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Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci and Robert De Niro Kick Off Busy Cannes

Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci and Robert De Niro Kick Off Busy Cannes

The 64th Festival de Cannes got rolling Wednesday morning with the packed press screening of Woody Allen’s latest, “Midnight in Paris,” which will have its official premiere tonight. Starring Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Owen Wilson (and even featuring a couple of appearances by French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy), the film revolves around an American family that sets out for Paris with conflicting views of the city and France in general.

Gil (Owens) loves Paris and wants to abandon his successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter to live in the City of Lights with his soon-to-be-wife Inez (McAdams). She, however, has more conventional plans for a life in Malibu and is not amused by Gil’s longing for the Paris of the ’20s.

By sheer chance (and unspoken magic) Gil travels to Paris’ ’20s heyday and meets the artists that helped define the era, including Fitgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway. His obsession for the bygone era is fed and, of course, complicates his delicate relationship with Inez.

“People look back at earlier times with nostalgia and they forget the difficult things about those times,” Allen said to a packed press conference Wednesday. “I wouldn’t really want to go back to another time other than right now, it’s really a trap.” Allen said he had long dreamt of Paris “the way most Americans do” through the movies and had wanted to make a move there. He recalled being heavily influenced as a young man by European filmmakers, especially the French New Wavers including Godard and Truffault.

“In France there is a great respect for cinema as art and of course in America it’s a moneymaking machine. And we wanted to be artists,” he added.

About his new film, Allen said that he first came up with the title and built the story around it. He admitted to having some difficulty coming up with the plot for “Midnight in Paris,” but then he found his path.

“I was struggling with coming up with an idea and I thought of something that could happen at midnight in Paris. I was lucky I thought of something. If I hadn’t, I could have changed the title…”

Read Anne Thompson’s one on one interview with Woody Allen on Thompson on Hollywood.

Bernardo Bertolucci honored

The press stayed packed inside the Festival de Cannes’ rather small press conference room following Woody Allen’s exit for a discussion with Italian filmmaker Bernard Bertolucci, who will receive an honorary Palme d’Or this evening. Bertolucci, who first came to Cannes in 1964 with “Before the Revolution,” has never won a juried Palme d’Or and the festival will rectify that tonight in a gala dinner seaside (incidentally in space once occupied by the American Pavilion, which has been moved).

“The sequence of all my films have won me the Palme d’Or today,” a jubilant Bertolucci said after he received a rare introduction by Cannes head, Thierry Frémaux. Along with the honorary award, the festival is screening Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” (1970) as part of its Cannes Classics section. Bertolucci lauded a recent restoration of the film and joked that it might be something he should look into.

Jury president Robert De Niro with fellow jurors Nansun Shi and Jude Law Wednesday. Photo by Brian Brooks.

“I wonder if a film restorer can restore me, that would be rather brilliant,” said the filmmaker who was wheelchaired into the room. Despite frail health, Bertolucci easily answered questions in three languages and joked incessantly. When asked about the use of sexuality in the course of his work, the moderator chimed in that time was running out, and Bertolucci replied, “I’ll make this one a quickie then.”

He also said that he would not give up filmmaking though he had thought for the last six years his movie career had ended.

“My condition as everyone can see made me think this was the end,” Bertolucci said, but then added with a smile, “But then I realized that even though I’m in a weelchair, I can do it. If you notice in all my movies, all movements are on a dolly and I realized with my wheelchair I can do that.” Bertolucci’s next film is set for 3-D and will include one room and two people…

The Cannes jury meets the press

“We don’t know until we see the movies…It’s all up for grabs at this point,” Cannes competition president Robert De Niro said today when asked how this year’s jury, including Olivier Assayas, Martina Gusman, Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Jude Law, Nansun Shi, Uma Thurman, Johnnie To and Linn Ulmann, will judge this year’s crop of films. So began a traditional dance on day one of the festival in which the jury appears before journalists answering questions about how they will tackle the lineup, searching for any clues as to how the Palme d’Or winner will be selected.

“I’m not sure what we’re looking for. We’ll watch them and we’ll figure it out,” noted De Niro. “I get to sit down and see all these films. I’m not distracted in the way that I am normally. It’s a bit of a vacation.”

De Niro said he had mixed feelings giving awards, noting that there are always people who should have received nods but don’t. Still, he noted that awards can give attention to filmmakers who may be below the radar. De Niro’s own Tribeca Film Festival, which is being honored this year, picked a relatively unknown this year, “She Monkeys,” which took the top jury prize last month, utterly surprising its director, Lisa Aschan.

“I have mixed feelings about giving awards. There are people who deserve them and don’t get it. But they can also single out films that deserve attention in an official way.” Then he quipped, “For me, there is no prescribed way to go about this. We go see the movies and then talk about them. Just waiting to see…”

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