Cannes movie marathon ends as top honours unveiled

Cannes movie marathon ends as top honours unveiledCannes, FranceĀ  - The Cannes Film Festival ends Sunday with no clear favourite having emerged in the race for top honours in what has been vintage year for the world's leading movie showcase.

Indeed, as the countdown to the jury's announcement at a lavish award ceremony gets underway, a slew of movies have emerged as leading contenders for the festival's coveted Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) for 2009 with few willing to lay beats on the victor.

To be the sure, the 62nd Cannes Film Festival appeared to need virtually no time to gain traction with a batch of impressive candidates entering the race for the festival's iconic awards from day one.

This includes France's Jacques Audiard's gripping account of the brutal prison education handed out to a young French Arab in Un Prophete (A Prophet), and Britain's Andrea Arnold's tale of a young teenager's desolate life in Fish Tank.

New Zealand-born Jane Campion won early praise for her new movie Bright Star, about a love match in the brief life of British Romantic poet John Keats.

At least among film critics, all three have emerged as favourites in the 20-film race to win this year's Palme d'Or with Bright Star coming 16 years after Campion became the first woman director to win the Palme d'Or for The Piano.

Success for Audiard's Un Prophete would mark the second consecutive year that France has walked way with the coveted prize, after Laurent Cantet's win with Entre Les Murs (The Class) in 2008.

The very strong field of candidates also comes despite the impact of the global recession on the motion picture business, which has tended to take a little bit of the steam out of the glitz and glamour out of the 12-day movie marathon in Cannes.

But film festival juries are notoriously difficult to predict and a couple of films have been screened in the runup to the end of the festival that have meant a tight race has now emerged for the festival's prestigious awards.

This includes Vincere, from veteran Italian director Marco Bellocchio about the tragic story of Ida Dalster, the first wife of Benito Mussolini, who was later airbrushed out of the official accounts of his life.

Cannes stalwart Pedro Almodovar's Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) also garnered critical acclaim. The Spanish director tells the story about a man's struggle after he is blinded and the love of his life is killed in a road accident.

Others are putting their money on Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon), Austrian director Michael Haneke's austere and chilling new film about rural Germany in the buildup to World War One which points to the rise of European fascism.

While US director Quenton Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds was billed as starring Hollywood leading man Brad Pitt, it was the movie's group of Austrian and German actors such as Christoph Waltz and Daniel Bruehl, who stole the show from a rather one-dimensional Pitt.

This also means that there has been a stiff competition in Cannes this year for the top acting award.

French newcomer Tahar Rahim turned in a commanding performance as the young illiterate Muslim who learns the lessons of life in prison in Audiard's Un Prophete.

At the same time, Katie Jarvis has won accolades for her role in Arnold's Fish Tank as an isolated teenager living in a cheerless council housing, whose rocky family life is pushed further off balance by the arrival of her mother's new boyfriend. (dpa)