Even by French standards, it was jaw-dropping. After picking up a lifetime-achievement award aboard the most luxurious ship in the world, the Queen Mary 2 George Lucas hitched a speedy boat ride back to the pier. There he fought his way through an army of tuxedoed photographers and frothing fans, all screeching Monsieur Looocaaas! Finally, the man who had completed the biggest sci-fi franchise in history pressed Hayden Christensen and a bald Natalie Portman to his side and marched up the second-most-famous red carpet in moviedom.
Surrounded by stormtroopers. And trailed by Darth Vader.
Welcome to Cannes.
Of course, the swankiest film festival in the world isn't primarily about supervillains, stars, and red carpets. The 58th annual Cannes lineup was a heady blend of the silly and soulful, the smart and the scabrous. The main competition jury led by Sarajevo-born Emir Kusturica and filled out by the likes of Salma Hayek, Toni Morrison, Javier Bardem, and John Woo had an eclectic list of Cannes veterans to choose from.
There was 2003 winner Gus Van Sant, who brought his lo-fi meditation on the death of Kurt Cobain, Last Days; 1999 jury head David Cronenberg with his well-received Viggo Mortensen drama about a man with a nasty past, A History of Violence; Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, a Grand Prix-winning drama starring Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, and Tilda Swinton; Atom Egoyan, who came with Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon for his film noir Where the Truth Lies; Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard returning two decades after winning for Paris, Texas with Don't Come Knocking; and, of course, Lars von Trier, who presented his mandatory anti-American screed this time on the subject of slavery Manderlay.
But the year's biggest shock had actually come out of competition, when Woody Allen arrived with his dark comedy-cum-thriller Match Point lauded by Cannesgoers as his best in years. ''It feels absolutely fantastic,'' gushed Emily Mortimer, who costars with Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. ''Coming out [of the premiere with Allen] we were standing at the top of those steps and as the photographers rushed back for another photograph, he said, 'Listen, we've just got to remember that this is just one night. Tomorrow we're all going to be back to normal. . .so we mustn't let this go to our heads!' It was very sweet, a little giveaway that he was pleased.''
But behind closed doors, great buzz didn't translate into big bucks for Match Point. Against the backdrop of a weak acquisitions market, Allen's sales team had placed a pre-Cannes price tag of $10 million on the movie, which was busted down to $7 million after the first screening. ''I guess the nice thing about being a seller is that you can ask for anything,'' snorted one potential buyer. ''Of course, the nice thing about being a buyer is that you don't have to pay it.'' By the end of the fest, the price was down to the $3-5 million range, with rumors swirling that DreamWorks was a dark horse and Harvey Weinstein a front-runner.