Cannes 2013: Festival robberies echo past heists, real and on film

By Mark Olsen

Two high-profile robberies at this year’s Cannes Film Festival have attracted a lot of attention, but they’re the hardly the first such heists (on screen, or off).

First, a stash of Chopard jewelry reportedly valued at more than $1 million was taken Thursday from a hotel shuite. Then, powerful China Film Froup executive Zhang Qiang canceled a news conference appearance set for Monday after his rented apartment was apparently burglarized.

“This film festival is not worth mentioning!” Zhang posted to his Weibo account, apparently out of frustration with what he felt to be the indifference of French authorities to the crime.


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He later posted that authorities, the hotel and festival officials had contacted him and offered apologies, though it was not immediately clear if his items had been recovered.

Chopard creates the festival’s top prize trophy, the Palm d’Or (Golden Palm), as well as the best actor and actress trophies. (Those were not among the items stolen.)

A spokesperson for Chopard, a longtime sponsor of the festival, noted that the stolen jewelry was not among a stash earmarked to be worn by celebrities during the festival. Actress Julianne Moore and models Cara Delevingne and Georgia May Jagger are among those who have worn Chopard at this year’s festival.

Irony-spotters could not help but note that the Chopard burglary happened shortly after the world premiere of the much-anticipated Sofia Coppola film “The Bling Ring,” based on the real-life tale of an L.A. crime ring that targeted celebrity homes.

Cannes and crime have a long cinematic history. The iconic 1955 film “To Catch a Thief” involved the glamorous Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in a story of a reformed cat burglar out to prove his innocence in a recent string of crimes set against the south of France. The 2002 Brian De Palma film “Femme Fatale” opens with a daring jewel robbery that takes place at the Cannes festival itself.

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In the 1996 film “Irma Vep,” which screened at Cannes, actress Maggie Cheung plays an actress who plays a thief in a movie. One night, she flits across the rooftop of her hotel to break into another room, crossing the line between fantasy and reality.

The list of people who have reported being victimized in Cannes over the years reads like a film world who’s who.

At the 2007 festival, Graham King, the Oscar-winning producer of “The Departed,” returned to his villa on the grounds of the ultra-luxurious Hotel du Cap, a favored beachfront lodging of A-listers. Rather than finding a maid turning down his sheets, King discovered burglars in the midst of a break-in. The thieves fled, blasting King with pepper spray and grabbing the purse of one of his colleagues as they ran out.

A.O. Scott, a film critic for the New York Times, had a similarly distressing incident at the Hotel Sofitel Le Mediterranee during the 2004 festival. Late one night, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2008, he went to bed around 4 a.m., leaving his window open “just a crack.” When he awoke in the morning, Scott discovered someone had entered his room and made off with his wallet and laptop. “I slept through it. But what would have happened had I woken up? That was what really freaked me out.”

At the same hotel, Tom Luddy, a co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival, found his room and its safe cleaned out a number of years ago.

Bill Pence, another Telluride founder, recalled that a few days before the 2000 festival began, he and his wife Stella had rented a car at the Nice airport to visit the French Riviera on their way to the festival. While the couple paused at a stop sign, he told The Times in 2008, thieves opened the unlocked trunk, grabbed his wife’s backpack and took off on a motorcycle, netting the Pences’ passports and “lots of money.”

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It wasn’t their only brush with crime in Cannes. In the early 1990s, he said, the couple had lined up for a screening on the Rue d'Antibes when he felt a light touch on his buttocks. “I said, ‘Stella, will you stop that!’ And she said, ‘I’m not touching you.’” A pickpocket was, and Pence’s wallet was gone.

And so it was, at the scene of the current crime, that “Bling Ring” star Emma Watson -- the onetime Hermione Granger of the “Harry Potter” series -- found herself coming up with an alibi in the Chopard heist, telling the Hollywood Reporter, “I promise it wasn’t me. ... I can have someone vouch for my whereabouts at the time of the robbery!”


What’s also playing at Cannes: Crime

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