Cannes finally woos Woody

Stone, Yeoh, Lynch grace 'Ending' for fest's start

CANNES — Woody or wouldn’t he dazzle festgoers who’ve waited years for him to grace the Croisette?

He would.

From the screaming crowds outside the Palais des Festivals to his adoring Gallic colleagues inside the Theatre Lumiere who saluted his arrival with a standing ovation, it was clear Woody Allen’s appearance in Cannes Wednesday night was cause for celebration.

If Allen’s arrival kickstarted the 55th annual Cannes Film Festival with panache, jury members Sharon Stone and Michelle Yeoh added glitz, two-time Palme d’Or winner Bille August added a dash of gravity, jury president David Lynch provided the quirkiness quotient and film execs from DreamWork’s Jeffrey Katzenberg to Bac’s Jean Labadie reminded everyone that this is, after all the glitter settles, a business.

The audience reacted enthusiastically to all the jokes in Allen’s latest flick, “Hollywood Ending,” and found the ending — where a blind director’s movie is panned in the U.S. but loved in France – side-splitting.

“I loved the film,” a French exec said later. “But was he making fun of us?”

After the red carpet crush which featured the film’s stars — Treat Williams, Debra Messing, Tiffini Thiessen — plus Luc Besson, Geraldine Chaplin and a who’s who of the Gallic biz, the evening launched with an opening ceremony, mostly in French.

Gilles Jacob introduced mistress of ceremonies, French actress Virginie Ledoyen, who mistakenly welcomed guests to the 25th annual fest. (She later corrected her mistake.) After a clip from 1990 Palme d’Or winner “Wild at Heart,” Jacob introduced Lynch, who was applauded at his effort to speak French.

Lynch presented the rest of the jury: August, Regis Wargnier, Claude Miller, Raoul Ruiz, Walter Salles, Michelle Yeoh, Christine Hakin and Sharon Stone in a leopard print gown with a decollete down to her waist.

Allen fidgeted on the stage, raising his eyebrows and shrugging his shoulders, as Jacob told the audience he had waited 25 years to welcome the director to Cannes. Jacob said that since laughter was the best way to lengthen one’s life, Allen had extended the life expectancies of millions of people with his 37 films.

“The French make two mistakes about me,” Allen told the audience, after Jacob presented him with the Palme des Palmes for the body of his work. “They think I’m an intellectual because I wear these glasses and they think I’m an artist because my films lose money all the time.”

Allen added that after walking on the red carpet, he couldn’t wait to get home and report it to Amnesty International.

The out-of-competition screening of Allen’s film was preceded by “Festival Stories,” a 20-minute doc montage — signed Gilles Jacob — on the history of the Cannes fest.

To the chagrin of the audience who could only imagine the embarrassment of fest officials, the “Hollywood Ending” screening began with the top of the frame cut off. Fortunately, the problem was quickly remedied.

After the show, an enthusiastic Jean Labadie, president of Bac Films and the distributor of Allen’s films in France, told Daily Variety, “The French love Allen because he’s a great director. Plus he’s as prolific as Balzac was.”

As guests filed into Les Ambassadeurs, a huge room in the Palais overlooking the bay, they were greeted by France’s new culture minister, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, Jacob, and the two other members of the Cannes troika, Veronique Cayla and Thierry Fremaux.

The ambiance and the lighting were subdued as 750 diners feasted on grilled fish under dozens of chandeliers.

David Lynch, sitting with wife Mary Sweeney, enthused about being at Cannes and meeting his fellow jury members with whom he had dined the night before at the Palme d’Or.

“I was impressed with what each person said,” Lynch told Daily Variety. “I have a real good feeling about the group. Everyone will say and express exactly what they feel.”

The crowd of spectators outside the Palais had thinned as guests left the dinner, but the diehard fans were still waiting for Allen, autograph books in their hand.

In at attempt to involve the public more in one of the most professional film festivals in the world, Cannes Film Fest organizers have arranged a series of film-related events along the Croisette.

Thursday at noon, on the beach opposite the Majestic Hotel, a prestigious group of composers — including Randy Newman, Ennio Morricone, Francis Lai and Angelo Badalamenti — will inaugurate a music program along the seaside promenade.

As Cannes hoteliers and restauranteurs offer free champagne to passersby, music from the scores of Palme d’Or winning movies will emanate from the 40 colorful beach cabanas set up along the Croisette.

That evening the same composers will lead the Regional Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Orchestra in a concert at the Palm Beach featuring the most famous selections from their movie-music repertories.

After the concert, the Salle des Sables, the Fest’s beachside openair movie theater, will initiate a series of free public screenings with a hommage to French actor/director Yves Robert and a screening of his 1976 film, “Un elephant ca trompe enormement.”

This weekend, there will be screenings of three Jacques Tati films: “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” (May 17), “Jour de Fete” (May 18), and “Mon Oncle” (May 19).

On May 24, the public will be treated to a Billy Wilder tribute and a screening of “Some Like It Hot.”

The outdoor screening program’s May 25 finale will be a screening of in-competition shorts.