- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

CANNES, FRANCE — The Cannes Film Festival celebrated its 60th anniversary yesterday with an opening movie that blends an indie sensibility and a glittering cast: Wong Kar-wai’s road-trip tale starring Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz and Grammy-winning singer Norah Jones in her acting debut.

The 11-day Riviera festival strives for just the right mix of art-house films and star power, and “My Blueberry Nights” has both. Hong Kong director Mr. Wong (“In the Mood for Love”) is a Cannes favorite, as are many of the other filmmakers showing movies for the anniversary edition, including Michael Moore, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers.

In “My Blueberry Nights,” Miss Jones plays a woman who hits the road to cure her broken heart. Mr. Wong heard her sultry voice and knew he had a role for her.

“Basically, when you listen to her voice only, without seeing her face, you can have a kind of a story out of it,” he says. The movie is his first English-language feature.

Miss Jones says she was terrified when her first scene with Mr. Law, in a New York cafe, was shot.

“I remember the first take we did, my voice was really high,” the 28-year-old singer says, finishing her sentence with a squeak. “I was just terribly nervous, and Kar-wai came over and patted me on the back, and I relaxed a little.”

Mr. Wong says Miss Jones grew more at ease over the shoot — she impressed him in a scene in which he asked her to cry.

“We rolled the camera, and she cried, and after that, I said, ‘Well, it’s great,’ and she said, ‘Do you want one more?’ ’

Cannes was founded in 1939 as an alternative to the Venice Film Festival in Mussolini’s Italy — but almost as soon as it opened, the event was canceled because World War II broke out. Cannes did not get going in earnest until the 1950s.

The festival, which runs through May 27, is looking back at its glamorous history this year with a photo exhibit on the beach. There’s Cary Grant in black tie, Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty hailed by paparazzi, and Kim Novak in a limousine — with raindrops sparkling on the window like diamonds.

For a feature-length homage to the movies, Cannes commissioned 35 shorts from directors including Mr. Wong, Roman Polanski, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the Coen brothers and Wim Wenders.

Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”) has been enlisted to give a master class on moviemaking. He’s also expected to present clips from his documentary about the Rolling Stones, Reuters news agency reports.

A host of Hollywood talent will be on hand for the stargazers who wait in the sun with ladders all day to stake their place near the red carpet. U2 frontman Bono is expected in Cannes for “U2 3D,” another rockumentary.

Al Pacino, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt will promote “Ocean’s Thirteen”; Leonardo DiCaprio will bring his environmental documentary, “The 11th Hour”; and celebrity supercouple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will appear — Mr. Pitt for “Ocean’s Thirteen” and Miss Jolie for “A Mighty Heart,” in which she plays the widow of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

The main competition includes 22 films from a wealth of countries, including Israel, South Korea and Mexico, as well as movies from four directors who already have been crowned with Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or: Mr. Tarantino’s gory “Death Proof”; the Coen brothers’ Rio Grande thriller, “No Country for Old Men”; Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park”; and Sarajevo-born Emir Kusturica’s “Promise Me This.”

Critics are calling the selection one of the strongest in recent memory, although competitions have a habit of promising more than they deliver.

“I think this is probably the Cannes selection that has excited me most in a decade,” Mark Cousins, a leading film critic and Cannes veteran, told Reuters. “It is because of the likes of Van Sant, [Alexander} Sokurov, Kusturica and Wong — these are major directors who have consistently delivered quality films over a number of years.”

He expects Mr. Van Sant and the Coen brothers to stand out among the U.S. entrants. Mr. Tarantino’s “Death Proof”— seen earlier this spring in U.S. movie houses as part of the double bill “Grindhouse’ — was a box-office flop.

In the race for the top prize, the Palme d’Or, they are up against more obscure filmmakers such as France’s Catherine Breillat and Christophe Honore, South Korea’s Kim Ki-duk and Lee Chang-dong, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu and Austria’s Ulrich Seidl.

There are no major blockbusters at the festival this year, such as 2005’s “Star Wars” sequel and 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code,” which went on to gross $758 million worldwide despite a critical mauling in Cannes and elsewhere, Reuters notes.

There also are few overtly political films, although Mr. Moore’s documentary “Sicko,” about the U.S. health care system, is likely to cause a stir just as his anti-Bush polemic “Fahrenheit 9/11” did when it won the 2004 Palme d’Or.

The filmmaker isn’t competing for awards this year, but “Sicko” is sure to be one of the festival’s most-talked-about movies.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department opened an investigation into a trip Mr. Moore took to Cuba — accompanied by a group of ailing September 11 rescue workers — during the film’s shooting.

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