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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 19:41 GMT 20:41 UK
Cannes festival opens with drama
Aishwarya Rai and Laetitia Casta
Indian actress Aishwarya Rai with French star Laetitia Casta
The Cannes film festival has opened with a red carpet screening of surreal French drama Lemming, one of 21 films competing for the Palme d'Or prize.

Indian actress Aishwarya Rai declared the event open after an overhead gymnastic display by a member of Canada's Cirque du Soleil troupe.

The 58th festival is the world's most prestigious film industry gathering.

Jury president Emir Kusturica joined actress Salma Hayek and fellow jurors at Wednesday's gala opening.

Those in the audience included US actor Dennis Hopper, French actress Catherine Deneuve and French model Laetitia Casta.

Cannes film festival attracts more than 40,000 movie industry workers every year.

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Opening movie Lemming stars Charlotte Gainsbourg and British actress Charlotte Rampling.

It is being screened in competition alongside new works from Gus Van Sant, David Cronenberg and Denmark's Lars von Trier, and is considered one of the forerunners for the Palme d'Or.

The festival jury will pick the winner of that prestigious prize, as well as six other awards.

Out of competition, Revenge of the Sith - the sixth and final instalment of George Lucas' Star Wars series - will be given its world premiere at the festival on Sunday.

Earlier festival head Gilles Jacob called for this year's top prize to be awarded for film-making, not politics.

Last year the festival brought Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to global attention when it won the main prize.

Emir Kusturica and Salma Hayek
Cannes jury president Emir Kusturica with actress Salma Hayek
"Michael Moore's talent is not in doubt," said Mr Jacob.

"But in this case, it was a question of a satirical tract that was awarded a prize more for political than cinematographic reasons, no matter what the jury said."

He added that the jury's acclaim for that documentary was an "out of the ordinary event that probably won't be repeated".

Jury president Kusturica said jurors would judge films on their "aesthetics" when choosing this year's winners.

Bosnian-born director Kusturica - who won the festival's top prize in 1985 and again in 1995 - said it would be a "decision of the heart, helped by rationale".

He is joined on the nine-strong panel by Hayek, Spanish actor Javier Bardem and Nobel laureate in literature Toni Morrison.

'More exciting'

Ms Hayek said that she found it "much more exciting" to attend Cannes as a jury member than as an actress.

"When you come to a festival with a movie, most of the learning has been done and you are just presenting it," she said.

"But when you are a juror, it is in the moment that the visual stimulation is reached because you get to see so many movies and you push yourself to understand them."

The jury also includes Face/Off director John Woo, Indian actress Nandita Das, French directors Agnes Varda and Benoit Jacquot and German film-maker Fatih Akin.

Charlotte Rampling
Rampling, 60, is currently filming the sequel to Basic Instinct
Speaking before the screening of Lemming, star Charlotte Rampling called film-making in Europe less "barbaric" than Hollywood for ageing actress.

"The system in Europe is not like Hollywood. It is not as barbaric," said the 60-year-old actress. "The fact that you have a few wrinkles is not a reason to be put away."

"In Europe, thank goodness, they have realised that and I'm still here".

Describing Lemming as "dark, but not pessimistic", its director Dominik Moll said he did not know why it had been chosen to open the festival.

"I was surprised because usually it is a more commercial film that is not in competition," he said.

"Maybe the organisers wanted to get into the heart of the competition straight away."


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