CANNES, France (Reuters) - Thumping dance beats still pound out over the Croisette and cream linen suits, tottering high heels and diaphanous little dresses are much on show, but the party spirit at Cannes is undeniably lacking.
The world's biggest film festival normally attracts stars to a celebrity-fueled riot of receptions and red carpets, but this year the economic crisis has left the paparazzi complaining of unusually thin pickings outside the party marquees.
The biggest stars in town, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, have made themselves scarce, staying away from the glitzy amfAR gala for AIDS research, for example. They did, though, attend the party for "Inglourious Basterds," in which Pitt appears.
Another big name, Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, has been laid low with the flu.
"It's definitely down on last year," said one industry publicist. "The stars just aren't there and the studios are spending a lot less on parties. A lot less."
Television cameramen and photographers stuck on late night line-ups to snap the pictures needed for the gossip pages and celebrity magazines complain of having to settle for lesser stars when the A-listers fail to show.
Instead of "Brangelina," photographers at the amfAR event got rapper 50 Cent, up-and-coming British actor Robert Pattinson and former supermodels Eva Herzigova and Claudia Schiffer.
Publicists put out star-studded lists to attract media to the events they are promoting but often enough the lists are as fictitious as a film plot and the stars fail to materialize.
"Don't believe them. Ever," said one jaded photographer.
In part, the dearth of stars is due to the Cannes selection, which this year features few of the Hollywood blockbusters that are guaranteed to bring the biggest names out.
But the economic crisis has also had an impact, eating into sponsorship budgets and making many more wary about flamboyant displays of conspicuous consumption.
It would certainly not be true to say there were no stars. Bill Clinton and Sharon Stone were at the amfAR party and singer Mariah Carey, actors Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Philippe and director Quentin Tarantino have been seen at several events.
Yves Hanania, an executive director for special events at resort chain Nikki Beach, which runs one of the big party tents on the Croisette, said sponsors had been more selective.
"But they're still willing to spend when it matters and there are still big names about," he said, as "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria Parker and her basketballer husband Tony Parker dined at a neighboring table.
Perennial party girl Paris Hilton was also in Cannes, although she generated less buzz than in previous years.
Given that many celebrities are actually paid discreetly to attend events, a certain level of star wattage is assured but party organizers, with tighter budgets, have been increasingly ruthless about who they will let in free.
"A lot of the D-listers who are just there for the swag are not getting in," said the publicist, who declined to be named.
Additional reporting by Bob Tourtellotte and Mike Collett-White; Editing by Jon Hemming