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Entertainment behind the scenes

Woody back on form in Cannes. Phew!

May 11, 2011

I, along with just about every other reporter and critic in Cannes for the film festival this year, was a little nervous about Woody Allen being chosen to open the event with his romantic comedy “Midnight In Paris”. Many cinephiles feel the 75-year-old Oscar winner has failed to live up to his famously high standards in recent outings. In Britain, at least, “Match Point” was not much loved while “Cassandra’s Dream” was broadly unpopular.

But Midnight In Paris quickly won over the notoriously picky Cannes crowd at a press screening today, with laughter (in all the right places) and warm applause as the credits rolled on what he has described as his “love letter to Paris”. The surreal tale follows Hollywood scriptwriter Gil, played by Owen Wilson, who is in Paris and travels back in time each night to the 1920s, where he meets his heroes including Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. As he grows closer to Picasso’s lover Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard, he moves ever further from his present-day fiancee, played by Rachel McAdams.

There are plenty of in-jokes for the culture vultures — it helps, for example, to know the paintings of Salvador Dali or the films of Luis Bunuel or the novels of Hemingway. But it’s not a must and the humour tends to work well, not least when Michael Sheen delivers the pretentious lines of odious intellectual snob Paul, an expert in everything and anything.

Wilson shares some of the classic Allen-as-actor mannerisms — the lost look and the uncertainty — but the differences are more striking. ”He’s the opposite of me,” Allen said of his central hero. “I’m very nervous and New York, he’s very West Coast, very blond, very ‘on the beach’, very athletic. He speaks nothing like me. If I got someone more like me we would have lost a dimension. He brought a dimension that was very different from what I imagined when I wrote it.”

Cannes organisers will be relieved to have got off to such a good start. Opening films have a habit  of putting a downer on the festival. In 2006, “The Da Vinci Code” had the honoured slot but bombed and cast a pall over the first few days of the 11-day cinema showcase. Not so in 2011. Phew.

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