Red carpet: ‘Reloaded’

Posse of A-listers to glam up fest's first week

Arnold. Keanu. Penelope, Tom and Nicole.

Those are just a few of the celebs expected to overcome any lingering travel jitters and wing their way to the French Riviera this month, injecting the 56th Cannes Film Festival with a high dose of Hollywood glitz.

Though a confluence of international events — the Iraq conflict, the SARS outbreak — once threatened to drain the fizz from this year’s festivities, the industry’s anxieties look to have largely evaporated as the event draws near.

The May 14 opening night screening of Penelope Cruz starrer “Fanfan la tulipe” is slated to kick off a splashy pageant of talent at the fest, front-loaded with Hollywood events:

Cruz is anticipated to mount the Palais des Festivals steps for the “Fanfan” screening along with boyfriend Tom Cruise.

Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix Reloaded” screens out of competition the following night, with the cast — including Keanu Reeves and Monica Bellucci — and filmmakers expected on the red carpet as well.

Two “Terminator 3” parties — one sponsored by MTV and one held aboard the Budweiser Yacht — are scheduled for the first weekend to tubthump the world preem of the “T3” trailer.

And Cruise’s ex-wife, Nicole Kidman, is set to attend with Lars von Trier’s competition entry “Dogville” early in the fest. Just a week before the official selections were set to be unveiled, the roster remained thin on high-profile films, without a single pic from Fox, Universal, DreamWorks, Paramount or Miramax. But execs and agents predicted business would be robust.

“I expect the fest will be loaded with films,” says UA topper Bingham Ray, who purchased “Bowling for Columbine” in Cannes last year, and is returning to the Croisette with his usual team of acquisitions execs. “We’re going loaded for bear and we’ll be looking at everything.”

“I think Cannes is going to be better this year than everyone thought,” adds William Morris Independent co-chief Cassian Elwes, a fest circuit regular.

Iraq could change things. “People will realize the world isn’t going to end. They’ll get back to business and buy some movies. Things are looking up.”

That’s a significant turnaround from the first week of the war with Iraq, when fear of terrorism was riding high, Franco-American relations were running cold, and execs around town expressed trepidation about traveling to the South of France.

At the time, a big talent agency head was trying to figure out how to get a refund on his prepaid hotel rooms, and even seasoned fest-goers predicted war protesters on the Riviera and a subdued festival this year.

Some anxieties still hang in the air as opening night draws near. The ultimate price — in dollars, lives and fallout — of the Iraq conflict is still unclear. The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic may yet stifle travel to Cannes from crucial Asian markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore. And a rocky market for global media companies continues to put buyers in a cautionary mood.

“Today people cannot afford to make huge mistakes,” says Patrick Wachsberger, prexy and CEO of Summit Entertainment, whose usual Cannes staff of 10 employees will be shopping five or six features at the market. “When you buy something, you run your numbers very carefully.”

But Wachsberger, like most Croisette mainstays, was optimistic Cannes will have its usual quotient of business deals and glitzy parties.

“It’s not a political forum,” reminds another Cannes regular, Rolf Mittweg, prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution at New Line. “I think things will just move along as they have in previous years.”

That sentiment also is echoed by publicity and marketing consultant Dennis Davidson, whose company, DDA, is one of the main conduits to scoring accommodations during the packed festival.

“The glamour events that have been planned all seem to be set in stone. There is a long wait list for rooms in the major hotels, especially the Du Cap (in Cap d’Antibes), for the opening week. And there is a feeling that the Cannes Film Festival, as a French institution, is a safer place than most, given the French attitude to the war,” Davidson says, adding that, barring a serious terrorist attack in Europe, “it’s business as usual.”

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