A Woody Allen premiere is as much a fixture of the Cannes Film Festival as paparazzi and overpriced hotels. This year, the prolific director landed a high-profile slot, with his "Midnight in Paris" chosen as the opening-night movie.
Allen's film, a whimsical romantic comedy, stars Owen Wilson as a nostalgia-minded writer who, while on a trip to the City of Light, finds himself transported from the present day back to the 1920s, where he meets period figures ranging from Gertrude Stein to Salvador Dali. Wilson is struggling through a bad relationship with his shrew of a fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and finds solace in an idealized past. (Said idealization, incidentally, allows Allen to film numerous beauty shots of Paris both past and present.)
At the festival Wednesday evening, Allen's film played to the tuxedoed mix of cinephiles and society types who populate the gathering's opening night, with festival head Thierry Frémaux and jury chief Robert De Niro among those who took the stage before "Paris" premiered.
The movie then screened to an appreciative crowd, which no doubt enjoyed the gauzy tones in which the director paints their capital.
Earlier in the day, after his film screened to a largely warm reception for media, Allen spoke at a news conference about his own attitude toward the past.
"[It] sounds seductive but it's a trap," said Allen, now 75. "There was no air conditioning; when you went to the dentist there was no Novocaine. There weren't a lot of the things we've gotten used to that make life bearable."
Of her off-putting character, McAdams told the news conference that she "was so excited when Woody told me, 'You won't be playing the object of desire.' "
Marion Cotillard, who plays a period muse but was not at the news conference, said in an earlier interview with The Times that, despite the neurotic and sometimes dark tone in Allen's work, little of that was in evidence on the set.
"He has this vision of things that's a mix of humanity, love, humor and sarcasm," she said. "Most of it is this smile he has in everything he does, the smile he has in his eyes when he looks at someone, with tenderness and humor."
Allen's last two releases, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" and "Whatever Works," were relatively low profile after his 2008 hit "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." "Midnight in Paris" will open in the United States on May 20.
As for his inspiration, Allen said that "I was going to do a film set in Paris and first I thought of the title, which sounded romantic. But I didn't know what was going to happen at midnight. Months went by and I couldn't think of anything," he said. "Then it occurred to me one day that a car would pull up and take him someplace. This time I was lucky -- I could have thought of something foolish or I could have thought of nothing and changed the title."
-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France
Photos: Top: Rachel McAdams and Woody Allen attend the "Midnight In Paris" premiere in Cannes, France. Credit: Getty Images. Bottom: Owen Wilson and Lea Seydoux with Allen prior to the screening. Credit: Associated Press