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'Dictator' At Cannes: Sacha Baron Cohen Rides Camel As Prestigious Film Festival Begins

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CANNES, France — Wes Anderson opened the 65th Cannes Film Festival with his meticulously composed ode to young love, "Moonrise Kingdom," while less mannered theatrics surrounded the annual French Riviera extravaganza.

Anderson and his star-studded cast declared the festival officially begun at the opening ceremony Wednesday night shortly after striding down the absurdly glamorous Cannes red carpet, a seaside gauntlet of tuxedos and photographers. The premiere announced the start of 12 days of the most selective festival slate in cinema, with eagerly anticipated films to follow from many of the world's most esteemed directors.

That is, when a camel isn't running amok.

Sideshows are as much a part of Cannes as the main events, a tradition kicked off this year by Sacha Baron Cohen. The comedian again promoted his upcoming film, "The Dictator," with a stunt, this time taking a humped mammal on a stroll down the Croisette, Cannes' famous promenade.

The more dignified, black-tie-only opening ceremony was hosted by Berenice Bejo, who starred in one of the hits of last year's Cannes, "The Artist" – which went on to win the best picture Academy Award. In attendance, along with the cast of "Moonrise Kingdom," were Jane Fonda, Eva Longoria, Lana Del Rey and Alec Baldwin, who gallantly carried his fiance, Hilaria Thomas, up the many stairs of the Palais.

While Cannes' 65th anniversary – marked by festival posters of Marilyn Monroe – suggests maturity, "Moonrise Kingdom" began things on a childlike note.

The film is about two preteens (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) in love and running away together on a remote New England island in a 1965, Norman Rockwell-esque America. Stamped with Anderson's trademark visual style to almost the degree of his animated "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," the movie is seen mostly from the point of view of the kids.

The adults in the film – a combination of Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman with newcomers such as Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton – are more cynical and react in different ways to the purity of the children's gambit.

"These are what you call art films," Murray deadpanned at the film's press conference. "All we get is a trip to Cannes."

"Moonrise Kingdom," Anderson's first film at Cannes, was received well and found largely positive reviews – a thoroughly Wes Anderson film, it was roundly decided – starting the festival off with a congenial vibe.

Murray was happy to tweak the entry of the action star Willis to Anderson's familial troupe of players.

"We could have gotten the Muscles from Brussels, but it wouldn't have been the same," said Murray, alluding to Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Earlier, Baron Cohen appeared in character as Admiral General Aladeen at a news conference outside his hotel. A camel was brought to him, which he then mounted with some trouble and rode down the row of boutique stores to apparently take in some shopping.

As he slowly made his way down the street, Baron Cohen was mobbed by dozens of photographers, bringing traffic to a halt and drawing the curiosity of police. After a short stroll, Baron Cohen turned around and returned to the hotel.

Such a stunt, while certainly unique, isn't uncommon at Cannes, where movies often go to extremes to catch the world media's attention. Billboards of films due out this year are plastered around town and many others are being screened out of competition.

DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures have consistently used the festival to hype projects in the works, and did so again Wednesday with a presentation of "The Rise of the Guardians," an animated family film for this year's holiday movie season.

It gathers slightly different versions of mythic childhood characters – including Santa Claus (Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) – in an "Avengers"-like league of world protection.

Baldwin, never one to bite his tongue, showed no interest in sugarcoating the truth for younger audiences: "Fairy Tooth is a club in lower Manhattan," he declared.

A jury of nine will sift through the 22 in-competition entries – which include Walter Salles' "On the Road," David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" and Michael Haneke's "Amour" – to decide the festival's top award, the prestigious Palme d'Or.

This year's jury is presided over by Nanni Moretti, who won the festival's top prize in 2006 for "The Son's Room," and includes actors Ewan McGregor and Diane Kruger, directors Alexander Payne and Raoul Peck, and fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.

At Cannes, the psychology of the jurors is analyzed like tea leaves for hints of what kind of material they might respond best to. Moretti lamented the feverish scrutiny of the jury, saying he preferred when jury meetings were as secret as the thoughts of the conclave of cardinals who choose Roman Catholic popes – the subject of Moretti's most recent film, "Habemus Papam."

"There were two remaining taboos in the world: the silence after the awards and the conclave," Moretti said. "Now it's just the conclave."

Any puffs of white smoke at Cannes, though, are more likely to be the result of mischief from Baron Cohen than peaceful deliberation.

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Associated Press Writer Jill Lawless contributed to this report.

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Follow Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle

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