65th annual fest kicks off with star-studded premiere

The 65th Cannes Film Festival again struck the right opening night chord with Wes Anderson’s 1960s ensembler “Moonrise Kingdom.” Like Woody Allen’s pitch-perfect “Midnight in Paris” opener last year, “Moonrise” gave Cannes another auteur-friendly debut, balancing artistic sensibility with considerable star power.

This year’s fest not only ranks as one of the most star-packed editions in years, but also boasts a strong Hollywood presence. As expected, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton graced the red carpet for “Moonrise,” joined by co-star Bill Murray and Nanni Moretti’s eclectic jury, including Ewan McGregor, Diane Kruger, Andrea Arnold, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander Payne.

High-profile guests included Harvey Weinstein, thesps Alec Baldwin, Eva Longoria, Jessica Chastain and Chris Pine, “The Artist” helmer Michel Hazanavicius, Canal Plus prexy Bertrand Meheut, Cannes Market topper Jerome Paillard, helmer Brett Ratner, Gallic producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, Stephane Huard, head of Universal Pictures Intl. France and “The Help” producer Brunson Green.

In line with the pic’s spirit, the red carpet scene had a retro feel with ’60s and ’70s hits such as the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” playing while stars walked up the stairs.

The fact that the Focus Features release was picked to open the fest as well as compete (the first film to do so since 2008’s “Blindness”), giving Anderson his first ticket to the Croisette, also reflects the desire of fest topper Thierry Fremaux to use Cannes as a platform for American films that are neither big-budget studio pics nor Sundance indies (Variety, April 19).

The pic was applauded by critics during the press screening earlier in the day.

Berenice Bejo, the star of 2011 Cannes’ highlight “The Artist,” hosted the ceremony.

Although there have been signs that film shingles have been cutting back — underscored by a dearth of billboards and other branding on the Croisette hotels this year — the mood on opening night was upbeat, with bizzers excited about dealmaking and promotional prospects.

The first day of the festival began with a pair of promos for two major studio pics — DreamWorks’ “Rise of the Guardians” and Paramount’s “The Dictator.”

“It’s exciting to wake up in the south of France with blue skies and talk about something we love,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg at the “Guardians” event at the Miramar, which featured 20 minutes of 3D footage.

DreamWorks has often kicked off promotion of its animated films — such as “Bee Movie,” both “Kung Fu Panda” offerings and “Puss in Boots” — at Cannes.

Baldwin, Isla Fisher and Pine participated in a Q&A at the “Guardians” event, with Baldwin asserting, “It’s like the Justice League for children” and Fisher calling it “the ‘Avengers’ of animation.”

Paramount, which is distributing “Guardians” in November, followed the hourlong event with an appearance by Sacha Baron Cohen at the Carlton, where the entrance has been transformed into a display for “The Dictator,” which opened worldwide on Wednesday.

Baron Cohen, dressed in character as Admiral General Aladeen, drew a crush of photographers and passersby as he and his camel walked down the Croisette (see photo, page 8).

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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