Woody Allen CannesDirector Woody Allen and stars from his new film, Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Adrien Brody will hold center stage tonight (May 11) as Allen’s film, “Midnight in Paris,” opens the Cannes Film Festival.

Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Dustin Hoffman, Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, are also among stars who are on hand ahead of tonight’s opening in one of the most star-studded festivals in recent years.

De Niro is a major spark for this year’s interest in the festival. He’s heading the jury that will award prizes among the 20 films in the Cannes main competition, which will screen over 11 days of red carpets, press interviews and heavy partying.

Law, Uma Thurman, Argentine actress Martina Gusman, French filmmaker Olivier Assayas and Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To will make up the jury this year.

First up is Allen’s romantic comedy starring Wilson as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter and halting novelist who falls in love with the romantic vision of 1920’s Paris, when Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald made it an intellectual and literary capital.

He takes a series of mystical midnight strolls through the city and encounters his idols, who guide him on his quest to find his place in life.

“I wanted to show the city emotionally, the way I felt about it,” Allen told reporters. “It didn’t matter to me how real it was or what it reflected. I just wanted it to be the way I saw Paris. Paris through my eyes.”

The movie should have a particular interest to the French. Their first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, has a cameo role in the film.

She plays a guide at the Rodin museum and helps Wilson’s character translate a French diary that opens the door into the past lives of his idols.

Allen said he met Bruni when he was invited to have breakfast with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and asked her on the spot to join his cast in a minor role.

“She said I would like to be in one of your movies because I would like to tell my grandchildren some day that I was in the movie,” Allen said. “She came in and did her part very gracefully … and she played that character perfectly.”

Studios are returning en masse to the festival after avoiding the notoriously costly trip to France due to the financial crisis over the past couple of years, according to Reuters.