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Alex the Lion, Melman the Giraffe, Marty the Zebra and Gloria the Hippopotamus, having hopped from Central Park to Africa, are now back in their third movie, Europe’s Most Wanted. The 3D version is set to premiere on the third day of the Cannes Film Festival.
Before that, the press gets to watch Reality, a film by Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone. The wordplay in the title becomes evident when the protagonist decides to audition for the Italian version of Big Brother, Grande Fratello. Garrone, whose 2008 film Gomorra received tremendous critical acclaim, studies the real world as well as psychological effects of participating in a reality show.
The queues for Madagascar 3 have already begun to snake out towards the city centre when we step out of the screening. The 2300-seat Grand Theatre Lumiére is filled very quickly, and most people dunk their bags into their seats before rushing off to try and capture the enormous proportions of the theatre through the functional cameras that are allowed inside.
We then head to the press conference, which promises to be more entertaining than the film – it features Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Martin Short, and David Schwimmer. Sacha Baron Cohen, though in Cannes, doesn’t make an appearance. But Jessica Chastain and Jada Pinkett-Smith are in attendance, as are the three director-scriptwriters, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon and Eric Darnell. The forty-minute conference turns out to be a riot of one-liners, and we’re left with the promise of several more sequels to come.
For some reason, the attention in this press conference is heavily focused on the children of the voice cast, and how much they like animation, circuses and attention. Jada Pinkett-Smith warns the directors that her son wants a rap single of his included in the nextMadagascar film, while Chris Rock turns the spotlight back on himself by saying, “I've been at movies with my kids – the kids get fidgety and I'm like, ‘I'm not going until I find out what happens to this bear!’”
Ben Stiller answers clichéd questions with the self-deprecating irony his real life avatar is famous for. Asked how he feels about being at Cannes, he replies, “I’m really excited. It’s my first time in Cannes and to be here as a voice in a film is a great step to actually coming here in a film.”
Half an hour’s worth of jokes and barbs later, it’s time for all the fun to give way to causes, as a grim-looking Sean Penn, serious-looking Petra Nemcova, and Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis get together to speak about Operation Haiti. Penn, whose visage is bisected by a frown and a pencil moustache, looks miffed when someone congratulates him on having spent years on the relief operations in Haiti, unlike celebrities who swoop in for a day.
He begins by speaking about the need for consistent involvement with charity projects, and then snaps that it isn’t only celebrities who pop in for a day, “it’s the whole f***ing world!”, including the media.
The conference, being about natural disasters, has unintentionally set the tone for a heartbreakingly beautifully film that will captivate audiences at this year’s festival – Beasts of the Southern Wild, by 30-year-old American director Benh Zeitlin. The film is a haunting fairytale-of-sorts, narrated by six-year-old Hushpuppy, who lives in a fantastical wilderness called The Bathtub.
Stepping out after the film, I see Robert DeNiro escorting his wife up the steps of the Palais for the red carpet screening of the newly-restored Once Upon a Time in America. Director Paul Bettany, and members of the cast including Jennifer Connelly and James Woods are in attendance.
The red carpet loop looks a little bit like a parade of birds, with most of the ladies swishing along in fishtailed dresses. Eva Longoria started it all, with her trail of pink feathers. This evening, Paz Vega sports a black-and-white creation that breaks into an enormous tassel of stringy material that slides along behind her. Jane Fonda, wearing a spangled wine-coloured dress, finishes off the fishtail party.
Gemma Arterton, arguably best known for being a Bond girl, and Bella Heathcote, who recently starred in Dark Shadows, pose for the cameras, as does Salma Hayek, in a black dress that leaves little to the imagination. I watch out for a second Mallika Sherawat appearance, and a first Aishwarya Rai appearance, but leave without catching either.
I do stumble upon a bunch of journalists looking under the seats and between the aisles for lost items ranging from mobile phones to invitation to reading glasses to press screening schedules. Beating them to the task – and in all likelihood the shredder – are attendants hurrying to get the theatre all cleaned up for the next screening.