Marie Hennechart
| Credit: Marie Hennechart

In 1949, a publicity-seeking bombshell dropped her bikini top in front of Robert Mitchum, cameras clicked, and the Cannes film festival became synonymous with sun, sex, and celluloid. During the festival (this year, May 9 to 20), the sun sometimes shines on the tuxedoed and begowned throngs along La Croisette, but today's Cannes is more business than pleasure. Still, this is a place where, at any time of year, your concierge will have definitive opinions about the latest Almodóvar, and where, if you squint, you can almost see the ghosts of starlets past rising from the azure sea.

Rooms With A View
During the festival, access to hotel lobbies is limited. But if you can get a room, here's where to stay. Hôtel Carlton Inter-Continental Cannes 58 La Croisette; 33-4/93-06-40-06, fax 33-4/93-06-40-25; doubles from $331. The Carlton's twin cupolas were reputedly modeled on the breasts of a local courtesan, La Belle Otéro, who also gave her name to the hotel's restaurant. Here Elizabeth Taylor checked in as, successively, Mrs. Hilton, Mrs. Todd, and Mrs. Eddie Fisher. Hôtel Majestic Barrière 14 La Croisette; 33-4/92-98-77-00, fax 33-4/92-38-97-90; doubles from $357. A walk around the lush neo-Pompeian lobby and palm-shaded poolside terrace, crammed with stars and frenzied festival-goers, may make you wonder if the end of the world is near. But chef Bruno Oger's bravura Provençal specialties in the Villa des Lys restaurant will restore your faith in civilization. Hôtel Martinez 73 La Croisette; 33-4/92-98-74-10, fax 33-4/93-39-67-82; doubles from $284. The last of the great pleasure palaces erected along this broad avenue. A mere 10 blocks from the Palais des Festivals, but try pushing through the crowds in Dior and stilettos. Hôtel du Cap Eden-Roc Blvd. J.F. Kennedy, Antibes (7.5 miles from Cannes); 33-4/93-61-39-01, fax 33-4/93-67-13-83; doubles from $383. The hotel of choice for moguls and mega-celebrities such as Madonna, who arrived in 1991 with her own body double. Maybe this time she'll bring the kids.

Two For Tea
Café Le Nôtre 63 Rue d'Antibes; 33-4/97-06-67-67. Amid the street's upscale shops, this elegant café has taken the place of Rohr, a tea salon founded in 1862 that once offered a slice of old Cannes. The ground-floor shop, Boutique Le Nôtre, promises confiseries to equal Rohr's old-world tartes — but the look is decidedly moderne.

Power Noshes
Restaurant de Bacon 628 Blvd. de Bacon, Cap d'Antibes; 33-4/93-61-50-02; dinner for two $130. Soigné Provençal cuisine for the Hôtel du Cap set. Producers dine en famille in the early evening; after 9, the stars come out. La Cave 9 Blvd. de la République; 33-4/93-99-79-87; dinner for two $60. Classic bistro fare (grilled sardines filled with goat cheese; stuffed roasted squash and peppers) in an informal setting for a crowd that includes many native Cannois. Neat Restaurant 11 Square Mérimée; 33-4/93-99-29-19; dinner for two $76. Opened just last year. Andie MacDowell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Mark Wahlberg come here for innovative nouvelle cuisine. La Pizza 3 Quai St.-Pierre; 33-4/93-39-22-56; dinner for two $45. Like swallows to Capistrano, flocks of film critics return each spring to this capacious and reliable standby on the old port for hearty, brick-oven pizzas. Its tables can accommodate the entire Film Board of Canada. Brasserie du Carlton 58 La Croisette; 33-4/93-06-40-21; dinner for two $92. Industry types crowd this hotel brasserie's terrace for asparagus-and-artichoke salad, sea bass grilled with fennel and thyme blossoms, and other light fare, as well as the more modest American hamburger. Le Mandarin Rond-Point Duboys d'Angers; 33-4/93-38-37-60; dinner for two $40. When they tire of salade niçoise, Asian New Wave directors and stars (Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Wong Kar-Wai) come here for Pekingese, Szechwan, and Shanghai cuisine.

Film-Buff Buys
La Croisette is lined with luxury boutiques (Dior, Chanel, Bulgari, Escada), while the Rue d'Antibes is home to a thousand high-end shoe stores. Here are a few alternatives. Chocolaterie Schies 125 Rue d'Antibes; 33-4/93-39-01-03. At festival time, this venerable, family-run confiseur shapes its fine chocolate into film reels and movie cameras. Ciné-Folie 14 Rue des Frères Pradignac; 33-4/93-39-22-99. The only year-round bookstore in Cannes devoted entirely to cinema, including vintage film stills and movie posters. (During the festival, private dealers of movie memorabilia also rent temporary quarters; look for signs.) Maison Janine 27 La Croisette; 33-4/93-39-11-95. The most prestigious of innumerable swimsuit emporiums and bikini shops.

Starry Nights
Bar des Stars Hôtel Majestic Barrière, 14 La Croisette; 33-4/92-98-77-00. Ground zero for deal-making. The scarlet décor, a confused Art Deco Orientalist fantasy, fades into the background amid the frenetic crush of producers, directors, stars, publicists, journalists, and wannabes. Carlton Casino Club Seventh Floor, Hôtel Carlton, 58 La Croisette; 33-4/92-99-51-00. Frequented more by traveling sheikhs than by movie stars, this secluded salon offers a luxurious alternative to the Casino Croisette in the Palais des Festivals. Immaculately coiffed croupières stand ready to receive you at the gaming tables. Petit Majestic 6 Rue Tony Allard; 33-4/93-39-94-92. At festival time, this unassuming corner bar spills out into the streets with indie and would-be producers, stars, and directors. If your ship hasn't come in yet, this is where to wait for it. Zanzibar 85 Rue Félix Faure; 33-4/93-39-30-75. Dark wood paneling, friendly management, and a discreet, hushed ambience make this centrally located gay bar welcoming for everyone. Open all night; at dawn, the transvestites stumble home.

At The Movies
Christened "the Bunker" when it opened in 1983, this five-story concrete monolith replaced the old Palais des Festivals. Housing a dozen movie theaters, innumerable conference rooms, cafés, offices, mailboxes for thousands of journalists, and an endless warren of basement rooms where you can rent a popcorn machine or buy the latest Hong Kong action drama, the Palais is a cinematic universe. "Once you enter," a security guard warns, "you don't come out." Unless you're famous or a friend of the mayor, getting tickets to official screenings is virtually impossible, but any time other than festival time, you can tour the Bunker (33-4/93-39-24-53).