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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
Volver and Babel lead Cannes crop
By Darren Waters
BBC News entertainment reporter in Cannes

Twenty movies from around the world are competing for the Palme d'Or in Cannes. Which have made the biggest impression as the festival enters its final days?

Two films - Pedro Almodovar's Volver and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's Babel - are emerging as the critics' favourites at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

In Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, two sisters have to rely on each other after the death of their mother and after one of the siblings murders her abusive husband.

Penelope Cruz in Volver
Penelope Cruz has been widely praised for her role in Volver

Almodovar touches on many of his favourite themes - such as womanhood and matriarchy - using his favourite device of farce but leaving out the overt transexualism which is the hallmark of his past work.

Inarritu's film Babel centres on the relationship between parents and children.

Two tourists - Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett - face tragedy in Morocco, while in Los Angeles and Mexico their nanny inadvertently puts their children in danger and in Japan a schoolgirl struggles to deal with the suicide of her mother.

"The competition on the whole has been very strong," said critic Derek Malcolm, of London's Evening Standard.

'Best work'

"Everybody realises that Volver is a very good Almodovar film. Most people would be very happy for him to win the Palme d'Or."

Almodovar has never won the Palme d'Or although he was shortlisted in 1999 for All About My Mother.

"Volver was really well done. Penelope Cruz was very good," agreed Jay Stone, film writer for the Canadian News Service.

"Volver is way out in front. It is the best thing Pedro Almodovar has done," said Richard Mowe of the Irish Examiner.

Scene from Babel
Babel: "Brilliantly filmed and acted" said the critics

"It is a sum total of all his previous work with all his previous themes coming together."

Babel has also had a strong reception.

Mr Stone said: "It was really strong and the most emotional and involving film I have seen so far.

"It was the most confident in terms of the story telling. I like almost everything about it."

"Babel pushed all the right buttons," agreed Mr Mowe. "It has all the contemporary themes which are to be applauded."

Confident debut

Siegfried Mortkowitz, of Deutsche Presse-Agentu, said: "Babel was brilliantly filmed and acted. It was the kind of film you have to go back to see it again because it was very profound."

British film Red Road impressed many as a confident debut by director Andrea Arnold.

The movie is a bleak tale of obsession set in Glasgow where a grieving wife and mother is drawn into the world of the man who killed her family as she sees him on a CCTV camera.

The critics were universal on the biggest flop of the festival - Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, a postmodern, fragmented tale of the future of the United States.

Il Caimano
Moretti's Il Caimano is critical of former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi

Mr Malcolm said it was "terrible", while Mr Stone said it was "self-indulgent - throwing everything onto the screen and hoping some of it will stick".

Nanni Moretti has shown his latest movie Il Caimano in competition.

Moretti is one of the most celebrated Italian directors and received global acclaim for his last film, The Son's Room, in 2001.

Il Caimano, The Caiman, refers to Moretti's view of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi as a predator or crocodile.

In the film an Italian director of repute struggles to get his latest film made due to the social and political climate of the times.

Very rarely does the jury agree with the critics
Derek Malcolm

"I was slightly disappointed in the Nanni Moretti film," said Mr Mowe.

"There were a lot of good things in there but it could not decide which sort of film it wanted to be."

Still to screen is El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) from Guillermo del Toro.

But whatever the critics feel the strongest film to be, the decision on the winner of the festival prize, the Palme d'Or, is left to the jury.

This year it is headed by director Wong Kar Wai and includes actors Monica Bellucci, Samuel L Jackson and Helena Bonham Carter.

Mr Malcolm said: "Very rarely does the jury agree with the critics.

"These days the jury is full of actors and actresses. It is very difficult to know what they are going to go for."

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