to Chopard have transformed Cannes and other such spectacles into trendsetters for the big fashion houses and other lucrative businesses for the icons and their makers and shapers.
Along with the thousands of buyers and sellers at its Marche de Film, Cannes was transformed into one of the world’s largest movie markets. In effect, this is the new cultural clergy that preaches the new gospel of the arts and entertainment.
It explains why so many among them, including the idiotic and superficial, pontificate about everything from love and poverty to global warming and Sudan.
And why it’s fashionable to use star power to shed light on impoverished causes. Nothing compares to a sexy sassy actor surrounded by poor children.
The Cannes, Oscars and their mutations around the world might still nominate the most fascinating, artistic and soulful films, but they are also becoming soulless branding spectacles that sex up showbiz power, at times, literary.
Many cheer the “celebration” of the “woman body”, but others argue that the red carpet “objectifies women”. And they don’t mean only the new “naked look”.
Reportedly, men are generally asked about their careers, but on the red carpet, women are mostly asked about their dresses or judged according to their appearances – “best dressed” and “worst dressed”, etc.
Paradoxically, while this year’s Cannes festival emphasised the role of women in cinema and opened with a film by a woman director, a scandal broke out when certain women were turned away from the red carpet for not wearing high heels. The director denied any rule about high heels, but it’s clear that women in flat shoes are discouraged.
Across the Mediterranean, “flat shows” is all there is to it, if at all.
At the time the Cannes festival started, another got under way across the Mediterranean pond, in the Gaza Strip. More precisely, in the Shujayea neighbourhood that was bombed to the ground by Israel last summer.
The images of the red carpet, like a stream of blood in the midst of the ruins, are truly dramatic. Red carpet! Really? Yes, because of its “symbolism”, said one of the organisers.
It’s life imitating fiction and beyond. It’s Gaza life, where reality defies fiction everyday. Where people have found a way to walk the red carpet, proud and defiant.
But in the Gaza Strip, a large refugee camp under siege, there is nothing worth selling, promoting or watching. No naked bodies, only naked feet. And the naked truth about a world that celebrates Cannes and obfuscates Gaza.
Yes, yes, I know you know all about the realities of life and, yes, no point of getting mushy here. And, yes the whole point of a red carpet is that only a selective few deserve to walk it.
But everyone should get a chance to step on some red carpet or another, not just the privileged or the sponsored. They should get there because they merit it.
Eventually a courageous sexy actor will make it to the Strip, and sooner or later, Gaza will make it to the French red carpet, as it must.
Despite everything, Cannes, unlike the Oscars, has made it possible for non-Western films to compete fairly. It confers a certain credibility and universality on the festival. And besides, having a token African or Arab can be as exotic as the naked look on Le Red Carpet.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.