Cannes marks 60 years as the world’s leading film festival


Cannes (France) : For 12 days this month the world movie business will decamp to Cannes, turning the Cote d'Azur town and its famous beachfront into the backdrop for what will be the 60th birthday of the world's most prestigious film festival.

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To help mark the anniversary, Cannes has unveiled a programme that in a sense pays tribute to some of the leading figures from the festival's recent past including Hong Kong's Wong Kar-wai, Serb-based Emir Kusturica as well as Americans Quentin Tarantino, Michael Moore and the Coen brothers.

"For the anniversary, we chose to mix heritage with modernity, well-known names and new blood," president festival Giles Jacob said, unveiling the list of movies to be shown in Cannes.

Indeed, this year's festival will also help mark the resurgence of moviemaking in different parts of the world, including Romania, Japan, Israel, Hungary and Korea.

But instead of staging a lavish party, Cannes is planning to celebrate this year's anniversary with a mini festival of 33 short films about going to the cinema by leading directors such as Roman Polanski, Ken Loach, Lars Von Trier, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu and Tsai Ming Liang.

Of the 1,600 movies considered for this year's festival, 64 feature films are to be screened across the festival's main sections. Of these, 22 have been selected to compete for the festival's prestigious Palme d'Or or Golden Palm.

Unlike Venice, which is held as autumn arrives, or Berlin, which is mounted during the ice and gloom of winter, Cannes celebrates moviemaking just as summer dawns on the French Riviera – complete with yachts bobbing on a glistening Mediterranean and a dazzling round of social events.

But with only a week to go before opening night for this year's festival the competition for top honours in Cannes still appears somewhat open.

Indeed, the nine-member jury headed by British director Stephen Frears will find themselves attempting to select a winner from a batch of movies that to a large extent depict life's harder edge.

But then film festivals' juries tend to like movies that have something to say about the state of the world.

However, if countries such as Italy and Britain are somewhat peeved about not scoring a prominent berth at this year's movie extravaganza on the Cote d'Azur, Hollywood is likely to feel fired up with four entries in the festival's main competition.

As well, the US is also sending "Ocean's Thirteen", the latest in Steven Soderbergh's series on a slick group of crooks, and Michael Moore's new documentary, "Sicko", about the horrors of the US health service, to Cannes as non-competition entries.

"Ocean's Thirteen" will also bring with it a touch of Hollywood glamour to Cannes with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta Jones, Matt Damon and Al Pacino all expected to turn up for a gala screening of the film.

But tinsel-town has recently had a somewhat uneasy relationship with Cannes. This seemed to come to a head at last year's festival with the less-than-warm reception both "The Da Vinci Code" and Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" received at their screenings.

This year, however, critics have already tagged Gus van Sant's "Paranoid Park", a grim coming-of-age tale about a skateboard rider, as a favourite for the Palme d'Or. Van Sant also won the Palme in 2003 with "Elephant".

Others mentioned as possible candidates for the top honours so far are Bosnian-born Emir Kusturica for his somewhat offbeat "Promise Me". A Palme d'Or this year for Belgrade-based Kusturica would make him a third-time winner at Cannes.

A black and white animated film set in post-revolutionary Iran and Tehilim, about a Jewish family in Jerusalem coming to terms with the father's mysterious disappearance, have also been circled by critics as films to watch out for.

Asia's hopes of a strong showing in Cannes this year were dashed with no movies in the running for the Palme d'Or from mainland China.

That said, however, in the running for the top prize are Japanese director Naomi Kawase's Mogari no mori ("The Mourning Forest") and films from two leading South Korean directors – Lee Chang-Dong's "Secret Sunshine" and Kim Ki-duk's "Breath".

Moreover, Wong Kar Wai's "My Blueberry Nights", which is the Hong Kong director's first jab at making an English-language film, has been given the honours of opening the festival.

But Eastern European filmmakers are also likely to find themselves firmly in the spotlight at Cannes this year with two Russian films competing for the Palme d' Or and Hungary making its first appearance in the festival's main competition for almost two decades with Bela Tarr's "The Man From London".

Just months after Romania joined the European Union, Bucharest-based Cristian Mungiu will be representing his country in the main competition with his "4 Luni, 3 Saptamini si 2 Zile" (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), which is set during the dark days of Nicolae Ceaucescu's reign.