It is a truth universally acknowledged that an international film festival, in possession of good films, must be in want of sexy glamour on its red carpet. There’s no other way to get media attention and screaming fans, regardless of how good your films are. Yet, something as banal as the weather, of all things, decides how sexy a festival can be. In a way, the rain decides the fate of all that global media focus, advertising revenue and brownie points with the sponsors. The Cannes Film Festival is in May, and it’s usually warm and sunny on the French Riviera. The ‘bombshells’ preen on the red carpet, or unfurl on the Croisette, in various stages of décolletage and ‘pout-age’ for the paparazzi. But nothing is as unsexy as a gorgeous Hollywood star, in a spectacularly plunging gown, slithering onto the red carpet at the Palais des Festivals in pouring rain, with an umbrella in one hand, and her dripping fancy-schmancy train in the other, while all the world’s cameras capture her glorious embarrassment forever. Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Amitabh Bachchan and the team of Gatsby Le Magnifique (as the French call The Great Gatsby), as well as jury members Steven Spielberg and Nicole Kidman, got wet carpet welcomes as they ducked under weeping umbrellas at Cannes last year, as did Isabelle Huppert attending the world premiere of Michael Haneke’s Amour in 2012.
Rain can turn sexiness into a terrifying option, threatening to reveal all manner of appurtenances that otherwise ensure airbrushed seduction on the red carpet. Although the pictures make it all seem so glamorous, I’ve seen stars become nervous wrecks just before the ‘montee des marches’—climbing the steps. Their make-up drips away, their hair is a mess, their plunging neckline reveals unseemly glimpses of what it shouldn’t. Apparently, there are a lot of uses for duct tape in the push-up cleavage department that the electrician never thought of (a duct tape cleavage tutorial on YouTube dryly advises you on “how to make it look 3D from all angles,” adding “shade contouring for emphasis”). And there’s a vast range of dresses with sticky bra cups to help you engineer the perfect wardrobe malfunction, ‘rubber jelly boobs’, ‘boobie booster silicone enhancers’, falsies called chicken fillets that you stuff into your bra, self-adhesive “nipple pasties” and other mind-boggling inventions that are beyond those with size zero imaginations.
At the Berlin Film Festival in February, temperatures can vary between 3 and minus 10 degrees centigrade, sometimes with snow and ice. It is way too cold to be too sexy, so it’s a quick red carpet lunge, and if anyone dares offer décolletage for the press, you can plainly see their goosepimples. Alia Bhatt accompanied Imtiaz Ali for the Highway world premiere on the red carpet at the grand Zoo Palast in February, her elegant black gown showing off her bare shoulders, as well as the tiny bumps on her cold skin. Attention-deficit actor Shia LaBeouf, presenting Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, struggled to wean cameras from all the glamorous women on the red carpet at the Berlinale Palast, by wearing a brown paper bag over his head that said, “I am not famous any more.” In one way, the cold is lucky for film fans at Berlin as there’s relatively less flesh on display, so the media focus is much more on the films.
Venice, in end August, early September, is sexy too, weatherwise. But no festival is above the rain gods. At Locarno, in Switzerland, in early August, when it rains on the Piazza Grande, they have a standard alternative indoor venue. Despite this, loyalists relish watching movies in the rain under whatever’s handy—the festival brochure or an empty pizza box—as a ritual festival baptism. The Sundance film festival is held at a ski resort in Park City, Utah, in January, when it’s around minus 10, similar to Berlin, but with up to 30 inches of snow. So cleavage, at what The Telegraph called a “dress down film festival”, is minimal and largely covered up with polo necks and stylish coats.
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(This story appears in the March-April 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)