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Jessica Simpson: Blonde, Army-Bound

Jessica Simpson | Cannes' Sleeper Hit

Jessica Simpson: Blonde, Army-Bound

Jessica Simpson’s dad, Joe Simpson, is a smart guy. He’s taken a page out of Goldie Hawn’s old playbook and put singer-daughter Jessica into a “Private Benjamin” for 2007.

That was the word from Joe on Saturday night at Vanity Fair’s annual affair at the very, very, very expensive and posh Hotel du Cap in Antibes.

“Major Movie Star” is all about a blond bombshell ingénue who winds up in the U.S. Army. Hilarity ensues, hopefully, since Jessica has gone blonde again for the role.

Shooting begins in June, and both father and daughter are reasonably excited about the new role.

But that’s also because Jessica won’t be making any new albums for a while. She tells me that she’s concentrating on her movie career, for better or worse, and won’t be making any new recordings until her heart is in it.

“It’s very hard to be singing big ballads about love when your heart is broken,” she said.

The statement seemed to harken back to her marriage and divorce with Nick Lachey, notable more for its reality TV show jokes than anything else. It wasn’t necessarily about singer-songwriter John Mayer, with whom she’s been singing “Break Up to Make Up."

Indeed, Jessica was on her way to New York, she told me on Saturday night. “I have a date,” she said, with much obvious glee.

On her last album, Simpson got a lot of raspberries blown in her direction for trying dance music like “You Spin Me Round.” She tells me: “I did that material because I didn’t want my fans to think I was sad. But I was, and I’m going to wait until things are right.”

“Major Movie Star” is the second of three cinematic efforts Jessica’s got cooking right now. The first, “Blonde Ambition,” is done, although she will be recording a track for the end credits. She’ll do the same for “Major Movie Star.” And then, at 26, the world is her oyster. That is, if the tabloids will just leave her alone.

But Simpson and sister Ashlee are among the clique of celebrities who’ve found a weekly home in the glossies whether they like it or not. It must be a very weird existence, I said. Don’t you have to put up a wall and not think about it?

“It’s hard,” she replied. “You have no idea.”

Meanwhile, Jessica also told me she’s gotten a lot of positive reinforcement from another singer who’s been through the mill and come out the other side a success: Mariah Carey. “She’s amazing,” Jessica said.

And why is Jessica Simpson at the Cannes Film Festival? Here’s a better question: Why is anyone here?

The actual festival is very small, and includes a handful of films. But the real business of Cannes is to sell films, good or bad, commercial or arty, in a “market” that goes on separate from the festival. Everyone from Don Johnson to Pam Anderson to Sarah Jessica Parker is in films here, and there are gems of all kinds.

Don Johnson, by the way, was one of the many eclectic guests at that Vanity Fair party. Also spotted: U2’s Bono, who had to leave so he and the group could knock out a couple of tunes live on the red carpet at the Palais at 12:40 a.m., plus Kyle MacLachlan of "Desperate Housewives," singer James Blunt, Mischa Barton, Josh Brolin — accepting congrats on his star turn in the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” Saffron Burrows, Kelly Lynch and Mitch Glazer, designer Roberto Cavalli, director Alfonso Cuaron, the aforementioned Coens, Faye Dunaway, Leo DiCaprio, Minnie Driver, Toni Collette, Diane von Furstenberg, Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, Brett Ratner, Kid Rock, Mickey Rourke, Kerry Washington and Harvey Weinstein, who’s having a great Cannes with Michael Moore’s “Sicko.”

And what of Michael Moore? On Tuesday night he held court at the terrace restaurant of the Majestic Hotel, where rather nice security guards didn’t know how to handle all the fans who wanted to talk to him.

Moore is the toast of Cannes; “Sicko” is a homerun even if it’s not in competition. If it were, it would likely win the Palm D’Or.

As it is, Moore is also planning a DVD release in December of his “Fahrenheit 2.0,” a continuation of “Fahrenheit 9/11. ” We’re going to be seeing a lot of him, or maybe not: “I’m still dieting,” he said, “eating all the right things.”

Cannes' Sleeper Hit, by a New York Painter

The sleeper hit of this festival is a category with many nominees including Anton Corbijn’s “Control,” and now Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” based on a memoir by the later French Elle magazine editor Jean Dominique Bauby.

The Schnabel film is also notable for being the one film everyone wants to distribute. Fox Searchlight, Focus and The Weinstein Company are among those in the mix. And there’s good reason. “Diving Bell” is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Back in 1996, Bauby had massive stroke. He was only 42. The stroke was rare in that it caused a “lock down.” He couldn’t move or speak, so he learned to communicate by blinking one eye (the other was so ineffective that it was sewn shut).

This may sound like a maudlin Lifetime movie, but it's far from it: Schnabel, a sort of living legend in the art world, transcends the genre in every way imaginable. He’s re-envisioned Bauby’s life and his predicament with the help of screenwriter Ronald Harwood and cinematographer Janus Kaminski. As he did with “Basquiat” and “Before Night Falls,” Schnabel has made a work of art that is sure to captivate audiences.

He is helped of course by his star, French actor Matthieu Almaric. Almaric reminds me a little of American TV actor Robert Walden crossed with Roman Polanski. He has these huge eyes and a shock of brown hair that make him seem almost bird like.

Almaric made a huge impression in “Munich” and has another film here, “The Human Question,” as well. In France he’s a well-known director and actor. But with this film, Almaric — who’s 43 himself — should become an overnight sensation in the U.S.