Cannes - Woody Allen delighted the crowds at the start of the Cannes film festival on Wednesday with Midnight In Paris, in which Owen Wilson travels back in time and meets the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.
There was laughter and applause from famously fussy Cannes critics at a screening of this year's opening film, kicking off 11 days of red carpets, press interviews, lounging on luxury yachts and late night partying in the glamorous Riviera resort.
In Midnight in Paris, Allen, a Cannes favourite, explores the notion that bygone ages are better than the present, so Owen's character Gil pines for 1920s Paris while painter Paul Gauguin wants to return to the Renaissance.
Dramatic change of scene
The Oscar-winning 75-year-old director played for laughs by transporting Owen, a Hollywood scriptwriter called Gil, into a Paris populated by Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali and other artistic greats he had long admired.
At one point he runs into Bunuel's character and suggests he make a movie about a dinner party from which the guests cannot escape, which clearly refers to his 1962 picture The Exterminating Angel.
The dramatic change of scene casts a shadow over Gil's 21st century existence, where his fiancee, played by Rachel McAdams, becomes exasperated by his increasingly idiosyncratic behaviour and has an affair with the odious intellectual Paul.
"You know it's a big trap that thinking living in another time would be better," Allen told reporters.
"Everyone wants to get out of living in the current time because life is a lot of opposition. But when you think back ... you think of the nice things ... I wouldn't go back to any time other than now."
French First Lady Carla Bruni has a cameo role as a present-day museum guide in three scenes, although she cancelled her planned appearance in Cannes because of "personal reasons", feeding rumours in the French press that she may be pregnant.
Allen said he met Bruni when he was invited to have breakfast with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and asked her on the spot to join his cast in a minor role.
"She said I would like to be in one of your movies because I would like to tell my grandchildren some day that I was in the movie," Allen said. "She came in and did her part very gracefully ... and she played that character perfectly."
Hollywood out in force
Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Penelope Cruz, Robert De Niro, Mel Gibson and Johnny Depp are all set to walk the Cannes red carpet, ensuring huge media interest and large crowds of fans keen to catch a glimpse of their screen idols.
Blockbusters Kung Fu Panda 2 starring Jolie and "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" with Depp and Cruz both launch in Cannes, as studios return en masse after avoiding the notoriously costly trip to France due to the financial crisis over the past couple of years.
De Niro heads this year's jury, which also includes Uma Thurman and Jude Law, and underlining the pulling power of the festival, pop diva Lady Gaga is widely reported to be putting in a "surprise" appearance on the waterfront on Wednesday.
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