The first day of the world's greatest film festival usually entails a combination of sleep, orientation, and gawking. (Oh, look. Is that the red-headed dude from those last, miserable seasons of "ER"?) Sleep was harder to come by since I arrived half a day later than planned. (Thank you, Eyjafjallajoekull) Mercifully, it's a light movie day, in order for it to be a heavy day for rubber-necking. All eyes were on Ridley Scott's revisionist -- or make that "corrective" -- "Robin Hood." It's the festival's opening-night movie and, starting Friday, the world's second biggest commercial attraction (you try to stop "Iron Man 2"). Selecting "Robin Hood" means the people lining the Croissette outside the Palais get a little glamour to go with all the chainmail, beards, and arrows. It means the people get Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, who play Robin and Marion.
Their noonish arrival, first on the red carpet and later in
the stifling pressroom, induced the year's first bout of pandemonium. From a
paparazzo's perspective, Crowe might be lucrative, but he's a rather
unremarkable star. Blanchett, by comparison, was utterly astral. She wore a
pink dress that appeared to have several different parts, including
histrionic shoulders that wouldn't have looked out of place on Jean Harlow if
she played for the Oakland Raiders. It was sporty. It was chic.
gathered around the monitors in the corridors outside the pressroom were
worried, since the conference itself seemed to start without anyone official
making sure the sound worked. The actors' mouths moved while the television
speakers just pumped out the dramatic pre-conference music. After some
fretting, one of the volunteers managed to find the right audio channel. The
solution produced the kind of sighing you expect to hear after someone defuses
As for the conference: Has Russell Crowe ever been this verbal? He took all the questions seriously -- even the pitiful ones. Is this revisionism? he was asked. That depends, is the concise response to a longer, searching, fact-filled answer. Crowe took a similar approach to a query about how awkward it must be sitting in France with a movie whose villains are French. Not every inquiry thrilled him. An Australian reporter mentioned that someone in the cast -- she wouldn't be more specific -- griped that his physique was that of a frustrated footballer. Crowe says he was going for 12th- century warrior. Next question.
The film's producer, Brian Grazer, sat on the far side of Crowe and Blanchett. He didn't have much to say, even when his authority and knowledge would have been enlightening. For instance, a reporter wondered whether "Robin Hood" could compete as a franchise in an industry of superhero sequels? Crowe gave another good answer. Grazer said almost nothing. Would Crowe and Blanchett like to do another installment? "I haven't been asked," said Blanchett, whose bright demeanor instantly darkened and chilled as she didn't look at Grazer, who suddenly seemed to be sitting in Siberia. That's the sort of moment it's foolish to read into. And yet the tension, momentary as it may have been, was palpable.
This is a directors' festival. But since Ridley Scott bowed out -- officially, he'd had knee surgery, but a colleague told me he was unhappy with the early reviews -- Crowe was forced to be the auteur. "Robin Hood" is his fifth film with Scott, and he answered most of the questions as though he'd written, directed, and produced it himself.
Afterward, he, Blanchett, and Grazer made their exit (cue the camerapeople going mad), and, a few hours later, it was on to the film's black-tie opening-night soirée, which is truly one of those only-in-France events. Many thousands of people line the barricaded Croisette for a look at whoever is walking up the red carpet. It's not like the red-carpet atmosphere at the Oscars, which appears reasonably stage-managed. At Cannes, a DJ plays good music -- "I Wanna Be Your Lover" by Prince, say -- while certain stars whip the crowd into a frenzy.
Also, the Croisette is not Hollywood Boulevard. It's as tacky but far tonier. People don't scream from a burrito joint. They scream from the second-story balcony of Chanel. An announcer strikes the right tone of true astonishment, satire, and sleep: Ladies and gentlemen, "acteur et réalisateur Jean-Claude Van Damme."
Having turned some kind of corner with the self-deconstruction of "JCVD," Van Damme appears to feed off the people's enthusiasm for his having survived himself. He ran around the carpet, hugged fans, signed autographs, waved, smiled, and mugged. Five minutes later, headed to his seat inside the Palais, with his wife, Gladys, on his arm, he was calm, almost shy behind a pair of sunglasses.
