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Inside opening night at the Cannes Film Festival

Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

CANNES, France -- If you're anything like me -- that is, a millennial who feverishly clicks through photo galleries of celebrities on Just Jared or Daily Mail -- you're probably somewhat familiar with the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.

Unlike in Hollywood, where stars simply pose in front of a step-and-repeat, the red carpet at the festival in the south of France is tres dramatique: Black tie is required, celebrities don't stop for interviews (photos only) and a climb up a large staircase is required -- perfect for draping the long train of a gown, a la the Met Gala.

In other words, it lends itself to fabulous posing and glamorous couture, contributing to the mystique that has lured festivalgoers here for the last 72 years.

But what I didn't entirely realize before attending Cannes was just how much gravitas the event carries within France itself. On Tuesday, when the festival kicked off with Jim Jarmusch's "The Dead Don't Die," the 45-minute opening ceremony was simultaneously broadcast to 700 theaters countrywide, followed by a screening of the film. (Jarmusch's movie launched in France on May 14 but won't be released by Focus Features in the U.S. for a month.)

Accordingly, there's a lot of pomp-and-circumstance involved in the opening-night ceremony. An emcee announces each guest who walks down the carpet, and the livestream from outside is broadcast to those guests inside the Palais des Festivals who have already taken their seats.

The entire arrival process is intricately timed: First come those you recognize but whose presence you are confused by, such as Eva Longoria, who apparently is at Cannes because L'Oreal is a sponsor of the festival and she is a face of L'Oreal. The next tier includes those who are not in the opening-night film but have some tie to a festival event, such as Julianne Moore, who is here to support the HIV/AIDS documentary "5B."

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Then a slew of black cars chauffeuring the festival jury pull up, this year carrying the likes of jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director Yorgos Lanthimos and actress Elle Fanning, who at 21 is the youngest person ever to participate on the Cannes jury.

Finally, it is time for the cast of the first night's film to walk the carpet -- on Tuesday, that included Jarmusch and such stars as Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Selena Gomez and Tilda Swinton. After the cast greets festival director Thierry Fremaux at the top of the staircase -- there's a lot of air kissing involved -- they walk into the theater, where the entire crowd rises to their feet just to welcome the director and his actors.

So then everyone takes their seats and the movie begins, right? No. Instead, a French actor named Edouard Baer who has 177,000 followers on Twitter emerges to become the master of ceremonies. Because Cannes is in France, he speaks in French, so foreigners have the option of grabbing a headset for language translation.

Even so, his monologue -- accompanied by a very moody accordion player -- was, uh, philosophical in nature. After making a nod to the late director Agnes Varda, he raised the question of how important the audience is to a filmmaker.

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