Cannes revs up for glitzy awards night

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Fans massed for the celebrity finale of the Cannes film festival on Sunday, with Spanish actor Javier Bardem and French director Xavier Beauvois seen as front-runners for the big prizes.

Crowds swelled around the red-carpeted steps of the waterfront festival hall where US director Tim Burton and his jury were to award the Palme d'Or for best film plus awards for the best director, writer and actors.

British actress Kate Beckinsale, who has pleased the paparazzi by swanning into screenings in a range of fine dresses, was among the jury members and other celebrities due to cross the red carpet for Sunday's gala ceremony.

Among other red-carpet favourites this year were Naomi Watts and Bardem, hotly tipped by critics for a best actor award as the hero of "Biutiful" by Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Critics have widely pegged this year's edition of the world's biggest film festival as more low-key than usual, with fewer big stars and hit movies.

Travel disruption caused by volcanic ash over Europe at the start of the festival kept some visitors away while financial strains appeared to dampen activity.

But the main competition still drew some big names, including three former Palme winners: Britons Mike Leigh with "Another Year" and Ken Loach, with "Route Irish" and Iran's Abbas Kiarostami with "Certified Copy".

Kiarostami, regarded as one of the world's finest film-makers and who won the Palme in 1997 for "Taste of Cherry", returned this year with a mysterious love story set in Italy and starring French actress Juliette Binoche.

Five Asian works were competing on Sunday, including two South Korean films, "The Housemaid" by Im Sang-soo and "Poetry" by Lee Chang-dong.

"Poetry" dazzled hardened Cannes critics Wednesday and prompted talk of a best actress award for its lead, Yun Jung-hee -- a grande dame of Korean film.

Other Asian entries were "Chongqing Blues" by China's Wang Xiaoshuai, "Outrage" from Japanese master Takeshi Kitano, and the weird "Uncle Bonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

The 12-day festival has seen appearances by stars including Michael Douglas, star of the "Wall Street" sequel, and Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe from "Robin Hood", both screening out of competition.

Beckinsale, Burton and seven other jury members spent Sunday in a luxury villa outside town to decide the winners at the world's biggest film event.

The 10th jury member, Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi, was prevented from attending. He has been in jail in Tehran since March, accused by authorities of planning a film against the country's Islamic leaders.

The French government and the festival demanded Panahi's release and the film-maker himself spoke out against his detention in a letter to Cannes organisers.

Controversy also erupted over "Outside the Law", a violent thriller about Algeria's independence struggle which sparked rowdy demonstrations by protestors who accused director Rachid Bouchareb of rewriting history.

Posing for the cameras ahead of Sunday's ceremony was Charlotte Gainsbourg, who won the prize for best actress her last year for her role in Lars Von Trier's erotic shocker, "Antichrist".

The French actress was presenting the last film of this year's festival -- "The Tree", a Franco-Australian movie directed by Julie Bertuccelli which screens out of competition.

Last year the Palme went to Austrian director Michael Haneke for "The White Ribbon".

© 2010 AFP

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