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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Cruz minus Cruise at Cannes

By Helen Bushby
In Cannes

Penelope Cruz has described Cannes as the "perfect" place for her latest film to première, although her partner Tom Cruise will not be accompanying her up the red carpet.

Cruz, who stars as an 18th-Century gypsy in Fan Fan La Tulipe, a swashbuckling remake of the 1952 French classic, said she was "very happy" her film was opening such a prestigious event.

But she added that her Vanilla Sky co-star Cruise was not attending the festival with her because he was "working".

Cannes beach
The slogan "Viva il Cinema" has been written across the town

There has been considerable interest and speculation in Cannes that Cruise, whose former wife Nicole Kidman is also attending the festival, would accompany Cruz to the première.

Fan Fan la Tulipe, a lightweight adventure comedy, has had a mixed reception from critics so far and is not in competition for the main prize in Cannes, the Palme d'Or.

Cruz, who speaks French throughout the film, said it had been wonderful to work with her friend and co-star Vincent Perez, who also starred in Cyrano de Bergerac which screened at Cannes in 1990.

Perez plays a womanizing yet gallant action hero of the 18th Century, who mocks war but ends up joining the army to avoid marrying yet another of his conquests.

Its producer, Luc Besson, famed for films including Leon and Nikita, said he decided to remake the original film because he had loved it so much as a boy, and it had "emotional memories" for him.

He added that it had been very challenging to make, not least because the shooting schedule had to be changed 45 times due to poor weather.

Penelope Cruz and Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise is busy working

There have also been challenges facing journalists and members of the world's film industry in reaching Cannes, due Tuesday's national transport strike and fears over the Sars virus.

Although hotels are reporting several absentees due to the strike, there are still hundreds of people who have managed to arrive in time for festival's opening.

Hundreds of delegates from Asia are expected, but organisers are keeping a close watch on any sign of Sars cases.

French health officials have begun leafleting the crowds as Cannes' population begins to increase threefold to more than 200,000.

And France's health ministry has handed out a document in English and French detailing the symptoms of Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and how to act.

Hot favourites

The annual two-week event is the most important film festival in the world and will be the venue for scores of screenings, parties and deals.

Later in the festival, star-studded premières will be held for The Matrix Reloaded and Dogville, starring Nicole Kidman and directed by Danish auteur Lars von Trier.

Arnold Schwarzenegger will also be in town promoting his comeback film, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Crime drama Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Sean Penn, is among the favourites to pick up the Palme d'Or.

'Hard work'

Just one UK director, Peter Greenaway, has a film in competition, with The Tulse Luper Suitcases.

Also vying for the top prize will be Gus Van Sant's Elephant, plus The Brown Bunny, directed by Vincent Gallo, and Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool.

The head of the jury, Patrice Chereau, said: "This is going to be 10 days of hard work. I do not, for a minute, underestimate the size of the task."

Actress Meg Ryan, Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai and director Steven Soderbergh are also on the jury attended a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

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