CANNES, France -- For nearly everyone who has gone to the Cannes Film Festival after months in various stages of lockdown and caution, the transition is head-spinning.
Even in normal years, Cannes is an onslaught. But this time, plunging into full-capacity theaters and teeming red carpets seems like stepping into another world. The morning after the Val Kilmer documentary "Val" premiered, co-director Ting Poo was still reeling.
"Yesterday was so surreal. Just seeing the film with a full theater, and here at the most prestigious film festival," Poo said. "To go from not being around people to that experience in a day was incredible."
The pandemic is far from invisible at Cannes. A negative covid-19 test is required every 48 hours even for those who are vaccinated -- unless they got their shots in the European Union. Moviegoers wear masks indoors. Everything is a little muted.
Usually well-booked hotels have vacancies. Screenings that would typically leave hundreds lining outside don't fill up. The usual tuxedoed ticket-seekers praying for a handout have been pushed away from the Palais, the festival hub, to clear space.
But in places like the Cannes red carpet, life is almost normal -- if "normal" can ever apply to a stretch of carpet where coteries of stars drift in every few hours like parade floats. Glamour has been unmasked.
Over the first few days of the 74th Cannes Film Festival -- held two months later than usual, and after last year's edition was scrubbed -- the red carpet has looked much as it always has.
Marion Cotillard, Bella Hadid, Matt Damon, Helen Mirren and Adam Driver have all strolled along, though they may have all been outclassed, fashion-wise, by Spike Lee and his flamingo-pink Louis Vuitton suit. Most walk unmasked, as the carpet is outdoors and most people attending are vaccinated -- though proof isn't required. And there are no fewer photographers than usual jockeying for stars' attention.Gallery: Cannes film festival red carpet
The spectacle has picked up right where it left off. Nature, even the Cannes sequined variety, is healing.
"It's a little bit like a strange dream, like waking up from this nap of two years doing nothing and suddenly: Boom," said Avshalom Pollak, star of Nadav Lapid's "Ahed's Knee," an impassioned Israeli drama competing for the Palme d'Or. "There is a very particular kind of feeling to it because it's like: Where is the world going? Is it restarting? Is it changing? What's going on here?"
Cannes is taking place on the heels of France easing covid-19 restrictions and reopening international travel. About half of the French have received at least one shot, while 38% are fully vaccinated.
But the delta variant has pushed infections back up slightly recently, stoking fears of a resurgence. On Friday, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said the delta variant is likely to become France's dominant strain this weekend.
That, along with images of unmasked attendees at premieres, has pushed the festival to increase pre-screening mask reminders. Swarming beachside after parties has been curtailed, and in the hotels along the Croisette, film publicists and executives have pushed their chairs out onto balconies. Cannes Mayor David Lisnard has even employed a pair of covid-19-sniffing dogs to help with screening.
Ahead of the festival, its director, Thierry Fremaux, said dinners would be more favored this year than cocktails. On the sun-dabbled French Riviera, most restaurants are spread out on the sidewalks.
"The pandemic is not conquered" Fremaux said Tuesday. "So we all have to be careful, even though most festivalgoers are vaccinated."
But since there's such variation country to country in vaccination proof -- the U.S., for example, has no official vaccine passport -- the festival is requiring most to test every other day.
And while at first some complained about the less-than-elegant process of retreating to a cubicle to fill a tube with saliva, the tented lab just down the street from the Palais had become a regular stop for festivalgoers -- just like the Palais Nespresso bar, only less refreshing.
Information for this article was contributed by Hilary Fox of The Associated Press.