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Cannes Opening Day

Cannes Opening Day

Kung Fu Panda star Jack Black woke up this morning knowing he had to cavort on the Carlton pier with 40 overstuffed pandas. Mike Jones did the honors with his Nikon Coolpix.

At the jury press conference, Sean Penn was mercurial and testy: over-the-top on his shove-it-down-your-throat political agendas, and yet an uncompromising artist, the sort of filmmaker that Cannes embraces. He’s an idealist who cares deeply about his work and likes to champion the work of others. But he’s not one to hide his feelings. Everything shows. So clearly, it was a long day for him.

First the photo call, the press conference, then the black tie ceremonie de overture, which is a long red carpet affair, where folks in their seats in the Lumiere get to watch the likes of Eva Longoria Parker, Penelope Cruz, Aishwariya Rai, Dennis Hopper, Blindness stars Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael Garcia Bernal, and the skeletal Faye Dunaway twist for the photographers.

Jury member Sergio Castellitto looked familiar: I had just seen him in The Chronicles of Narnia sequel, in which he chews into the role of Prince Caspian’s nemesis, King Miraz. (BTW: this one is much better than the first, which I found bland and unbelievable, because the kids were so young. Prince Caspian will do gangbuster biz; the kids are older, the villains are nasty, the Narnia animals and characters are cool and there’s more action. My fave scene is the opener, when Caspian speeds through a forest at night on horseback.)

The ritual of the jury lining up in a row on the Palais steps and greeting Gilles Jacob and Thierry Fremaux at the top is always fun. Cannes feted Penn with vet folk singer Richie Havens, who did a foot-stomping rendition of Freedom, which even the cool French gala crowd clapped along with, led by Penn. “We will do our best,” Penn told the crowd. “We will be sending home love letters to some of these films.”

I slipped out before the film started and lined up at the Salle Bazin to see animator/director Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, an odd Israeli documentary that is gorgeously and effectively animated. Like the stylized Persepolis, the animation makes palatable scenes that would otherwise be horrific: hallucinatory flashbacks of Israeli soldiers on various campaigns in Lebanon, all leading to one long repressed memory of witnessing a 1982 massacre by Christian militia of Palestinians. The filmmaker makes a journey back into his mind by interviewing people who might remember what he has suppressed. Very strong film. Some of the animated characters’ POV have a vidgame feel. Early distrib response is cautious. They’ll check reviews and see where it goes.

Miramax’s outdoor Blindness party at the Carlton Plage-where Europeans were following Sean Penn’s lead and smoking like chimneys–featured a white fogbank entryway. That’s where I snapped Danny Glover. I did not see Miramax topper Daniel Battsek, but did spot SPC’s Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, the NYT’s Tony Scott, the LAT’s John Horn, Fernando Meirelles and Gael Garcia Bernal, PR men Jeff Hill and Mark Pogachefsky, Focus Features’ Jason Resnick and The Toronto FF’s Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey.

UPDATE: Greencine’s indefatigable David Hudson is keeping up with all things Cannes. Here’s Pete Hammond at Hollywood Wiretap.

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