Woody Allen’s "Midnight in Paris" provided just what organizers wanted to open the world’s most glamorous film festival Wednesday: Romance, fantasy, laughs and a whole lot of stars, both on screen and strutting the Cannes red carpet.
Robert De Niro, fresh from his own Tribeca Film Festival in New York and now heading the Cannes Film Festival awards jury, marched the carpet before Allen’s movie, along with fellow jurors including Uma Thurman and Jude Law.
Allen was joined by "Midnight in Paris" cast members Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody and Michael Sheen. The film is the first Allen has shot in France.
"Paris is one of my favorite places in the world," Allen said as he headed into his premiere.
Among others attending the festival’s opening night were Antonio Banderas, in Cannes to show off footage for his upcoming "Puss in Boots" animated adventure, and wife Melanie Griffith, along with "Puss in Boots" co-star Salma Hayek.
The opening ceremony that preceded Allen’s film included a performance by jazz pianist Jamie Cullum, who played a medley of songs about the Big Apple, including "New York, New York" and Alicia Keys’ "Empire State of Mind" as a tribute to De Niro.
French actress Melanie Laurent, the ceremony’s host, tried to get jurors up and dancing during the medley. She managed to shuffle a bit with Thurman, but the other jurors weren’t in a dancing mood and scurried back to their seats.
The ceremony featured an honorary Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest prize, for Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, whose films include 1988 Academy Award best-picture recipient "The Last Emperor." He’d never, however, won the grand prize at Cannes.
"I waited a bit, but here it is. I’ve received my Palme d’Or," Bertolucci said.
The director dedicated his award to De Niro and Allen, who was sitting in the audience with what Bertolucci called a "strange expression" on his face.
De Niro heads the jury that will award prizes among the 20 films in the Cannes main competition. Thurman and Law join him on the nine-member jury, which also includes Argentine actress Martina Gusman, French filmmaker Olivier Assayas and Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To.
In broken French, De Niro thanked Cannes organizers for choosing him to head the jury and said, "I hope that I’ll do a good job."
Capitalizing on the horde of international press at Cannes, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures brought in Banderas and Hayek for a photo event and interviews before the festival opened to promote "Puss in Boots," a spinoff of the "Shrek" franchise.
The pair posed on a pier along the Mediterranean atop a giant pair of boots bearing the movie’s title and discussed the film after DreamWorks showed off 15 minutes of footage. The 3-D movie prompted Banderas to put on his special glasses and give Hayek the once-over as she sat behind him.
"Now we are in three dimensions. … If Salma was beautiful in two dimensions, imagine her in three dimensions," Banderas said, sizing her up through the 3-D glasses. "Look at this. She is amazing. You should see what I am seeing. It is unbelievable. Wow, Salma, you are like good wine. Time goes by, you get better, baby."
Also outside the festival proper, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman came to Cannes for interviews on opening day, along with a news conference a day later, for their DreamWorks animated sequel "Kung Fu Panda 2."
"Midnight in Paris" stars Wilson as a Hollywood screenwriter and wannabe novelist who pines nostalgically for the 1920s Paris of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. On a series of midnight strolls, he’s transported back to the city in the time of his dreams, where he learns lessons from his idols about finding your place — and time — in life.
Earlier in the day, Allen said he aimed to show the city with the sort of glow he recalled from past big-screen takes on Paris.
"I wanted to show the city emotionally, the way I felt about it," Allen said. "It didn’t matter to me how real it was or what it reflected. I just wanted it to be the way I saw Paris. Paris through my eyes."
"Midnight in Paris" also features France’s first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who has a small role as a guide at the Rodin museum who helps Wilson’s character translate a French diary that is key to his journeys into the past.
Other stars on hand before the festival closes May 22 include Brad Pitt and Sean Penn for Terrence Malick’s "The Tree of Life"; Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg for Lars von Trier’s "Melancholia"; Ryan Gosling for Nicolas Winding Refn’s "Drive"; and Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz for "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
"It’s in Cannes’ DNA to attract stars. It’s important that our red carpet be ‘scarlet,’" said festival managing director Thierry Fremaux. "It’s wonderful that we’re going to have Woody Allen and Owen Wilson, Sean Penn and Kirsten Dunst, Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. And to have Asian stars, too. And a lovely jury, led by Bob De Niro. What’s more, all these people are film lovers and are going to turn Cannes into a wonderful party for the cinema."(AP)