Croisette set ignites Cannes

Weather cooperates, stars align for opening night

CANNES — The 58th edition of the Cannes fest officially got under way Wednesday night at a star-studded screening of a quirky Gallic pic in the main competition called “Lemming.”

Pic, directed by Dominik Moll, regaled the opening night audience for two hours and was received with warm applause that swelled to standing ovations for cast and director.

The pic’s twists and lemming leitmotiv seemed to hold the audience’s attention throughout. Several Cannes habitues declared it a fitting choice for the opening salvo in the 10-day marathon of film judging.

Among those making their way up the red carpet to the festooned Palais were the pic’s stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, Laurent Lucas and Andre Dussollier, along with helmer Moll and producer Michel Saint-Jean.

Others waving to fans and posing for paparazzi included the members of the jury, and celebs like Catherine Deneuve, Betsy Blair, Dennis Hopper, Alexander Payne and Carol Bouquet. Also on hand were EC culture minister Viviane Redding and Warner Bros. France exec Francis Boespflug.

At the top of the stairs greeting the guests were fest toppers Thierry Fremaux, Gilles Jacob and Veronique Cayla as well as Cannes mayor Bernard Brochand.

Cosmetics giant L’Oreal, for the eighth year a sponsor of the fest, fielded its own ambassadors of beauty including Aishwarya Rai, Laetitia Casta and Eva Longoria. Several of the celebs were also adorned in Chopard diamonds, adding extra sparkle to the extravaganza.

Fortunately, the iffy weather cooperated for the throngs of fans ringing the Palais and the more than 2,400 guests.

Once inside the Theatre Lumiere a lone Cirque du Soleil acrobat wrapped herself around a hanging red cord from centerstage, trapezing her way into a typically elegant French performance.

Mistress of ceremonies Cecile de France — who would seem to have the perfect name for the job and was suitably attired in a black Chanel gown — delivered a charming discourse on the art and magic of filmmaking. She also kept it brief.

“When I was young, Cannes seemed like Las Vegas, but with the sea,” said the actress, who will soon be seen in Cedric Klapisch’s “The Russian Dolls.”

She then introduced the fest jury, which included novelist Toni Morrison, director John Woo and actress Salma Hayek.

Jury chairman Emir Kusturica, who looked studiedly disheveled, saluted the audience and then director Alexander Payne and Indian star Rai officially opened the festival.

An elaborate dinner in the Palais followed the screening and a party in honor of the film’s cast took place at the Majestic Hotel beachfront thereafter.

Meanwhile, on the business front, the Cannes film market organizers reported that attendance this go round is up 10% to 8,672 participants, with 1,115 of them from the U.S. That’s a 13% increase from the States.

Business is expected to be brisk as buyers pour into the Riviera resort over the next few days.