The Cannes Film Festival kicked off with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, a film so riven with witty one-liners that even the usually stiff-lipped Cannes critics were laughing – applauding the film even.

The movie features Owen Wilson, who plays Gil, a Hollywood scriptwriter who fancies himself as a novelist and dreams of penning his first big piece fiction in Paris. Also starring Rachel McAdams, who plays Gil’s fiancée, Inez, and Michael Sheen, the movie is something of an elegant love letter to Paris.

With a cameo role by French first lady, Carla Bruni, it’s got classic French humour, seductive romance and inspiring heritage, has drawn comparisons with Allen’s 1978 classic, Manhattan. A rich montage of shots captures the French capital in its many moods – in spring, in sun, in rain, at dawn and at midnight, the hour when the story takes a fascinating turn much like a fairy tale.

Bruni and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t show at Cannes Film Festival, the world’s biggest cinema event, for the screening of Midnight in Paris, disappointing celebrity-watchers who had anticipated their arrival. It fuelled rumours, however, that she is pregnant.

A highlight moment for the festival was the awarding of the Lifetime Achievement Palm D’Or to Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, the man behind such classics as Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor.

Wheelchair-bound Bertolucci, 71, received the award from Actor Robert De Niro.

“In the last five-six years, I was sure I wouldn’t have done any more movies,” said Bertolucci, who has never won the coveted Palme d’Or for the festival’s best film despite directing since the age of 22.

“Then a year ago I started to realise that even in a wheelchair I could imagine my movements, especially my dolly movements.

“I had this idea… because I’ve seen ‘Avatar’, and I loved ‘Avatar’, and I was fascinated by it, the 3D, and then I started to think why is 3D considered only good for horror or science fiction or this kind of movie?

“I thought if ‘8 1/2’ by Fellini was in 3D wouldn’t it be great?” Bertolucci said, pointing out that German auteurs Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog have both also been inspired to make films in 3D.

“It’s strange that Wim and Herzog and myself, three European directors, they are a bit younger than me but coming from the same kind of school of thought, are all attracted by 3D.”

Bertolucci, whose “Io e Te (Me and You)” about a 14-year-old boy, his 25-year-old sister and their time in a cellar is due out in 2013, apologised for not having “anything fresh” to offer Cannes this year.

The jury this year included De Niro, novelist Linn Ullmann, whose parents actress Liv Ullmann and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman are no strangers to Cannes, British actor Jude Law, Argentinean actress and producer Martina Gusman, Chinese producer Nansun Shi, Hong Kong director Johnnie

To, Chad born director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and French helmer Olivier Assayas.

De Niro, fielding questions from journalists about the jury’s approach to find this year’s Palm winners, said hat in picking a winner from the 20 competing titles, which certainly promise difference and diversity, “there will always be personal opinions that aren’t reflected at the winners’ ceremony”.

Meanwhile, if Allen’s Midnight in Paris wowed critics, Australian feature film Sleeping Beauty, did the opposite.

Premiering at the festival to a capacity audience on opening night, the work of first-time director, novelist Julia Leigh, left some viewers speechless, with its graphic look at the sordid sex life of young high-class escort, Sara.

The working name of ice-cold Lucy, played by Australian Emily Browning, Sara – between her university studies, various casual jobs, and bizarre friendship with a suicidal drug addict – is put to sleep for “erotic” sessions with wealthy old men.

The audience hurried out of Wednesday’s screening, many lost for words.

“It’s Eyes Wide Shut without the engagement,” one woman said as she left.

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney was among the first to post a review of the film, labelling it “psychosexual twaddle”.

“… (it) will no doubt have its admirers, (but) it seems a long shot to attract a significant following or herald the arrival of a director to watch,” he writes.

Actor Jack Black was among the actors at the star-studded Cannes Film Festival, this year taking extra care to make sure he doesn’t make any unofficial big announcements after inadvertently revealing Kung Fu Panda co-star Angelina Jolie was pregnant with twins the last time they were there.

In 2008 an embarrassed Black let the big news slip during an Nbc news interview with Jolie when he joked, “You’re gonna have as many as the Brady Bunch with these ones.”

A stunned Jolie laughed off the gaffe, and when she was asked if she was pregnant, she responded, “Jack’s just confirmed it.”

She is not pregnant this time around and Black is on his best behaviour as he teams up with Jolie again to promote the Kung Fu Panda sequel.

He says, “I have not been given any scoops to accidentally drop this time.”

Jolie joked, “I desperately want to give you one.”

The festival runs until May 22.