Pandas and pandemonium kick off Cannes bash

KICKING kung-fu pandas and a chilling Brazilian vision of the apocalypse: the Cannes film festival kicked off yesterday blending fun with philosophy, and Hollywood blockbusters with art-house fare.

The world release of the latest long-awaited episode of whip-cracking Indiana Jones is set to be the star act of the 12-day film bonanza, featuring Harrison Ford doing his own stunts.

But opening night red-carpet glory went to Brazil’s two-time Oscar-nominated director Fernando Meirelles, whose hard-hitting Blindness, showed a world where people have lost their sight.

The sombre film starring Julianne Moore, peppered with apocalyptic scenes of a chaotic world and stray lawless legions of people, is one of 22 competing for Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’Or, to be awarded by a jury headed by Sean Penn.

Its sombre note is likely to strike a chord with the former Hollywood “bad boy”, who said yesterday that human disasters such as those unravelling in China and Burma could not be forgotten.

“The earthquake will influence my judgment with almost every movie,” he said. “This is part of our global shared emotions and life, these things that are happening. This makes us more raw.”

Based on a book by Nobel winner Jose Saramago of Portugal, the film by the maker of City of God and The Constant Gardener recounts an epidemic of blindness, raising questions about human nature and the fragility of society.

“It’s as if civilisation was built on a thin layer of ice that could crack at any moment,” said Meirelles at a news conference. “It’s a metaphor on all the ills of the 20th century.”

Striking a note of contrast, hours before Cannes’ twilight gala opening, Hollywood star Jack Black boated in to be greeted by dozens of giant pandas in a promotional stunt for Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda, also being released here.

Squaring up against the pandas and arthouse directors at this year’s Cannes festival will be Clint Eastwood and Steven Soderbergh.

Eastwood is hoping for the Palme d’Or best film prize with his child-abduction drama Changeling starring Angelina Jolie, while Soderbergh unveils a four-hour two-part epic on “Che” Guevara.

Other A-list stars due to attend the film-fest include Angelina Jolie, Will Smith, Dustin Hoffman, Madonna, Woody Allen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bruce Willis, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem.

Cannes swells three-fold to 200,000 souls for the yearly orgy of movie promotion, parties and screenings that brings together industry types, movie-buffs and celebrity-watchers.

The fest is as much about hard-nosed business as art, with about a billion dollars worth of movie deals clinched every year, said the head of the Cannes Film Market Jerome Paillard.

The 61st edition has a strong Latin American contingent. After Meirelles, another Brazilian, Walter Salles, presents a soccer-themed Line Of Passage, and two movies from Argentina will also compete for the top prize.

Soderbergh’s epic on the world’s best-loved revolutionary stars Benicio Del Toro as “Che”.

Among the heavy-duty line-up competing for the Palme are previous winners, Canada’s Atom Egoyan with Adoration, Germany’s Wim Wenders showing The Palermo Shooting and Belgium’s Dardenne brothers with The Silence of Lorna.

Cinephiles swayed by the arty side of Cannes will be served by new offerings from China’s Jia Zhangke, Filipino Brillante Mendoza, Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan and a first feature from Charlie Kaufman, the US screenwriter behind Being John Malkovich.

Sporting giants Diego Maradona and Mike Tyson were also set to join the jetset on the Riviera.

Serbian director Emir Kusturica is showing a documentary about the Argentinian footballer who once knocked England out the World Cup with a little help from his hand, while US heavyweight boxer Tyson is the subject of another documentary.


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