Who on earth is Raoul? What does 'Wooo-oooo' mean? And why all this talk of 'rose pastille'? A Cannes regular explains all

In the world’s most exclusive film-festival microbubble, every corner of the world is represented by filmmakers, press and hangers-on. But it sometimes feels as if a common language is spoken, uniting festival-goers across national boundaries, comprehended by all who are there, and none who are not. Call it Cannes-speak. Here's how to speak it.

1. “Have you seen the Audiard?”

The new Jacques Audiard film is called Dheepan, just as the new Gus Van Sant film is called The Sea of Trees, and the new Hou Hsiao-hsien film is called The Assassin. But such fripperies are quickly forgotten in the Cannes melee, where everyone’s favourite shorthand is to refer to the films solely by their director’s surnames.

This plays into the hands of the festival’s self-constructed reputation as a haven for auteurs and auteurism – a place where the same old favourites pop up to premiere their work year after year, and critics readily buy into the cult of the director. But amusing exceptions to the rule do arise: how they chuckled when Doug Liman's Valarie Plame thriller Fair Game premiered in 2010, causing everyone to refer to it as “the Liman”. Extra marks to anyone this year who overhears talk of the new Hou and chips in with “the new who?”.  

2. “Last year I had rose pastille…”

Press badges on the Croisette come in five colours, ranked according to the importance the festival places on your coverage, and by extension, you: their holders get herded into entirely different queues for the screenings, and gain access accordingly. Yellow badge holders (the bottom tier) can try their best not to feel like fifth-class citizens, but after two hours queuing in the rain and still not being admitted to, say, the Gaspar Noé hardcore sex film, it’s a tall order.

At the top end, white badge holders are veterans and VIPs – they can even bring guests along, and for all we know get yacht privileges thrown in. The next down is pink, or, as the French say, rose, but there’s also the intermediate class of “rose pastille” – a pink badge with a yellow dot – which is business-class treatment without the ultimate bragging rights.

3. “At last, I’ve seen Irrational Man”

Cannes titles can feel like old news within days – nay, hours – of their worldwide premieres, and there are dozens of films clamouring for everyone’s attention, which explains a certain madness that takes hold. Imagine: everyone else saw Woody Allen’s latest at the first press screening, but you were busy interviewing Marion Cotillard, you poor thing, so had to sit that one out.

The public gala that night provides a second chance, but you’ve heard absolutely everything about it now from all your colleagues, and it already feels like a thumbed paperback on a remainder table. Forget that this is the first genuine public airing the film has ever received, or that the outside world will have to wait for months longer: you’re already so over it.

4. “Wooo-oooo [whistling] woooo…”

French film critics have a very specific and passionate way of making their displeasure felt at the end of a press screening. You couldn’t call it a booing sound, quite: it’s definitely one beginning with W, not unlike the jeering Glenn Close gets in that Dangerous Liaisons opera scene. It may not be wholly the French doing it, but it always manages to feel like them.

Last year, Michel Hazanivicius’s self-important war drama The Search was a notable casualty, and previous victims of the wooo include Ryan Gosling's Lost River (above), Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Vincent Gallo’s legendarily tedious The Brown Bunny. Such considerations rarely sway the jury, though: films can just as easily be woooed and win the Palme (Pulp Fiction, for instance) as be forgotten for ever more.

5. “Raoul!”

More than 40 years ago, legend has it, a festival delegate in the Debussy auditorium was trying to save a seat for his friend Raoul. As the start time neared, the room filled up and he was struggling to keep the seat, he cried out “Raoul!” in last-ditch desperation. Everyone heard, and every year, this meme has been kept alive by complete strangers, united in their enjoyment of an ironic Raoul.

It’s akin to the “Arrrr!” noise that traditionally erupts in Toronto when an anti-piracy message comes on screen, or the ironic claps and cries of “Harvey!” that greet the Weinstein Company logo. One’s sympathy in this situation goes out to anyone in the house who’s actually called Raoul, because that could be confusing.