Stars align at Cannes opening night

Fest opens to biz buzz, fair skies, glitz

If opening nights set the tone for an entire fest, the omens are good for the 64th Cannes.

After a just-OK bow last year, Wednesday’s kickoff offered warm weather, star power and, most important, positive buzz about the artistic and financial signs of a rebound at the 10-day event.

Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (to be released in America via Sony Pictures Classics) was a good choice, since it’s an auteur film that mixes Gallic and U.S. sensibilities.

The warm applause for Allen, as well as jury prexy Robert De Niro, followed by jury members Jude Law, Uma Thurman and Olivier Assayas, among others, also presaged the constellation of stars at this year’s edition, with three of the world’s biggest movie stars skedded to appear over the next few days: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, with reports of Leonardo Di Caprio’s pending arrival, as well as Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Duran Duran performing at various fetes here.

As usual, fest president Gilles Jacob and artistic director Thierry Fremaux stood at the top of the Palais steps Wednesday greeting guests, who also included French helmers Claude Lelouch and Joann Sfar, Gallic thesps Lambert Wilson and Julie Gayet, France’s culture minister Frederic Mitterrand, Sony Pictures Classic’s toppers Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, Faye Dunaway, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, Salma Hayek, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Cannes market topper Jerome Paillard and cinefondation’s director Georges Goldenstern.

Despite rumors, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni (who appears in the Allen film) were no-shows.

But Bruni’s castmates, notably Adrien Brody, Lea Seydoux, Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson and Michael Sheen walked the red carpet, adding to the evening’s star-wattage.

The global economic crisis had been felt at the last two editions, with more cautious deals. This year, attendees at the film market, which kicks off Thursday, were upbeat about the offerings and the potential healthy deals thanks to more money available than in past years (Cannes Daily Variety, issue 1).

Artistically, there is optimism as well. In announcing last year’s less-than-scintillating lineup, Fremaux hinted that 2011 would be better.

This year features a particularly strong lineup of directors, including Allen, Pedro Almodovar, the Dardenne brothers, Aki Kaurismaki, Nanni Moretti, Gus van Sant, Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick, whose “The Tree of Life” is making its long-awaited world bow Monday, after being rumored as a possibility at various fests for nearly two years.

And Cannes has increasingly become a global press junket, tapping into the thousands of journos from around the world to tubthump “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Puss in Boots” and “Super 8,” for example.

The opening night ceremony included a screening of Georges Melies’ restored 1902 “Le Voyage Dans la Lune,” and an honorary Palme d’Or to Bernardo Bertolucci. It was followed by a dinner for select aud members at l’Agora.

The fest launch was in sharp contrast to last year, when director Ridley Scott bowed out from the launch of “Robin Hood,” which was politely received and guests were rained on as they exited the Palais.