Lisa Nesselson: Cannes report

The Cannes Film Festival started yesterday, and our crack correspondent Lisa Nesselson is on the scene. Here's her first dispatch:

There are people who don't much care for Woody Allen, but is that any reason for U.S. Navy SEALS to track him down and kill him?

Allen's latest romp, "Midnight in Paris" opened the 64th Cannes Film Festival on the night of May 11th. A few days earlier, prominent French lawyer and politician Roland Dumas (born in 1922 and still going strong) was a panelist on the network TV show "Face aux Français"  (the Gallic answer to "Face the Nation").

The topic was the recent death of the guy who had top billing for over a decade on America's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives, Terrorists and Notorious Really Tall Individuals Hiding In Plain Sight list. While speculating about what skeptical admirers of the terror mastermind might say, Dumas fell prey to a slip of the tongue as entertaining as it is incongruous: "'Woody Allen lives! Have we seen the body of Woody Allen?' That's what people will say unless they release the tapes."

As Dumas continued speaking, host Guillaume Durand wasn't sure whether to call the veteran politico on the flubbed name or not. He opted to set the record straight, lest a distraught cinephile tune in just then to think that Woody had joined David Lean and Stanley Kubrick in that great art house in the sky. "Permit me to point out that you made a slight slip of the tongue," said moderator Durand.  "Nothing major but important for our viewers: you said Woody Allen instead of Bin Laden."

Only slightly chastened (you don't forge a career in French politics by ever admitting you were wrong), Dumas mumbled something about the proximity of the Festival de Cannes.

(In semi-fairness, in French the pronunciations are closer than they are in English.  One says Wuh-dee Ahl-LEN and Oosama bin lah-DENN.)

Still, one can't help but savor the idea of highly trained American soldiers icing Woody in his compound in Abbottandcostelloabad, not allowing the near-sighted auteur so much as a second to start tossing Oscars in self-defense.

Reports of Woody's demise -- both physically and artistically -- are premature.

"Midnight in Paris" is a lot of fun. (And first lady Carla Bruni is just fine in a small but crucial part.)

In his long and prolific career, Allen has often given his characters names to drop. But except for the wonderful brandishing of Marshall McLuhan in the flesh in "Annie Hall," the names have remained just that: sometimes-forced references to Woody's intellectual and artistic heroes with the occasional nemesis thrown in for comic effect.

In "Midnight in Paris," the Hollywood hack appealingly played by Owen Wilson, finds himself transported to the parallel Paris we all carry in our heads, still populated by a few names so heavy that, like a hot anvil, you have no choice but to drop them. The conceit this time is that the names have been cast with a giggle-inducing parade of thespians.

Woody's libertine touches are sweet whereas the eroticism of first-time filmmaker Julia Leigh's Competition entry "Sleeping Beauty"  is creepy.

Not necessarily in a bad way. Here's a comparison. In "Midnight," Owen Wilson's Gil Pender asks a woman "So, how long have you been dating Picasso?" then says "I can't believe I just said that."

On the other hand, when the cash-strapped Australian university student played by Emily Browning in "Sleeping Beauty" reports for work at a private restaurant with a very exclusive clientele, she's instructed to choose a shade of lipstick "that matches your labia."  To which Browning's ever-accomodating lass says, "You're kidding, right?" Nope.

Allen has now made his 42nd film and Leigh has made her first. And Osama bin Laden will never be able to enjoy either one of them.



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