Absent Carla nearly steals the show at a quiet Cannes
There was no shortage of Hollywood glitz at this year's film festival in the south of France, writes Julia Molony
At the height of the Jazz age, the Hotel du Cap in Antibes was a favoured playground for American and Continental literati and artists.
F Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda ripped up the Riviera here with Picasso, hosted at the hotel by Fitzgerald's patrons, the dazzling and decadent Irish-American couple Sara and Gerald Murphy. The hotel Du Cap even earned the honour of being recreated by Fitzgerald in fiction. Apparently he based his description of the Hotel des Etrangers in Tender Is The Night on this exclusive spot.
In a nice touch of synchronicity, this stretch of the French coastline played host once again to the Fitzgeralds and Picasso, albeit in fictionalised form in Woody Allen's new film, a charming flight of fancy into nostalgia called Midnight in Paris, screened on the opening night of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Today, festival judges, film stars and industry power players take refuge amongst the Hotel du Cap's tropical gardens from the frenetic crush of the festival in nearby Cannes. Seated overlooking the Med,, they lunch on oysters, or bask at the edge of the infinity pool built into the rockface, while scores of paparazzi are on round-the-clock surveillance from the sea, sailing back and forth the hotel's short stretch of coast on chartered boats, like sentinels with long lenses.
The gossip buzzing around the festival centre in Cannes on Wednesday was that security was extra tight this year. Carla Bruni, who had a cameo role in Midnight in Paris, was expected to attend. Would Sarkozy be with her? Would the waiting public be able to catch a glimpse of any sign of pregnancy under her red-carpet gown?
In the end, it was all so much hot air. Though the Hollywood contingent at the opening of this year's festival was strong, there was no sign of the French First Lady, who later fuelled the speculation over her rumoured pregnancy by saying that she had declined to attend for personal reasons.
As the sun beat down on the pavements of Cannes, the area surrounding the Lumiere Theatre was crammed with starlets in ballgowns, rubberneckers and photographers. Quieter than previous years, according to the word on the streets, it nonetheless opened with a bang, with a warm reception to the first film, and high hopes for a line-up that included a dose of controversy, thanks to Australian film makers eroticised fairytale Sleeping Beauty, as well as a strong presence from heavyweight auteurs such as Pedro Almodovar and Lars Von Trier.
The all-star cast of Woody Allen's film made it a media-friendly choice for the opening. A compelling mix of key elements were there: a legendary director, a bright new star in the form of French ingénue Lea Seydoux, a touch of political intrigue created by the absence of Mme Bruni, and a frisson of authentic human intimacy on the red carpet between real-life couple and co-stars Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen.
As the stars made their painfully slow progress up the red carpet, inside the Lumiere Theatre, dignitaries, journalists and Hollywood power players jostled for the best seats, like spectators at a boxing match.
If you look up the definition of actor in the dictionary, said the MC, the charming French actress Melanie Laurent, when introducing the head of the judging panel, you find the words Robert De Niro. De Niro, who is a man of few words, according to those who know him, opted for brevity in his address, delivering a short speech in carefully practised French.
A charming prelude to the main event came in the short film La Voyage Dans La Lune. One of the first films ever made, it was originally recorded in 1902. When it was first released it had been screened both in black and white and, after hand painting, in colour. Believed to have been lost for decades, the colour version has been lovingly restored, and its surreal visuals played to a contemporary soundtrack which was provided by the French electro-pop outfit, Air.
Inside, following the introduction of the judging panel, headed by De Niro and including Uma Thurman and Jude Law, jazz singer Jamie Cullum, a compact package of charisma, made musical tribute to De Niro with an energetic rendition of New York, New York at which MC Melanie Laurent abandoned the rigid sense of protocol surrounding proceedings during the song, getting into the party spirit by breaking into an impromptu boogie on stage. She worked her way along the seated panel of judges with arms outstretched, and even managed to get a slightly less comfortable looking Uma Thurman out of her chair for a few steps before the latter demurred, broke free of the grasp and sat down again.
But though Uma shone, De Niro smouldered and Allen impressed the critics, ultimately, the night was for Bertolucci.
The legendary Italian director of Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor arrived on stage in his wheelchair to accept the Honorary Palme D'Or in recognition of his contribution to film, and was greeted with a rapturous standing ovation.