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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK


Cannes director castigates Nato

Mikhalkov with Julia Ormond and Oleg Menshikov

The Cannes Film Festival has got underway in France - with the conflict in Kosovo taking centre stage after its first day.

Kosovo: Special Report
Oscar-winning Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov launched his film The Barber of Siberia - starring British actress Julia Ormond - at the festival, and criticised Nato and the United States for the air strikes on Serbia.

"The Nato action is a tragic, tragic error," he told a press conference.

"The United States never fought on its own territory. It never dug trenches on its own land.

"This war will only become concrete when the first coffins head back to the States. Once that happens, then this abstract war will become a real tragedy for real people."

Like a video game

[ image: Nikita Mikhalkov and Julia Ormond]
Nikita Mikhalkov and Julia Ormond
Speaking in Russian, he described Nato pilots pushing buttons, as in a video game, as they fired their missiles.

He said many of those giving orders "don't know what they're fighting for - they don't know the difference between a Serb, a Croat, and a Kosovar".

The 53-year-old won an Oscar for best foreign language film in 1995 for Burnt By The Sun, a story of one family's experience of Stalin's repression.

The son of the author of the Soviet national anthem, he has even spoken of running for Russian president. He is a friend of Russia's special envoy to Yugoslavia, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Film premiered at Kremlin

[ image: Jeff Goldblum: On this year's Cannes jury]
Jeff Goldblum: On this year's Cannes jury
Barber of Siberia, which is not in competition, took 10 years to make, and premiered at the Kremlin in February.

It is the story of a romance between a Russian cadet, played by Oleg Menshikov, and an American woman, played by Julia Ormond, who comes to Russia on behalf of an entrepreneur.

The BBC's Rosie Millard mixes with the stars at Cannes
Meanwhile, Cannes observers are saying this year's festival is worse off for its lack of big Hollywood movies, such as the Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace.

Some are putting this down to the reception many US films met with last year, such as the laughter Bruce Willis' death in Armageddon received at a press screening.

British journalists have been disappointed to find themselves barred from screenings of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Publicists say there will be more opportunities closer to its July release date.

Jury getting ready

[ image: David Cronenberg: Jury president promises to be open-minded]
David Cronenberg: Jury president promises to be open-minded
Cannes is also blighted by fears of rising crime, following the kidnap of a journalist at last month's Mip TV festival. Actress Catherine Zeta Jones is reported to have six bodyguards. An unexploded terrorist bomb discovered on Tuesday also jangled nerves. Nobody has yet claimed responsibilty for the device found on the Boulevard Carnot, in a business district well away from where the festival is held.

The 10-member festival jury is girding itself for its task of watching 22 films during the festival, with its president - controversial Crash director David Cronenberg - promising to keep an open mind.

"I haven't read any of the little summaries on any of the films. I want to walk in and see the film and have no idea what I'm seeing. I'm walking in completely cold," he said.

The jurors will chose who wins the coveted Palme d'Or on 23 May.

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