If after last year’s lackluster lineup Cannes was wondering “will you still love me when I’m 64,” the answer was a definitive yes judging by response to the perfectly chosen opener Wednesday night for the festival’s 64th year: Woody Allen’s love letter to all things Parisian, Midnight In Paris. Press (who saw the film earlier in the day) as well as the tony opening-night crowd were calling this time-travelling Allen comedy, his first full feature shot entirely in France, one of his best in years. Sony Pictures Classics releases the film in America in just eight days, with SPC co-president Michael Barker calling the response inside the Palais and the ovation at the end of the film “fabulous.” What did you expect him to say? But Cannes opinion makers are backing him up. Also, as I mentioned yesterday, Barker has another film coming up in the competition (Paris was not competing for prizes) on May 19 when Pedro Almodovar’s first horror film, The Skin I Live In, premieres. Barker just saw the film himself for the first time yesterday and told me “It’s off the charts, fantastic.”
If true, that could put two-time Oscar winner Almodovar back in the Oscar-season game. Certainly I think with his terrifically whimsical and clever script for Midnight In Paris, 21-time nominated and three-time winner Allen could find himself again in the Original Screenplay race, where he was last nominated in 2005 for the dramatic Match Point. His last nomination for a comedy, though, was in 1995 for Deconstructing Harry, although Vicki Cristina Barcelona picked up the Musical/Comedy Best Picture Golden Globe and Penelope Cruz won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2008.
Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers out there but his comedies, with the exception of Vicki Cristina, have been a string of disappointments in the past decade that include last year’s Cannes player, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Whatever Works, Scoop, Anything Else and Hollywood Endings, the latter 2002 effort being his only other film to open Cannes. The reaction this year was decidedly warmer, with the phrase most often heard along the Croisette: “Woody is back in top form.”
Talking to the press after the film’s first screening Wednesday morning, Allen was his usual self-deprecating self, explaining that the film started basically as a deal to shoot a movie in Paris. Then he got the title but had no idea what the movie would be about. Months went by and he couldn’t come up with a thing. Then suddenly, one little spark and he was off to the races with an idea that most closely resembles his 1985 The Purple Rose Of Cairo, in which Jeff Daniels played a guy interacting with characters on a movie screen — perhaps my personal favorite Allen comedy. Here, Owen Wilson plays a true romantic visiting Paris who finds he is transported each night at midnight to a golden age of the City of Lights, where his newfound friends include F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso among others. “I didn’t have to research much,” he says. “I was a big fan of these people in my adolescence. They were icons, so the script was fairly easy to write.” Still, he says he personally likes living in the present and wouldn’t like to go back to any time but right now — except perhaps in his imagination.
Predictably, the French seemed to eat all this up. The film opens with a montage of Paris sights and sounds lasting several minutes, a real love letter to the city from Woody, who says he learned everything about the city from the movies and didn’t even visit there until 1965 (when he appeared in his script, What’s New Pussycat). “I wanted to show the city emotionally — the way I saw it … subjectively, not realistically,” he says. Allen seems creatively invigorated by each new locale he now shoots in, from the London of Match Point to the Spain of Vicki Cristina Barcelona. This summer he ventures cinematically to Rome for the first time in a multi-segmented comedy in which he will also appear as an actor. Roberto Begnini and Cruz are among those in the cast.
In additon to Wilson, cast members Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody, Michael Sheen and Lea Seydoux joined Allen on the red carpet, which also included jury members Robert De Niro, Jude Law and Uma Thurman (among others) but, as I reported yesterday, not France’s First Lady Carla Bruni, who plays a museum guide in the film and skipped the proceedings even though there had been media speculation since the film was announced as that Cannes opener that she and hubby President Nicolas Sarkozy might show. It’s just as well because Lady Gaga also showed up on the Croisette for an appearance on a French TV show taping there, and it may have been just too much media overload to have Gaga and the President show up in Cannes on the same day. There’s only so much excitement one can take, even in this place.