Cannes 2012: Bill Murray, ballyhoo and the search for the next ‘Artist’

It’s rare for veterans of the Cannes Film Festival to be genuinely excited about a star sighting — famous movie actors being as common as preternaturally well-behaved tiny dogs on the city’s famed Croisette, where most of the festival’s hurly-burly takes place.

But it’s always special when Bill Murray shows up — probably because he says yes so rarely to the myriad filmmakers who approach him for their movies. He was in Cannes on Wednesday for the world premiere of “Moonrise Kingdom,” a precocious coming-of-age love story that launched the festival and marked Murray’s sixth collaboration with Wes Anderson.

“It’s an honor to be asked back,” Murray said of Anderson’s continued use of his services. He was speaking at a packed news conference after a morning screening of the film, which received warm if not rapturous applause when it ended. (“Moonrise Kingdom” opens in theaters June 1.)

“I guess we’ve proven to each other that we’re going to work hard,” Murray continued, explaining why he and Anderson have chemistry (Murray is a notorious naysayer when it comes to accepting scripts). “These are what we call ‘art films.’ I don’t know if you know what those are. They’re films where you work very, very long hours for no money. That’s all we get, is this trip to Cannes. There’s no money involved. . . . But fortunately, we’ve saved from other jobs we’ve worked on so we can work with Wes over and over again.”

Like Murray’s low-key humor, “Moonrise Kingdom” launched Cannes on a whiff of fresh air — much like the cool, bracing breeze that is keeping the season’s often torrid heat at bay. Not quite humming at full throttle, the festival was quiet on its first day; apparently Anderson doesn’t pack the cross-cultural throw-weight of Woody Allen, who sent French fans into a swoon last year with his festival curtain-raiser “Midnight in Paris.”

It’s early, but a sense of cautious optimism pervades the festival, which is not just about celebrating and showing film in its most pristine form (among the copious pleasures of the festival are its punctilious attention to sound and projection), but about buying and selling products we call the movies.

Last year, the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — earned their bones at the Marche du Film, the trade show that buzzes one floor below the film premieres. The Hollywood Reporter has predicted that the trend will continue this year, with foreign buyers stepping up to the plate for mid-budget dramas while Hollywood goes about the business of making billion-dollar blockbusters (or trolling Poverty Row for likely breakout hits). Drawn by such successes as “Hunger Games” — which has garnered huge revenue for its independent distributors — those same companies are in the mood to buy, says the word on the street.

Still, recent cataclysms and political changes in Europe have made any and all financial prognostications shaky at best. Money is such a preoccupation that the director James Toback and Alec Baldwin have come to Cannes to make a movie about raising money for a movie. That meta-level exercise is called “Seduced and Abandoned,” and it will take Toback and Baldwin to the yachts, parties and hotel lobbies where the Cannes deals of legend and lore have gone down.

It remains to be seen whether Valerie Trierweiler, the romantic partner of France’s new president, Francois Hollande, will ever make a film debut on a par with Carla Bruni, who appeared to fetching effect in “Midnight in Paris.” (Hollande delivered his first presidential speech the day before Cannes opened.) It also remains to be seen whether this year’s festival proves to be as profitable a jumping-off point as it was for “Midnight in Paris,” which went on to become Allen’s most successful film, as was “The Tree of Life” for director Terrence Malick.

As Allen and Malick will tell you, Cannes adores its auteurs. And this year’s list of 22 competitors confirms it: Several of those filmmakers are Cannes alums, and many of them have already won the Palme d’Or, including Michael Haneke, Abbas Kiarostami, Cristian Mungiu and Ken Loach. Also in this year’s lineup: Jacques Audiard, Yousry Nasrallah, Matteo Garrone, John Hillcoat, Andrew Dominik and Jeff Nichols — fine filmmakers all, but also indicative that Cannes has returned to hidebound form in believing that the heroic auteurs they worship only come in one gender.

The male-only lineup comes as a particular blow, given last year’s strong showing by female directors, but Cannes can at least boast a first in that department: Haifaa al Mansour — Saudi Arabia’s first female movie director — is bringing her film “Wadjda” to the market here, another first for that country.

Meanwhile, distributors are trolling screenings in the hopes of finding a movie that’s both old and new, charming and wistful, highbrow in its values and references, but pure catnip to audiences. Something like . . . “The Artist," which Harvey Weinstein bought at Cannes last year and ushered through a spectacular art-house and awards-season run, culiminating in a best picture Oscar. “Is Matthias Schoenaerts this year’s Jean Dujardin?” read one trade headline on Tuesday. If you’re saying “Matthias who?” just ask Mr. Dujardin what a difference a year can make.

Ann Hornaday is The Post's movie critic.
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