Cannes judges face choice of arthouse, war films
Cannes geared up for its red carpet finale to pick a winner from a crop of arthouse drama and big-budget war films after a 12-day festival subdued by bad weather and an Icelandic volcano.
"Alice in Wonderland" director Tim Burton and his jury hand out the Palme d'Or Sunday to one of 19 films from directors such as Britain's Mike Leigh, Iran's Abbas Kiarostami and Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
The Palme is the serious side of a festival that likes to leaven high-brow fare with Hollywood glitz -- which this year came from world premieres of Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" and Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" sequel.
The festival palace saw stars Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts, Juliette Binoche and Michaal Douglas sashay up its fabled red carpet, while Cannes' posh hotels hosted countless parties for the rich, the famous, and the freeloading.
But rain and chilly evenings, as well as travel disruption thanks to Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano, meant the 63rd edition of the 12-day festival was decidedly more low-key than usual.
And critics said Cannes 2010 festival might not go down as a vintage 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 paper, who tipped Leigh and French director Xavier Beauvois as top contenders for the Palme.
Leigh's "Another Year" looks undramatic on paper: a year in the life of a happily married, middle-class couple, played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, who have not-so-happy boozy friends.
But Leigh insisted during his trip to Cannes that the slow-burning family dramas which made his name are about finding the fascination in people's so-called "ordinary" or "boring" lives.
The British director faces stiff competition from his compatriot Ken Loach's "Route Irish" Iraq war drama, which probes the murky world of private security contractors in the war-torn country.
War was a recurrent theme in this year's festival, with Sean Penn and Watts starring in "Fair Game," the true tale of a CIA agent betrayed by the Bush administration filmed by "The Bourne Identity" director Doug Liman.
It tells how the glamorous spy Valerie Plame was stitched up by a vengeful White House after her diplomat husband publicly denounced its claims that Iraq leader Saddam Hussein was working on weapons of mass destruction.
World War II came to Cannes with "Burnt by the Sun 2" by Russia's Nikita Mikhalkov, who has delivered a 40-million dollar budget film about the Nazi invasion of Russia, with Mikhalkov himself playing a purged Red Army general.
And a film about Algeria's bitter struggle for independence from France, Rachid Bouchareb's "Outside The Law," sparked protests here by hundreds of far-right and other demonstrators who accused it of distorting history.
Riot police with batons and shields lined up outside the festival hall on Friday to make sure protestors were kept back.
France's thorny relations with its former colony came up again in Xavier Beauvois's "Of Gods and Men," a tale of Catholic monks caught up in Islamist violence in Algeria.
Critics said Kiarostami was also a strong contender, with "Certified Copy" starring Juliette Binoche in the Iranian director's first film shot in Europe.
Asia has a strong showing in the race for the Palme, with two entries from South Korea -- "Poetry" by Lee Chang-dong and Im Sang-soo's "The Housemaid" -- and with China, Japan and Thailand also represented.
And Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's "A Screaming Man" was the first African film made south of the Sahara to be selected in 13 years to compete for the prize.
The festival's big no-show was film legend Jean-Luc Godard who blamed mysterious "problems of a Greek type" for keeping him away from the premiere of his latest movie "Film Socialism."
© 2010 AFP