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Glamor and glitz at Cannes but gloom and doom in films
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 14 - 05 - 2009

THE French Riviera shrugged off economic gloom Wednesday to reel in a bevy of auteur directors and megastars, from Quentin Tarantino to Brad Pitt, for its annual Cannes film festival frenzy.
The notoriously extravagant event has toned down the glitz for this year's crisis-era bash, but a galaxy of top-notch movie celebrities jettied in for the gala opening on the palm-fringed beachfront.
Tarantino's long-awaited war movie “Inglourious Basterds” is one of the 20 films vying for the Palme d'Or top prize at the film industry's biggest annual binge.
Cannes 2009, said movie magazine Variety, will see the festival's “biggest heavyweight auteur smackdown in recent years.” From “Brokeback Mountain” Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, to veteran “New Wave” icon Alain Resnais, at a ripe 86 back behind a camera, the world's grandest film-makers are competing to take home the coveted prize.
They include four previous Palme winners - Tarantino, Jane Campion, Lars Von Trier and Ken Loach - who will line up alongside Pedro Almodovar, Johnnie To, Marco Bellochio, Elia Suleiman, Lou Ye and Park Chan-wook.
Lee takes a humorous look at the 1960s Woodstock festival, Suleiman offers a Palestinian family saga, while in an out-of-competition movie, Anne Aghion's “My Neighbour, My Killer” recounts the chilling aftermath of the Rwanda genocide.
The late Heath Ledger's unfinished stint in Terry Gilliam's “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” being screened out of competition, is also gauranteed to create a buzz at the festival which ends May 24. The festival, which has become a showcase for respected but not necessarily commercial directors, is this year mostly sombre in theme, with war, fascism, gore and even vampire priests set to fill screens over the next 10 days.
But it kicked off on a light note Wednesday with a 3D animated movie for kids, Pixar's “Up,” also showing out of competition.
Set in the wilds of South America, the 150-million-dollar adventure is just the tip of the 3D iceberg as far as studio owner Disney is concerned, with a dozen big-budget 3D movies and six more with live-action 3D in the works.
3D, said Cannes festival president Thierry Fremaux, is “one of cinema's upcoming adventures.”
Star power and prestige have helped Cannes - which organisers say is the biggest global media event after the Olympic Games - limit the damage from the global economic slowdown compared to some other big industry events.
But belt-tightening is in the air, with industry players trimming back on champagne-fuelled parties and expensive extras, advertisers and local professionals said. The most high-profile sign of cost-cutting came when Vanity Fair magazine called off its exclusive party. And at the Cannes Market, the industry's biggest deal-making forum, executives are sounding a note of caution.
But the mega-yachts are still anchored in the bay and palaces along the seafront are booked out for A-listers like Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, and Jude Law.
In Paris fashion houses, Dior's John Galliano and Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld had scrambled to drape Charlize Theron, Eva Green, Asia Argento or Robin Wright Penn. The last two are part of the glammed-up 2009 jury headed by French star Isabelle Huppert that will award the prized Palme at the gala close of the festival.
The yearly filmfest rarely goes by without an outcry of sorts. This year - the 62nd edition - it might spring from a torrid tale of love by banned Chinese film-maker Lou Ye or an Iranian movie on the underground rap scene in Tehran.
And movie buffs and critics are keenly awaiting a new indie film by veteran Francis Ford Coppola, being screened on the sidelines after failing to be selected for the Palme. “We made a formal offer to Francis Coppola to present his film out-of-competition,” said Fremaux. “He declined because he wanted to be in the competition.”
Huppert replaces Sean Penn
as jury president
The Cannes Film Festival faced a problem this year - how to replace passionate, attention-grabbing actor Sean Penn as jury president? For starters, organizers recruited a 2009 jury that includes actress Robin Wright Penn, who is in the midst of divorcing the Academy Award-winning “Milk” star.
And as jury president, the festival opted for a French icon in Isabelle Huppert, who has starred in almost 100 films and twice won Cannes' best-actress prize.
