Cannes rolls out vintage year in films
Cannes - If there are a few folorn-looking souls strolling along the Croisette, Cannes' beach-front boulevard, this weekend, it will be because a vintage year for the city's film festival has come to an end.
Indeed, the 62nd festival wraps on Sunday with the awarding of Cannes' iconic Palme d'Or after 12 days and a host of strong works by some of the world's best film artists, making it very difficult to call which film might emerge as the victor.
The horror quota was certainly filled this year, with genital mutilation, scalped Nazis, a bird skewered on scissors, as well as a harrowing razor-blade murder and a priest-turned-vampire in a story told with large amounts of free-flowing blood.
But whether one looks at the horror-terror genre, the big batch of social commentaries or the cluster of feel-good films, almost all of the movies rolled out in the festival's main competition this year have turned up trumps.
A strong Cannes came despite the general impression that the last 12 months or more had not been too kind to cinema , with the business taking a beating from the global economic crisis and concerns about movie quality.
"It is always the dream to open in Cannes," said US director Quentin Tarantino, who was there to mark the premiere of his latest film Inglourious Basterds, a wartime drama about a brigade of Jewish-American soldiers seeking revenge on Nazis.
"To me there is nothing like Cannes for filmmakers," he said. "During this time on the Riviera, cinema matters."
Fireworks went off in Cannes essentially from day one with 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 top honours in Cannes this year, 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.
But film festival juries are notoriously difficult to predict and a couple of films have been screened in the last few days that have also emerged as leading contenders.
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.
Films screened outside the main competition have also impressed, including Israeli Haim Tabakman's stirring tale of forbidden gay love in Einaym Pkuhot (Eyes Wide Open), starring Israeli heartthrob Ran Danker.
From Romania came Corneliu Porumboiu's Politist, Adjective (Police, Adjective) about a police officer tracking down a teenage drug gang.
While Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds was billed as starring Hollywood leading man Brad Pitt, it was the movie's group of Austrian and German actors who stole the show from a rather one-dimensional Pitt, including Christoph Waltz and Daniel Bruehl.
But at least 45-year-old Pitt was able to scotch those nasty rumours about a crisis in his relationship with Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie. The couple's dazzling appearance on Cannes' famed red carpet helped ramp up the festival's glamour voltage.
There is also likely to be some stiff competition in Cannes for the top acting award.
French newcomer Tahar Rahim turned in a commanding performance as the young illiterate man 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 as the isolated teenager in Arnold's Fish Tank.
Living in a cheerless council housing, her character's rocky family life is pushed further off balance by the arrival off her mother's new boyfriend.
But the films shown in Cannes this year have in almost all cases been based on compelling stories.
This includes A L'Origine (In the Beginning), the real-life story of a small-time criminal who manages to dupe a French town hit by high unemployment into believing that he is a construction company executive who can deliver them a future.
And there was British director Ken Loach's tribute to the people's sport of football in Looking for Eric, in which a postman turns to his football idol Eric Cantona for tips on life.