The first night belonged to Woody. "Midnight in Paris," the latest Woody Allen film to play the Cannes Film Festival, kicked things off on Wednesday night with a gala premiere, full of beautiful people in tuxedos and gowns negotiating the broad steps into the Palais des Festivals and then warmly applauding a film that almost everybody agreed was thoroughly entertaining.
The most notable of those gowns, incidentally, may have belonged to "Midnight in Paris" star Rachel McAdams, whose lengthy train was clearly an object of amusement to her director and her co-star Owen Wilson (left).
Sasha Stone offered her take on the film to readers of TheWrap, and lots of others weighed in as well:
Peter Debruge, Variety: "If 'Midnight in Paris' feels like another of Allen's one-way fantasies, it ultimately manages to get off easy thanks to Wilson's unassuming charm."
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: "As beguiling as a stroll around Paris on a warm spring evening — something that Owen Wilson’s character here becomes very fond of himself — 'Midnight in Paris'represents Woody Allen’s companion piece to his 'The Purple Rose of Cairo,' a fanciful time machine that allows him to indulge playfully in the artistic Paris of his, and many other people’s, dreams."
Anne Thompson, Thompson in Hollywood: "a sweet funny nostalgic romantic confection that proves a lively counterpoint to the dark and moody fare that tends to dominate the Cannes selection."
Scott Foundas, L.A. Weekly: "something magical, as sublimely enchanting as any Allen film since 1985's 'The Purple Rose of Cairo.'"
Jeff Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere: "On one level it's almost a trifle except that it's thoughtful and reality-based (whatever that term may be worth in this context) and very funny ... although in a way that requires the viewer to be at least glancingly familiar with the world of Paris in the 1920s and 1880s and '90s ('la Belle Epoque') … As we all know that leaves out a significant chunk of 2011 moviegoers so we'll see how it plays."
Eric Kohn, indieWIRE: "mostly a conventional and generally satisfying example of Woody Allen flexing his wit."
Guy Lodge, In Contention: "this is a film that trades in emphatic cultural and historical caricature, a picture-book approach that will delight some viewers even as it strikes others as aggravatingly twee, but one Allen commits to with the take-it-or-leave-it dispatch of a 75-year-old master working in quick-sketch mode."
Drew McWeeny, HitFix: "second-tier [Allen], which means it is merely charming and enjoyable and sophisticated and smart, shot with a luminous beauty by Darius Khondji, and as second-tier Allen goes, it is a lovely reminder of just how effortless he can make it all seem."
In the Chicago Sun-Times, Barbara Scharres calls the Allen movie "loads of fun," then moves from her take on the film into bits from its press conference, where Allen explained where his take on Paris came from: "I learned about Paris the way all Americans do – from the movies." (Jeff Wells has a bit of video from the Q&A as well.)
Scharres also covered the press conference that introduced the jury to the media. "Since the jury has not yet seen a single film, these affairs are much the same from year to year," she writes. "Every juror is honored to be chosen, inspired by the company of their fellow jurors, and swears to be an impartial arbiter of art. Yawn."
But she captures a moment in which the peril of meeting the Cannes press becomes clear: one mercifully unnamed journalist asked jury president Robert De Niro "Are you talkin' to me?" – and then followed that hackneyed "Taxi Driver"-inspired query with another, far ruder question drawn from "Raging Bull": "Did you [bleep] my wife?" De Niro, for the record, did not respond.
If it wouldn't be Cannes without stupid questions from journalists, it also wouldn't be Cannes without political controversy. The first this year comes over the films that will be screened in an anthology of shorts by Egyptian filmmakers that will serve as the centerpiece of a tribute to cinema from the country that recently toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
The problem, says Menna Taher at ahramonline, is that two of the directors represented "were actively involved with the corrupt regime, going as far as making adverts for Mubarak’s 2005 presidential campaign." An online petition has gathered close to 200 signatures.
While the focus of the festival itself is clearly on art movies, other action at Cannes has very little to do with high-minded cinema. Many of the offerings in the marketplace are closer to grindhouse than arthouse, while the lure of all that media is irresistible to many a would-be blockbuster that sets up big displays in front of the Carlton hotel or on the beach.
The latter was the setting for a Wednesday "photo call" for the upcoming "Shrek" spinoff "Puss In Boots." DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg has always liked to use Cannes as a launching pad, so he and Paramount screened some of the movie and plopped stars Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek in front of a giant pair of boots perched on a pier (above).
The result wasn't exactly the kind of careful consideration given to, say, "Midnight in Paris" and "Sleeping Beauty." Instead, "Puss in Boots" got a flamenco-spiked spot on the Today show, and web stories like the E!Online one headlined "Salma Hayek Talks 'Doing It' with Puss in Boots' Antonio Banderas." Of course, the short piece explains that the "it" they were doing was recording dialogue. This might seem a little lowbrow compared to much other Cannes coverage, but Paramount and DWA were hardly looking for anything else.
Cannes also makes room for a few old movies. The Cannes Classics section will present an array of favorites, including the one that Steve Rose dissects in The Guardian: Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," the violent black comedy that prompted so many protests that it was withdrawn from circulation in Britain by its director in 1974.
Now, says Rose, things are different: the films iconography has been appropriated by scores of people, from David Bowie to Lady Gaga to numerous directors – "and with each new appropriation, it gets that little bit harder to remember what all the fuss was about in the first place." As the film's May 13 Cannes screening approaches, star Malcolm McDowell helps remind Rose of that fuss.
Rachel McAdams: Vittorio Zunio Celotto/Getty Images
Banderas and Hayek: Andreas Rentz