Cannes 2010: low-key moral tales for troubled world

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The curtain comes down on Cannes 2010 offering red-carpet glory Sunday to a slate of movies carrying messages of faith and morality in a world hit by war, financial crisis and fundamentalism.

The 12-day festival, the film world's biggest annual event, 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.

Hot favourites for the film festival's Palme d'Or prize, to be announced by "Alice in Wonderland" director Tim Burton at Sunday's gala red-carpet finale, are quiet, understated tales from Britain and France.

Mike Leigh's "Another Year" unspools a year in the life of an ordinary, happily married British couple in their 60s.

And other tipped winner, little-known French director Xavier Beauvois, shook audiences with "Of Gods And Men", on the moral dilemna faced by Catholic monks trapped in Algeria's Islamist violence, who eventually are beheaded.

That movie was one of two contenders for the Palme -- in all 19 films are in competition for the award -- to highlight France's troubled colonial past in the North African country, a sensitive issue rarely faced on film.

Squads of riot police had to be rushed into the Riviera city to hold off protestors when France's first big budget movie on the subject, "Outside The Law" by Rachid Bouchareb, premiered at the festival Friday.

Chad's relentless desert conflict and life in Russia's World War II trenches also haunted screens, while directors 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 and Youn Yuhjung.

Fashion houses in Cannes to strut their stuff 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 played out 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 heavy erotic selection of movies last year, there was little on-screen sex and what there was was weird, including an underwater scene between a cat fish and a princess thanks to Thai arthouse director Apichatpong Weerasethakal.

Javier Bardem led the Best Actor field for his role as 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, Michaal 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 thanks to Iceland's volcano kept the festival low-key.

"It's a bad situation," said Hollywood's Michael Douglas of independent movies. "It's not a good sign for the future."

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.

© 2010 AFP

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