CANNES, FRANCE — That faint noise wafting in mid-afternoon from across the Atlantic will not be the cacophony of bravos raising the Grand Palais roof in appreciation of the 65th Cannes Film Festival's opening attraction — rather it will be the sound of the prolonged smooch that the fest's opener, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, bestows upon the City of Light.
Nothing at Cannes is likely to be as flattering to la belle France than Le Woodman's amiable Back to the Future fantasy in which that most appealing of American doofuses, Owen Wilson, partakes in the moveable feast of '20s Paris — hobnobbing most amusingly with Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Man Ray, Dalí, Luis Buñuel and more. The modernist giants are referenced in force; even the press notes feature a picture of Wilson strolling by the Seine beneath Van Gogh's Starry Night.
Although iconic Paris has never looked more post-card beautiful than as photographed by Darius Khondji, the movie's real star is casting director Juliet Taylor, who furnished Allen with extremely credible cartoon simulations of the celebrated artists (not all of them played by household names). That said, the movie's supreme coup is the presence of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy playing three scenes as an impossibly chic docent at the Rodin Museum. Hopes that she would be present for the movie's premiere, ascending the fabled tapis rouge alongside Marion Cotillard and Kathy Bates (Allen's Gertrude Stein) proved illusory — Madame le Président is said to be expecting and in any case France is at war.
The people of La Croisette — imperious producers, radiant celebrities, dazzled (or jaded) filmmakers, sharp-elbowed paparazzi, news-hungry reporters, and the star-struck multitudes — will have to make do with the promised, sure to be hellish spectacle of Lady Gaga's mid-festival live performance or hold out hope that Mel Gibson will walk the red carpet with a puppet on his arm the night The Beaver screens. Anything is possible. Cannes is that global village where string bikinis and chadors are equally acceptable, where some men stroll the beach at dusk in white tie while others work the crowd dressed as Charlie Chaplin. And there are even movies…
The most anticipated of these is surely Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, having already been rumored as the centerpiece of last year's festival. Lars von Trier's Melancholia has something to do with an asteroid hitting the earth and obviously hopes to hit Cannes in somewhat the same way. For visual assault however nothing is likely to equal the press screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, in which the sight of a thousand scribes from a hundred lands live blogging the action should eclipse even the spectacle of Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp in real 3-D.
Allen and Von Trier are not the only Cannes regulars on hand. Past Palme d'Or winner Gus Van Sant has a new movie, as do the twice-garlanded Brothers Dardenne. Aki Kaurismäki is in the competition along with Pedro Almodóvar (bidding for the Palme, with a “horror film” this time), Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and, directing her first movie in the nine years since Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay. So too are a couple of genre tough-guys, Takashi Miike (in eye-gouging 3-D) and the nearly as fearsome Pusher Nicholas Winding Refn. The biggest scoop however is the presence of new, clandestinely made features by the jailed Iranian directors, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof.
Van Sant is opening “Un Certain Regard” — often the most interesting competition section — which also features (no surprise) the annual movie by South Korea's Woody Allen, Hong Sangsoo, and the latest provocation by the poor man's Von Trier, Bruno Dumont. Those guys are not unfamiliar but it's the UCR, the Directors Fortnight and the Critics Week where the surprises tend to lurk. Karina Longworth and I will keep you posted on what we turn up in those precincts — and most likely dodge Lady Gaga on La Croisette.