Woody Allen might have occasional doubts about his talent, but his adoring fans at Cannes don't.
Widely regarded as the most European of American directors, Allen has consistently garnered warm receptions for his films at the French Riviera cinema showcase — even when they get panned at home.
His latest offering, "Midnight in Paris," which opened the 12-day-long Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, looked like an immediate success. A clever and entertaining tale starring Owen Wilson as a Hollywood screenwriter who pines for the Paris of the 1920s, the movie is also a cinematic homage to the City of Light.
As expected, the crowd at its first press screening tittered throughout and broke into enthusiastic applause at the end.
Still, Allen sounded a typically self-effacing note at a post-film news conference.
"I've never considered myself an artist," he told journalists. "I've aspired to be an artist, but I never had the depth or the substance or the gift to be an artist.
"If you think that Kurosawa was an artist, and Bergman was an artist and Bunuel was an artist and Fellini, then it's clear as a bell that I'm not an artist," he said, referring to cinema auteurs Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel and Federico Fellini.
"Still," he added, "I can make films and some of them come out good and some of them come out better and some of them come out worse."
"Midnight in Paris" is Allen's 41st feature film — his 11th at Cannes — and the New York-born director chalked the exceptional longevity of his career up to chance.
"I've had nothing but good luck," he said.
After filming in New York for decades, Allen shifted to Europe, shooting four of his last movies in London and Barcelona. "Midnight" is his first set in Paris, a city he said he'd grown up watching in the French films he devoured as young man.
"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."
The cast is star-studded. In addition to Rachel McAdams, who plays the Wilson character's slightly shrewish fiancee, other A-list actors make cameo appearances as some of the most brilliant luminaries of the 20th century. Kathy Bates shows off her language skills in a turn as the American-born writer and polyglot Gertrude Stein, while Adrien Brody walks the thin line between genius and madness as Salvador Dali.
French stars, too, shine in the movie. Marion Cotillard, who won the best actress Academy Award in 2008 for "La Vie En Rose," plays the lover of Picasso and Hemingway, and rising star Lea Seydoux is shyly radiant as a Paris antique dealer.
France's high-wattage first lady, model-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, has a bit part as a tour guide who translates a French diary that helps Wilson's character learn the lesson that the past is not necessarily all golden, after all.
Heading into the festival, expectation was high that Bruni-Sarkozy and her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy, would walk the red carpet at the movie's premiere Wednesday. But Bruni-Sarkozy has said they won't attend.
In an interview Tuesday on RTL radio, Bruni-Sarkozy said she regretted missing the festival, but "I unfortunately can't do it for personal and also for professional reasons."
French media have speculated that Bruni-Sarkozy may be pregnant. She has declined to discuss the issue, but her absence from Cannes only fanned the flames of the pregnancy rumors.
- Luis Bunuel
- Cannes Film Festival
- Woody Allen
- Owen Wilson