May 13, 2009
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Cannes shrugs off economic gloom, reels in the stars

May 13, 2009

CANNES, France, May 13, 2009 (AFP) - The French Riviera shrugs 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.

Photo: AFP/Loic Venance

The notoriously extravagant event has toned down the glitz for this year's crisis-era bash, but a galaxy of top-notch movie celebrities were jetting 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 kicks 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."

burs-rm/ccrby Rory Mulholland

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