Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Monday, 26 May 2008 13:48 UK

Soaked Cannes' struggle to shine

rain at Cannes
Bad weather dampened the mood at this year's festival

By Emma Jones
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Cannes

It had Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Robert De Niro, Madonna, Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and Gwyneth Paltrow. And Brangelina - twice.

So why were there so many complaints this year's Cannes film festival failed to sparkle?

Maybe it was connected with this year's Palme D'Or winner, The Class, only screening on the last day - when many reporters had left and there was no time to build up a buzz.

The cast of The Class
The Class director Laurent Cantet and his young stars livened up Cannes
But even the French school docudrama couldn't make Cannes 2008 spectacular, rather than solid.

"It's sometimes to do with sheer luck," says Mike Gubbins, editor of film trade magazine Screen International.

"There was nothing disastrous this year - but it was lacking a certain something.

"There was nothing which critics were talking about, or which was totally dividing them. Any number of films could have won."

Depressing films

It may have been the tone of many films which cast a pall over proceedings.

Fernando Meirelles's Blindness started the proceedings, depicting a plague of blindness, a filthy mental asylum for victims and distressing rape scenes.

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro was not the only star who had to take cover at Cannes
It was followed by Hunger, the outstanding British film about the IRA hunger strikers of the 1980s; Surveillance, on the subject of domestic violence and murder; Leonora, about a woman giving birth in prison; and Lorna's Silence, in which a young Albanian woman is driven mad by the murder of her heroin-addicted husband.

And Che may have won Benicio Del Toro a best actor award for playing the famous revolutionary, but it weighed in at a mighty four-and-a-half hours long.

Even jury president Sean Penn, known for his own searing dramas, wished there had been more comedy.

"Add to this the weather," Mike Gubbins says, "and it's not surprising you have a sense of flatness."

Torrential rain

The rain meant it was not a good year for making deals, queuing for screenings, or waiting on the red carpet.

Will Smith partied into the early hours with the sound of torrential rain beating down on his tent, while a photocall for the remake of Emmanuelle saw girls shiver in bikinis.

But Spike Lee made critics forget about the rain when he arrived with an eight minute snippet of his film, Miracle of St Anna, about the role the all-black 92nd Buffalo Soldier regiment played in World War II.

Spike Lee
Spike Lee caused controversy with an attack on Clint Eastwood
Lee berated director Clint Eastwood - also in town for Changeling - claiming that the "negro soldier did not exist" in his war films.

Cue a posse of press running to the next conference to quiz Eastwood; only to be met with a flat "non" by the adjudicator, who would not let them ask the question.

But the sun shone upon the cast of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at its world premiere. Fortune also smiled upon the reviews - with critics whispering that it wasn't as bad as expected.

High point

"I think Indiana Jones was the high point for me, " says Raya Abi Rached, a film presenter for Middle Eastern Broadcasting.

"Cannes was definitely the right place for it and with the crowd atmosphere it was great. It was very important for the festival that Indiana Jones came here."

Another high point for photographers was the chance to get more images of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, currently residing in the south of France.

They appeared on the red carpet twice for Jolie's films Kung Fu Panda and Changeling.

Her Panda co-star Jack Black inadvertently confirmed to the Cannes press that she was pregnant with twins - topping that by skipping down a pier surrounded by scores of fake giant pandas.

"I just got out of the boat, they handed me the microphone and said 'do something', " he explained afterwards.

Allen back on form

As usual, most of the action took place well away from the art house competition.

Angelina Jolie and Jack Black
Jack Black managed to blow Angelina Jolie's big secret
Woody Allen returned to form with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a comedy with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem as a couple of highly strung artists.

Madonna's documentary on Malawi, I Am Because We Are, was moving and deservedly praised.

It was the year of the more mature star - Dennis Hopper threw a poker party for his 72nd birthday, while 77-year-old Clint Eastwood spent several days on the Riviera, including making a guest appearance on the public beach at Cannes to introduce his 1971 classic Dirty Harry.

"If you have trouble recognising me, I'm the one with the brown hair and lots of it," he told the delighted crowd.

'Still number one'

"Cannes is still the World Cup for film," adds Mike Gubbins.

"It takes risks. OK, so it hasn't sparked this year, but it's still number one."

Robert De Niro's closing film, What Just Happened?, may have connected most with critics.

Partly set at Cannes, one scene shows a horrified audience watching a brutal murder on the cinema screen, while outside the rain pours.

De Niro had, completely unintentionally, just summed up Cannes 2008.

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