| Monica Bellucci in Cannes on Tuesday. She will anchor the opening ceremony. (AFP)
Cannes, May 13 (Reuters): Cannes exploded into life today as movie buffs poured into the French Riviera town for the 56th International Film Festival — a two-week orgy of movie premieres, deal-making and lavish parties.
Directors lining up for the coveted Palme d’Or award include old favourites like Britain’s Peter Greenaway and Denmark’s Lars Von Trier, and celebrity-laden cast lists have the paparazzi drooling ahead of the May 14-25 competition.
Gracing the red-carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals will be sultry Latin actresses Monica Bellucci and Penelope Cruz, and Bollywood pin-up Aishwarya Rai who is on this year’s jury, headed by French director Patrice Chereau.
With an eclectic line-up of international films in the main contest, including strong entries from the US and France, Chereau is bracing for a difficult time.
“This is going to be 10 days of hard work. I do not, for a minute, underestimate the size of the task,” the veteran film and theatre director said.
Some critics have expressed disappointment that a number of high-profile films didn’t make the selection in time and have dubbed the 2003 menu one of “minimum risk” after the controversial themes broached last year.
Clint Eastwood’s crime drama Mystic River is a main contender, while outside the competition, sci-fi blockbuster Matrix: Reloaded is the big Hollywood excitement.
As well as late entries and last-minute withdrawals, the festival has been dogged by security concerns and a nationwide strike today that hit the airline industry and messed up travel plans.
Many executives were not taking any risks — they switched to earlier flights to avoid the chaos.
Yet nothing could dampen the excitement as fans gathered to watch crowd barriers and overhead lighting being erected around the famous Palais steps ahead of Wednesday’s opening ceremony.
An army of workers were drilling and sawing to make stands for the hordes of film executives who come to Cannes to cut deals. Stressed publicity agents with clipboards and walkie-talkies mingled with the ever-relaxed Cannes jetset.
Next to the palm-fringed Palais and flanked by sunbathers, a huge outdoor cinema screen has been erected a few metres out at sea, so that those without invitations to screenings can lie in the sand and watch films under the stars.
“The festival is fantastic for us. We’re already doing great business,” said one delighted ice-cream seller.
The festival kicks off with swashbuckling adventure comedy Fanfan la Tulipe, starring Cruz as a beguiling gypsy girl and Frenchman Vincent Perez.
The film is not in competition, but celebrity gossips are already pitting the diminutive Cruz against Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, ex-wife of Cruz’s beau Tom Cruise.
Kidman stars in Von Trier’s Dogville as a woman fleeing gangsters in a Rocky Mountain town during the Depression.