Festival has many looks

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The Festival de Cannes wants to be all things to all people, to be the place for breakout extravaganzas as well as artistic ventures. For this year's 59th edition, both ends of the spectrum have American names attached.

It's the sheer size of the thing (130,000 visitors, including 4,000 journalists, adding 180 million euros to the local economy) that makes Cannes the billboard of choice for the world's filmmakers, makes Hollywood studios turn the advertisement-covered entrance to the Carlton Hotel into the cinematic equivalent of a NASCAR racer.

If you make it past parallel Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell "Miami Vice" placards at the hotel entrance, you are surrounded by Jack Black in "Nacho Libre" poses. And towering above them all is a poster for the festival's opening film tonight, Ron Howard's "The Da Vinci Code." Looking equally impressive at the edge of the local harbor is an enormous black triangular temporary building with the title written on the side where the post-screening party will be held.

Though the Tom Hanks-starring film is as much anticipated here as in the U.S., for the French film magazines the work of another American director, Sofia Coppola's historical drama "Marie Antoinette," is the focus of attention. Star Kirsten Dunst is on the cover of the rarefied Cahiers du Cinéma and the more popular Studio, and both she and Coppola are featured on the front of Première as "Reines de Cannes," Queens of Cannes.

Coppola is not the only young American to have a film in competition here. "Donnie Darko" director Richard Kelly has the futuristic "Southland Tales," Richard Linklater has "Fast Food Nation" (as well as the animated "A Scanner Darkly" in the non-competitive Un Certain Regard section) and Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu has snared Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett for his primarily English-language "Babel."

This emphasis on youth doesn't mean that Cannes has forsaken the big-name auteurs who have made their reputations here. Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai is the head of the jury, and a still from his rapturous "In The Mood For Love" is on the festival's poster as well as blown up to enormous dimensions in front of all three entrances to the Palais des Festivals.

And the competition not surprisingly includes the latest films from many of the usual Cannes names: Pedro Almodóvar's "Volver" from Spain, Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" from Britain, Aki Kaurismäki's "Lights at the Edge of the City" from Finland, and Nanni Moretti's "The Caiman," from Italy.

The Moretti film, a satire on Italy's longtime prime minister (recently voted out) and media power Silvio Berlusconi, is one of several places in the festival where real-world events are being played out. The Al Gore global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" is screening here and the American Pavilion will recycle everything it can, even its carpet, in a gesture of solidarity; the Chinese competition film "Summer Palace" is in a dispute with its government, and not one but two French labor organizations are said to be planning potentially disruptive demonstrations.

Those looking for a more playful take on contemporary situations can take in "Zidane," a no doubt admiring portrait of the star of France's World Cup team. And the opening night film of Un Certain Regard is "Paris, I Love You," a set of 20 five-minute love stories, each set in one of Paris' arrondissements, or districts. Directors include Gus Van Sant, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Wes Craven and Alexander Payne, plus the live action debut of "Triplets of Belleville" animator Sylvain Chomet.

Animation is, in fact, one of the areas in which Cannes looks especially strong and varied this year. In addition to Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly," Dreamworks has "Over The Hedge" in an out-of-competition screening, and two other segments of the festival are pitching in as well. Critic's Week has only its second animated feature ever, British/Norwegian "Free Jimmy" about a washed-up circus elephant described by the Week's artistic director as "an insolent, trashy film." And the Directors Fortnight has two animated features, an Arabian Nights-type fable called "Azur et Asmar" and "Princess," which apparently deals with an avenging, anti-pornography priest.

If all this makes you yearn for the good old days, the Cannes Classics segment of the festival has you covered. Featured retrospective directors include Carol Reed, Sergei Eisenstein and Canadian animator Norman McLaren, and individual films showcased run the gamut from Haile Gerima's "Harvest 3000 Years" to Alejandro Jodorowsky's "El Topo" to 1914's monumental Italian silent, "Cabiria."

Completely up to the minute is the Marché du Film, Cannes' thriving market. Film business people from more than 80 countries will buy, sell and just talk about more than 4,000 films, some in development, some in production, some actually finished and available to be seen.

Titles available at the market can be so wild and crazy it's tempting to arrange them in potential double bills. How about "Betty Blowtorch" and "Lady Godiva, Back in the Saddle." Or "Oh, My Zombie Mermaid" and "Shira: The Vampire Samurai." Or even "Death to the Supermodels" and "Bachelor Party Massacre." One of the most intriguing titles is for a Korean film, "No Mercy for the Rude," apparently about a gentleman who is intent on killing those with bad manners. Clearly made with Cannes in mind.

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