TO THE JOY AND RELIEF of the world's media, Woody Allen has bounced back from a string of disappointing European-based features to rediscover his mojo.
Midnight in Paris – Allen's 41st feature, and the first film to screen at this year's Cannes Film Festival – pays loving homage to the French capital, while giving nods to his classic Manhattan and the oft-overlooked Purple Rose of Cairo. It even finds time to comment on the city's traffic problems – as well America's right-wing political animals. Nothing more apt could have kicked off this year's festival today.
In the film, an American named Gil (Owen Wilson) is battling writer's block, as well as the demands of his wealthy bride-to-be Inez (Rachel McAdams, pictured above, with Wilson). Inez is distracted by a haughty know-it-all friend named Paul (Michael Sheen), and Gil enters a fantasy world while on midnight strolls around Paris.
While his betrothed is conducting an elicit affair, Gil wines and dines with the greats: among them, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Thor's Tom Hiddleston), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody). Their muse (Marion Cotillard) soon reawakens a passion in him that Inez has all but extinguished. The film also features France's First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozky, playing a museum guide.
The famed writer-director and his cast – Wilson, McAdams and Sheen – were at press call this afternoon: one, not surprisingly, dominated by French media, eager to unravel the curious tale of "Golden Age thinking", as Sheen's character puts it. Allen's return to glory precedes the film's gala premiere later this evening.
Midnight in Paris naturally dominates Wednesday's opening of Cannes 2011. Only one other, Sleeping Beauty, from Australia's Julia Leigh, will screen, later today. Following this afternoon's Midnight in Paris press call, this year's key jury members, including actors Jude Law and Uma Thurman, were officially presented to the press, headed by the legendary Robert De Niro.
The festival is enjoying a boost in numbers and business, following a three-year "flat period", thanks to an upturn in the global economy. Today also sees legendary Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor) receive an honourary Palme d'Or for his life's work in film.