- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

CANNES, France

The yachts are scrubbed, the red carpet is rolled out, giant movie posters vie for attention on the seafront, and long-suffering residents force a smile as Cannes, the world’s greatest film festival, begins.

The 58th Festival de Cannes opened yesterday in the glamorous Riviera resort, offering up the annual orgy of Hollywood glitz, showbiz excess and a bewildering number of films both in and out of competition.

The biggest event of a packed 12-day program promises to be the sixth and final installment of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” epic, which gets its world premiere in Cannes on Sunday.

While not in the running for the coveted Palme d’Or, “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” will get the star treatment in recognition of a series that changed cinema forever and has earned its makers $3.5 billion in ticket sales since 1977.

Also appearing out of competition is Woody Allen, whose “Match Point” is set not in the veteran’s favored Manhattan, but in London, and stars Scarlett Johansson.

Twenty-one films are competing for the main prize, and the selection of so many “grands auteurs,” or established directors, has been interpreted as a deliberate attempt to put film back in the limelight ahead of heated political debate.

Last year, the surprise winner of the Palme d’Or was Michael Moore’s controversial “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which took an angry swipe at President Bush and his reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Jury president Emir Kusturica described his job in Cannes as “mission impossible.” Speaking to reporters, he added that the festival’s value lay in protecting cinema from the “huge pressure of the commercial world.”

Among previous winners of the Palme d’Or competing this year are Germany’s Wim Wenders, whose “Don’t Come Knocking” features a down-and-out Western hero looking for redemption, and American Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”), who is back with “Last Days.”

Another American, Jim Jarmusch, brings together an all-star cast including Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Julie Delpy in “Broken Flowers,” which follows a resolutely single man who begins searching for a son he did not previously know he had.

Other heavy hitters include Canada’s David Cronenberg (“A History of Violence”), Denmark’s Lars von Trier (“Manderlay”), Israel’s Amos Gitai (“Free Zone”) and German-born Michael Haneke (“Cache”/”Hidden”).

Five Asian films, helmed by directors from China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, are also in competition.

“It looks like it could be as artistically important as last year [for Asian cinema],” said film critic and historian Mark Cousins. “Last year [Cannes] was the biggest for Asian cinema since the 1950s.”

Themes of paternity and violence stand out, and Iraqi Kurd Hiner Saleem is bound to get tongues wagging with “Kilometre Zero,” a film about tensions between Arabs and Kurds inside Iraq during the war against Iran in the 1980s.

Japan’s Kobayashi Masahiro goes for the topical with “Bashing,” which centers on a Japanese woman who is freed as a hostage in the Middle East yet struggles to settle back into ordinary life.

However, such gritty reality seemed a million miles from Cannes as it was building up to its busiest two weeks.

“You can feel the temperature rising,” said Sylvain Ercoli, general manager of the plush Martinez Hotel.

“For 12 days and 12 nights, it’s a dream. You walk into the most famous people, and they are all there at the same time. They are not look-alikes; they are the real ones.”

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