“It was not easy to find someone after Sean Penn,” festival director Thierry Fremaux said Tuesday. “Sean was great as a president. We'll miss him this year.” Fremaux said he was confident Huppert would do a stellar job.
She is the first woman to head the jury since Liv Ullman in 2001. That year's jury awarded the festival's best actress prize to Huppert, for Michael Haneke's “The Piano Teacher.” “She is a very serious person, and she said that for her, being president of Cannes is like having a role in a film,” Fremaux said.
Jurors get the royal treatment at Cannes as they choose prize-winners among the films in competition. This year they'll be watching 20 films, including new works by Cannes favorites Quentin Tarantino, Lars von Trier, Ang Lee and Ken Loach.
Also included on this year's jury are edgy actor-director Asia Argento, American director James Gray, Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan and British novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi.
High hopes for British success
Three UK films are competing for the prestigious Palme d'Or, including Ken Loach's “Looking for Eric”, starring former Manchester United legend Eric Cantona.
They face stiff competition, as the official line-up of 20 films boasts some of the biggest names in arthouse cinema.
Legendary directors Pedro Almodovar from Spain, Lars von Trier of Denmark and Ang Lee from Taiwan all have films in the competition, along with Quentin Tarantino, who won the Palme d'Or in 1994 for “Pulp Fiction”.
“Bright Star”, a period drama about poet John Keats with a British cast and crew, and “Fish Tank”, a domestic drama starring Michael Fassbender, who won plaudits for his portrayal of hunger striker Bobby Sands in Hunger, complete the British contingent in the main competition.
In keeping with the gloomy economic mood, this year's festival has a distinctly frugal feel - many of the big parties have been scaled back or cancelled. Like Tarantino, Loach is aiming to join the extremely select group of double Palme winners, having scooped the award in 2006 for “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”.
Bollywood goes to Cannes
Guess who's walking the red carpet at Cannes alongside the likes of Hollywood beauties Penelope Cruz and Eva Longoria, and Bollywood's own Aishwarya Bachchan, as the face of a major international cosmetic giant?
Sonam Kapoor, that's who! She's excited, naturally, as any young actress would be on her first trip to France and that too for an assignment at the prestigious international film festival with such big names. “Being on the same platform as Aishwarya, for me, is a big deal in itself,” gushed Sonam. “I have always adored her but met her only once, during the “Delhi 6” premiere.”
Dad Anil Kapoor, who's been riding a high ever since “Slumdog Millionaire” swept the Oscars and Golden Globes, will join Sonam at Cannes. “Dad will be my date on the two nights that I'll be there,” the daughter giggled, “I will walk with him, it will be so beautiful.”
She's unperturbed by the fact that being on the red carpet will mean coming under the glare of the paparazzi and fashionistas at the French cinema capital. “I'm aware,” she said, “and I'm confident I'll carry off the Indian outfits I'm taking there by Anamika, Manish and Gaurav with ease. I'll also be dressed by an international designer for one event.”
She's looking forward to catching up on some good world cinema, during her short trip to Cannes. And to France, itself. “I've never been to Paris or any other part of France, except through books.
I used to transport myself to these lovely destinations through my reading. It's a dream come true for me,” said the actress who was just a gawky teenager working as an assistant to Sanjay Leela Bhansali when Ash walked the red carpet at the Cannes for the first time a few years ago.
The Roshans will also be making an appearance. Both father Rakesh and son Hrithik are reportedly set to travel to Cannes with their latest film, “Kites”, which stars Hrithik, Kangana Ranaut and Barbara Mori.
Producer Sajid Nadiadwala had cited the producers mulitplex owners' fracas as the cause behind cancellig his plans for Cannes. But that does not seem to have deterred the Roshans and Big Pictures, who are taking the film to the festival, where it will be screened for buyers.
Director Anurag Basu and Barbara Mori are also expected to join the contingent. Incidentally, Eros International will be in Cannes with their three films, “Love Aaj Kal”, “Aladin” and “Kambakkht Ishq”.

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