The Palais Croisette : 33 years of service

The question of building a palais reappeared with the end of World War II and the first Cannes prize list. The council's priority was still to find a site. It chose the Cercle Nautique club's land, a dilapidated building from 1864. The city owned it at the time. A few years earlier during the war, it signed a contract with a branch of the Galeries Lafayette: the Antin-Joubert company. The council had to pay 4000 Francs in rent every month and sign a 15 year lease.

But the company asked for a termination of the lease after the war. The decision created a difficult situation; both parties ended up in court to resolve the dispute. The new mayor of Cannes, Raymond Picaud, didn't wait for the trial to end to take action. He opened negotiations to solve the problem so he could keep the land. Picaud planned to build the Palais for the International Film Festival here. The Council signed a 5 year lease with the company including an agreement to sell for 16 million Francs.

Despite work by Cannes council, the project was again delayed due to problems that arose both in France and overseas. France and Italy reached an agreement after the 1946 event. Their respective film festivals would be held on alternate years in Cannes then Venice. So it was the Venice Film Festival's turn in 1947. The Cannes director, Philippe Erlanger still wanted to stage an event in Cannes but it could only screen French films. By 1947, building a Palais no longer seemed necessary. The Franco-Italian agreement was soon breached by the French, the situation didn't improve and actually got worse when Parliament refused to agree the loans required to host the Cannes Festival. François Mitterrand was in charge of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres at the time and said "a festival like this should only be held every two years."

Cannes didn't agree. Picaud wanted to give his city a Palais for the festival no matter the cost. He realised that the project would quieten down the other French cities which were all clamouring to host the international festival after the war. So, during a council meeting, the mayor held a vote to borrow 110 million Francs to build the building. The building's design was awarded to the architects Nau and Gridaine, the latter having already been involved in the Cité du Cinéma project in Mougins

The architects came up with an ambitious interior design and cutting-edge technical equipment. This Palais des Festivals would host events celebrating cinema alongside dance, fashion and fragrance. Tea rooms, American bars, a fine dining restaurant, solarium, illuminated pool, dance floor and site for two orchestras were planned.

The middle of the roof was to host the Bar du Soleil with a tennis court to the right of the pool and table tennis tables, a gym area and kennel on the left.
As for the screening room, the two architects said it should be the "most modern in the world". It was designed to have manufacturers from France and overseas exhibiting their equipment as a demonstration. A cabin in the centre and two on the sides were planned for 3D projections and a special system covered transparency.

The equipment was hand-picked to be presented to foreign directors: "The stereophonic loudspeakers will reproduce the soundbed. For example, if a plane goes past on the screen, the sound will seem to follow the image. Scent diffusers will also be placed in the walls and ceiling in midnight blue fibreglass," Nau and Gridaine added to complete their project.
In the room itself, a thousand club chairs were to be in the stalls and half the balcony along with fifty-odd boxes. The room wasn't enclosed by walls but instead openwork stud walls fitted with small lights. Backstage there was a vast circular curtain lit up at the bottom by colourful light projections influencing the screen width.

The interior would be adorned by allegories in fluorescent paint such as the gods of Olympus and signs of the zodiac to reflect "the triumph of modern technology combined with the image of French art and sophistication," the directors said.
Work began and was managed by Maurice Zincaro on May 20th 1947. The builders worked day and night. Delayed materials made progress difficult. For example, the metallic structure, the cornerstone of the building, was expected on August 10th; it arrived 20 days later!

It wasn't just the building materials that were causing problems; there were financial issues too. The loans soon ran out. The entrepreneur asked for an extra 18 million Francs due to the many changes of plan which resulted in extra spending.
This new situation put the council in an awkward position. Picaud was well aware that the Town Hall didn't have that kind of money, but he remained determined and supported by CGT unionists who were volunteering to be part of the build.
A new council team was elected in late 1947 led by Charles Antoni who was Mayor of Cannes for six years. The Palais construction rumbled on but the Festival was cancelled in 1948 for lack of funds. The issue didn't reappear until the following year when the film festival got back on track.
But the sore point of the council paying back the loan remained. The journalist Michel Pascal conducted an investigation and confirmed that the French government had taken 10 million Francs off the loan Cannes had been granted to stop the council building too large a structure and upsetting the Venetian directors.

The council decided to settle the issue in 1949. They came to an agreement about the deadline and amount to refund but the directors said it was "a heavy price to pay".
This wasn't the only issue the directors encountered. Construction still wasn't complete but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already sent out invitations for the upcoming festival: they had to meet the deadline. Robert Fabre Le Bret was worried: "If the International Festival can't be held on the exact date, not only will it make a mockery of Cannes and the Côte d'Azur among the guest foreign nations, but France too," said the Cannes Festival's secretary general.
As soon as the ministries got involved, it became a government affair; they had to work twice as hard to get the Palais built on time. Work hadn't completely finished in time for the Festival opening on September 12th 1949 but the event went ahead.

The Mayor of Cannes, Charles Antoni, inaugurated the building on the first day of the festival. He cut the floral braided ribbon at the Palais entrance at 9pm and went through the entire list of suppliers. He wanted to pay tribute to the workers who joined him on stage. François Mitterrand, the government spokesman, also made a speech reminding the audience that almost ten years ago to the day, "France wasn't thinking about the film festival and was going to war."
The building may have opened but there were still a few issues: there were only 1000 seats instead of the 1800 that were planned and there were only a few offices upstairs, not enough for all the departments involved in running the festival which ended up on the Carlton's tennis court. The new Palais felt unfinished and was the butt of countless jokes that went up and down the Croisette throughout the event: "People are joking and asking us to save them a brick," recalled the journalist François Chalais.
On the first night, the room manager was about to call the audience back in after the intermission. He desperately searched for the bell to warn audiences the screening was about to begin again. His search was in vain and he had to contact Gridaine, the architect. But he was puzzled and unsure if a bell had been in his plans; his memory lapse saw him rush to review his plans. Gridaine said he was ill the next day; fortunately he found the bell's location the following day.