Cannes 2010 poised to honour low-key moral tales
Quiet films by Britain's Mike Leigh and France's Xavier Beauvois were the hot favourites for red-carpet glory at Cannes on Sunday as the curtain falls on the movie world's biggest festival.
Their low-key dramas of life and faith were the highest rated by critics among the films vying for the coveted Palme d'Or award this year, which were largely set against backdrops of war, financial crisis and fundamentalism.
The 12-day festival was unusually short on sex, scandal, and wheeling-and-dealing -- the last in part due to fallout from the economic crisis and travel mayhem from a volcanic ash cloud.
Some 25,000 film types made it anyway to the seaside town, whose population swells threefold to 200,000 for the yearly movie shindig with its planeloads of A-listers and frenzy of partying.
In the countdown to the gala finale, director Tim Burton and his jury -- including actors Benicio Del Toro and Kate Beckinsale and directors Shekhar Kapur and Victor Erice -- retired to a sumptuous villa in the hills to pick a winner for the Palme d'Or, the top prize.
The glitzy evening awards ceremony is to be presided by British actress Kristin Scott Thomas.
Front-runner Leigh's "Another Year" unspools a year in the life of an ordinary, happily married British couple in their 60s.
Little-known French director Beauvois shook audiences with "Of Gods And Men", based on the true story of Catholic monks trapped in Algeria's Islamist violence.
Families, faith and moral issues took centre stage in many of the 19 movies competing for the Palme, which last year went to the German film "The White Ribbon" by Michael Haneke.
War and unrest also featured, with two directors, including Beauvois, bringing France's troubled colonial past in Algeria to Cannes, a sensitive issue rarely faced on film in France.
Squads of riot police had to be rushed into the Riviera city to hold off protestors when the first ever big-budget movie on the subject, "Outside of The Law" by Rachid Bouchareb, premiered at the festival.
Chad's relentless desert conflict and life in Russia's World War II trenches also haunted the screens, while Kevin Loach -- one of three past Palme winners up for a second try -- and US film-maker Doug Liman brought the Iraq war to Cannes.
Starring in Liman's movie was Naomi Watts, lining up for best actress along with Lesley Manville -- who plays an unhappy single boozer in Leigh's movie -- France's Juliette Binoche, and Korean stars Yun Junghee, Youn Yuhjung and Jeon Do-youn.
Fashion houses aiming to parade their wares on the red carpet lamented the few big female stars in this year's line-up of films -- heavily dominated by stories of men.
Father-and-son tales along with marital strain and family dramas dominated the themes on screen, in movies by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, Mexican Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, China's Wang Xiaoshuai and Korea's Im Sang-soo and Lee Chang-dong.
After a heavily erotic selection of movies last year, there was little on-screen sex -- and what there was included weird scenes such as watery sex between a cat fish and a princess by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakal.
Javier Bardem led the potential best actor field for his role as a dying father and fixer for illegal immigrants and Chinese traders in a sleazy corner of the Spanish city of Barcelona in "Biutiful" by Inarritu.
Bardem joined A-listers Russell Crowe, Michael Douglas, Aishwarya Rai, Fan Bingbing and Eva Longoria sashaying up Cannes' fabled red carpet, while posh hotels hosted parties for the rich, the famous and the freeloading.
But unusually chilly weather, tight cash and travel disruption caused by Iceland's volcano kept the festival and its business deals low-key.
"It's a bad situation," said actor Michael Douglas, commenting on the financial strains affecting independent movie-makers. "It's not a good sign for the future."
Critics said the Cannes 2010 festival might not go down as a vintage film year.
"But it's still the top festival in the world even if this is not a top year," said Xan Brooks, a film writer for Britain's Guardian newspaper.
© 2010 AFP