Festival strikers behave

Protesters join film biz notables on red carpet

This article was updated at 7:13 p.m.

CANNES — The festival ceremonies were wild, but the protesters were well behaved as the 57th Cannes Film Festival opened with Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education.”

Striking showbiz workers joined film biz notables in climbing the red-carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals, where fest prexy Gilles Jacob, artistic director Thierry Fremaux and managing director Veronique Cayla waited to greet them.

Protesters asked fellow gala-goers to “show solidarity with the strikers.” Two women stood on the steps, even long after the film had started, with their arms raised in gestures of defiance.

The fest had agreed to let protesters join the opening-night festivities as a preemptive move, ensuring no disruption of the rites.

Though a huge Hollywood contingent will be at the fest this year, few were in town for the soiree, which was followed by an official dinner and a party thrown by Gallic distrib Pathe.

Inside, fest jury prexy Quentin Tarantino brought his own brand of well-choreographed anarchy to the Palais stage. After Almodovar entered to a standing ovation, the fest’s mistress of ceremonies, Italian actress Laura Morante, introduced Tarantino. The lights dimmed and a jazzy montage of clips from “Reservoir Dogs,” “Jackie Brown” and “Pulp Fiction,” which won the Palme d’Or in 1994, played onscreen.

This year’s fest programmers have sought to inject new energy into the proceedings, and Tarantino was happy to provide the spark. He strode onstage like he’d just been elected mayor of Cannes.

“Cinema, mon amour,” he crowed. “It is my honor to be the president of this magnificent festival.” (He’s just jury president, but who’s counting?)

As the high-octane soundtrack of “Kill Bill” throbbed in the background, he introduced the jury members one by one.

Almodovar bounded onto the stage and dedicated the evening to victims of Madrid’s terrorist attacks. “I can tell you the best place to be right now is on this stage,” he said. The film was warmly received by the audience.

The audience consisted of the director’s producer and brother Agustin Almodovar, “Bad Education” stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Fele Martinez, as well as Tarantino and jury members including Emmanuelle Beart, Kathleen Turner and Jerry Schatzberg. Sofia Coppola was also in attendance.

The glamour quotient was further upped by the presence of Asian stars Aishwarya Rai and Gong Li, while French thesps included Vincent Perez, Natacha Regnier, Gerard Jugnot and Bernard Giraudeau.

Making good on their promise to get attention without disrupting the fest, more than 100 workers waited until after the start of the film before they began chanting demands for education, health and culture. The protest was contained about a block from the Palais.

A lineup of shielded policemen stood at alert, blocking the protesters from getting too close to the Palais. One protester said this was a violation of an agreement with fest toppers. The most tense moment occurred when dozens of protesters began running to the Palais, though their movement was blocked by the police.

Workers from all over France have assembled here as a public forum to air their grievances. Showbiz workers are battling cuts to their unemployment benefits system, and other workers have joined them in a show of support.

One protester told Daily Variety that the various groups were still in huddles about a game plan but vowed that they would be a visible presence throughout the fest. But a carnival atmosphere prevailed, as protesters milled about, occasionally blowing whistles and plastic horns.

A spokesman for the fest said Wednesday, “The protesters have promised to respect the festival, and we are confident that everything will go smoothly.”

Allowing the protesters to climb the Palais steps was an artful move on the part of the festival — negotiated during 11th hour talks Tuesday to prevent mayhem from breaking out in Cannes.

The showbiz workers originally had demanded the right to make a declaration from the Palais steps — a no-no as far as organizers were concerned.

As part of the deal thrashed out Tuesday, a municipal theater has been put at the showbiz protesters’ disposal for speech-making and debates.

There will be a press conference Friday and, this being Cannes, a picnic on the beach Saturday at which members of the public will be invited to meet with the protesters.

Although tensions have been high in recent days, there was never any fear that Gallic protests could actually halt the fest, as happened in 1968.

(Timothy M. Gray contributed to this report.)