Among the films making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in southern France is Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody and Michael Sheen, one of his first projects shot in France.
"Paris is one of my favorite places in the world," said Allen, 75, who has more than 45 films to his credit, many starring the biggest names in Hollywood, during a festival press conference.
What's the draw?
While he's earned a reputation with the Academy, a great number of his movies are not box office hits.
"Actors love to work with him," said Detroit director Brian Lawrence, who just finished a five-act performance of Shakespeare's "A Midummer Night's Dream" at 1515 Broadway. "And he has an ensemble of people - like Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz - that return to work with him again and again."
Wilson's role in "Midnight in Paris" is that of a Hollywood screenwriter and wannabe novelist who pines nostalgically for the 1920s Paris of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. On a series of midnight strolls, he's transported back to the city in the time of his dreams, where he learns lessons from his idols about finding your place - and time - in life.
Before things got rolling Wednesday, Allen told the press his film aimed to show the city with the sort of glow he recalled from past big-screen takes on Paris.
"I wanted to show the city emotionally, the way I felt about it," Allen said. "It didn't matter to me how real it was or what it reflected. I just wanted it to be the way I saw Paris, Paris through my eyes."
French audiences should be delighted by the attention but also that the movie will include scenes with France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, playing the role of a guide at the Rodin Museum, who helps Wilson's character translate a French diary that is key to his travels into the past.
"That could be really good," said Lawrence, who has always admired Allen's work as a director, writer and actor. He was, however, taken aback by the scandal of 1992 when Allen left his partner of 12 years, Mia Farrow, for her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn (then age 22). Previn and Allen eventually married.
"He's a polarizing figure. He's a devout atheist, obsessed with death, he does all the things that make him a difficult person to be around, yet he gets the A-list actors."
Each hopes to learn and perhaps earn an Oscar; Allen has three, along with 21 Academy Award nominations, 14 as a screenwriter, six as a director, and one as an actor.
"As an actor, he's an unbelievably funny guy and he's done an amazing job going from a comedic director in the 1950s to directing a mix of comedy and drama as in the case of 'Annie Hall' (1977) and 'Play It Again Sam' (1972). His originality and intelligence, he's much more of a stylist than people give him credit."
Owen is not likely to net the earnings he gets from box office hits such as "Wedding Crashers" or 'Meet the Parents" but this was his chance to work with Woody Allen.
"He gives them good roles where they can shine, but he's getting up there in years," Lawrence said. "If they (actors) want that opportunity, they've got to take it now."
Films making debuts at Cannes
Here is the list of the 19 films in competition for the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d'Or, running now through May 22 on the French Riviera:
- Pedro Almodovar: "La Piel que habito" ("The Skin I Live in")
- Bertrand Bonello: "L'apollonide - Souvenirs de la maison close"
- Alain Cavalier: "Pater"
- Joseph Cedar: "Hearat Shulayim" ("Footnote")
- Nuri Bilge Ceylan: "Bir Zamanlar Anadolu" ("Once upon a Time in Anatolia")
- Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne: "Le gamin au velo" ("Set Me Free")
- Aki Kaurismaki: "Le Havre"
- Naomi Kawase: "Hanezu no Tsuki"
- Julia Leigh: "Sleeping Beauty"
- Maiwenn: "Polisse"
- Terrence Malick: "The Tree of Life"
- Radu Mihaileanu: "La source des femmes" ("The Source")
- Takashi Miike: "Ishimei" (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai)
- Nanni Moretti: "Habemus Papam"
- Lynne Ramsay: "We Need to Talk about Kevin"
- Markus Schleinzer: "Michael"
- Paolo Sorrentino: "This Must Be a Place"
- Lars Von Trier: "Melancholia"
- Nicolas Winding Refn: "Drive"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.