Tuxedos are taken as a badge of seriousness at this festival, at least for premiere events, where you can't enter without one. As it turns out, they're also a badge of badgeness. I was able to see Van Damme's cool-down only because I wore a tuxedo. It's a surreal thing to stand in the serene lobby of an enormous movie theater near stars who, having been gated off from the masses outside the Palais, are now close enough to have their dresses trampled (very sorry, Kate Beckinsale).
The security is so lax that Flip cameras can record Benicio de Toro catching up with a man he hasn't seen in a while (he and Beckinsale are serving on Tim Burton's jury). Eventually, it all became a little embarrassing -- that's Cuba Gooding Jr. with the haircut I was going for, Aishwarya Rai appears to have brought all of Mumbai with her, and who is that woman, in a full, clattering flamenco gown, chasing down a child? Plus: Does France make a grizzled man who isn't also sexy? Is there a senior citizen who doesn't have fabulous hair?
The enviable too-muchness continued at the post-screening bash, which a beloved colleague misleadingly advertised as a dinner. Jim, dinner to me is people seated at a table with utensils and plates at which a meal is served. This was an altogether grabbier affair. Glamour was ubiquitous, but so were bad manners, quickly emptying trays of food, and on-set claustrophobia. It didn't take long for the best-dressed women to grow foul at the prospect of a night spent defending their gowns from people's feet.
I'm no stranger to the madhouse that free champagne and finger food can induce, and yet it seemed necessary to take a cue from a professional about how to comport myself. I found a small, beautiful woman in an equally beautiful white gown being escorted through human bumper-to-bumper traffic. The train of her dress was hiked up and spilling over one arm. In the hand of the other, she held an hors d'oeuvre that she casually lifted to her mouth for huge bites. Caught by photographers in the act of stuffing her face, she smiled without shame. Then she made her way toward a table with plates of cheese, breaking into a song of anticipation: "Fromage! Fromage!"
This woman was Eva Longoria Parker. And if there's a reason to endure a party of such excess (someone's job involved emptying thousands of egg shells and replacing their natural contents with soup), it's to see a very rich, pretty famous woman behave with a combination of unself-consciousness, regularity, and lady-like grace. Longoria's expression to photographers was that of a comedian. It said, "I know I'm the face of L'Oréal Paris, but I'm hungry and this, whatever-it-is, is really good." Most episodes of "Desperate Housewives" give us a version of this, but on television it seems bratty. Six inches away, it's endearingly human.
Others saw fit to work the room. The director Brett Ratner breezed by, refusing to let a man in his entourage locate his wife. Ratner appeared desperate to reattach himself to Brian Grazer's hip. Who knows what unholy blockbuster this union might produce. Salma Hayek and Kristin Scott-Thomas demonstrated a neat science experiment. When two stars get near enough to each other in a room full of cameramen, it produces a big bang of flashbulbs and pleading ("Salma, over here, please!"). They handled it professionally, going from a pair of warm, chatty colleagues to two figurines in a wax museum.
Believe it or not, there was another movie tonight. The French film star Mathieu Amalric's third film as a director, "Tournée," debuted as part of the main competition. Inspired, he says, by Colette, his comedy follows a troupe of American new-burlesque performers touring France. Amalric, who was the paralyzed magazine editor in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and the mousy villain in the last Bond film, casts himself as Joachim Zand, a washed-up Parisian television producer who wrangles the Americans together. He promises them a big show in Paris, but they seem unlikely to get there, playing smaller, well-attended venues elsewhere.
Amalric has a real affection for these five women (there's one man). Working with the talented photographer Christophe Beaucarne, he gives the striptease numbers a gloss and saturation that wouldn't come across live. Their acts become warmly camera-ready. The movie is thin on drama (Joachim's two sons arrive; his ex-wife is sick; the vibe is loosely Cassavetes; this sounds like a version of the American actor Seymour Cassel's life). But as a cinematic spectacle, it really touched me.
The women are built like pears and hourglasses. And Amalric finds something sweet and romantic in their dancing. When two jiggling breasts produce a pair of whirling tassels, my heart melted. The road comedy yields slightly for a love story between Joachim and the old soul of the troupe, Mimi Le Meaux, a Californian playing a version of herself. This woman isn't a natural actress -- she may not even be a natural dancer -- but she's deeply captivating. There's a moment when Almaric's minor-league scoundrel looks at her, and you know he's falling in love. I totally get it.