Asian tragedies bring sombre note to Cannes glitz

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Natural disasters in China and Myanmar invade the world of movies on the opening night of the Cannes film festival.

15 May 2008

CANNES - The tragedies of the real world - the quake that rocked China and the cyclone that devastated Myanmar - invaded the fantasy world of movies as the Cannes film festival moved into top gear Thursday.

The red-carpet gala opening was as star-studded as ever but despite the glitz, the party got off to a sombre start with a nightmarish parable of the apocalypse. 

"Blindness," a Brazilian movie in which the government of an unnamed country locks up and then abandons citizens afflicted by a blinding plague, opened the 12-day bonanza whose centrepiece will be the long-awaited return of "Indiana Jones".

The Latin American film is "a metaphor that applies to any official neglect," said its scriptwriter Don McKellar.

There were obvious parallels between the story, starring Julianne Moore, and the reaction to disasters such as the cyclone in Myanmar, where the junta is blocking foreign aid offered to help survivors of the cyclone that killed tens of thousands, said director Fernando Meirelles. 

The earthquake that struck this week in China leaving more than 40,000 dead, missing or buried under rubble was also felt in Cannes.

"24 City," a movie by China's Jia Zhangke set in Chengdu city in the quake-hit province, is among the 22 films in the running for the coveted Palme d'Or top prize.

Sean Penn, the US actor and director heading the jury that will decide on the prize, said events like the earthquake and the Myanmar cyclone showed the inefficiency of government responses to such disasters.

"When these things happen, all these governments, and I include mine, their control over people ... their keeping people from getting help when they need it, they've got to be pushed out of the way by people," he told reporters.

Politics looked set to intrude on the festival again on Thursday, with an offering from Israel's Ari Folman. His "Waltz With Bashir" is an animated documentary on the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 Beirut massacres by members of an Israeli-backed Christian militia.

But the movie guaranteed to hog the limelight Thursday is the animated "Kung Fu Panda" from Dreamworks.

Jack Black, who voices the slacker bear who takes up martial arts to fight evil oppressors, set the tone Wednesday when he boated in to Cannes beach to be greeted by dozens of giant pandas in a promotional stunt.

The star act of the 12-day film bonanza - the world's top cinema showcase - was however set to be Sunday's world premiere of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull".

Steven Spielberg has given little away about the movie, which is not in the official competition. But fans who have waited 19 years for this latest instalment can expect swash-buckling galore from the intrepid archaeologist played by Harrison Ford.

Two other Hollywood heavyweights due on the French Riviera are Clint Eastwood and Steven Soderbergh.

Eastwood is hoping for the Palme with his child-abduction drama "Changeling" starring Angelina Jolie.

Soderbergh is rivalling him with a four-hour two-part epic on the world's best-loved revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, portrayed by Benicio Del Toro.

Also competing for the Palme are previous winners, Canada's Atom Egoyan with "Adoration," Germany's Wim Wenders with "The Palermo Shooting" and Belgium's Dardenne brothers with "The Silence of Lorna."

Sporting giants Diego Maradona and Mike Tyson were also set to join the jet set on the Riviera.

Serbian director Emir Kusturica is showing a documentary about the Argentinian footballer who once knocked England out of the World Cup with a little help from his hand, while US heavyweight boxer Tyson is the subject of another documentary.

A-list stars due to attend the fest include Will Smith, Dustin Hoffman, Madonna, Woody Allen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bruce Willis, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem.

[AFP / Expatica]

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