Cannes 2011 Diary #1: Opening thoughts, ‘Midnight in Paris’

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The ripe, plump tomatoes, the gorgeous cherries, the nice breeze, the topless old women sunbathing on the beach… Yes, it is May in the French Riviera and that also means Cannes. Last year, the economic turmoil and the volcano in Iceland seriously affected the festival, but this year everything seems to be back to the way it used to be.

The opening ceremony had a couple of moving moments; the presentation of Jury President Robert de Niro, with selected clips of his career; with so many recent misfires it is easy to forget that the man has a really impressive résumé and is indeed a great actor. Another highlight was the award, for the very first time, of the honorary Palme d’Or, to a wheelchair bound Bernardo Bertolucci, who sported a tuxedo with running shoes and claimed to be happy to finally receive the award, even if he hadn’t done anything to get it. Less interesting was a bizarre musical number honouring De Niro, who seemed very perplexed to hear a mix of New York, New York and Empire State of Mind.

The opening film was Woody Allen’s latest: the enjoyable Midnight in Paris. In recent years, Allen has become an interesting case; his fans defend his work and his detractors dislike it, almost regardless if the film is actually interesting or not. This one won’t change much in that sense; Owen Wilson plays a Hollywood hack with “real” literary ambitions, in love with the past and with a longing desire to move to Paris, where he is visiting with his snotty fiancé and her Republican parents.  The beginning is not very promising and we dread that the entire film will be about this really annoying group of people, but little by little, fantasy takes over, in a similar way to The Purple Rose of Cairo, and the wet dream of many intellectuals becomes a charming, funny meditation on life and art. The surprise here is the sweet tone of it, very different from his latest dark and pessimistic stories (although in this one men are still unfaithful by nature and women are castrating, mean and beautiful).  The inspired casting has also a few pleasant surprises, especially some scene-stealing performances by Michael Sheen and Allison Pill.  If the opening film is any indication, this will be an interesting year

Eduardo Lucatero

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