Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Sunday, 17 May 2009 14:13 UK

Reporter's log: Cannes 2009

It's being hailed as the year of the heavyweights, as the glitterati and the twitterati gather on the shores of the Mediterranean for the 62nd Cannes Film Festival.

BBC News entertainment reporter Victoria Lindrea joins the throng at one of cinema's biggest events.

SUNDAY 17 MAY, 1430 local time (1330 BST)

Sadly my brief stint in Cannes is coming to an end... and I haven't even seen Brad Pitt!

Agora
Rachel Weisz stars in Agora, which is showing out of competition

I just had time to sneak a look at Alejandro Amenabar's Agora before I head out. It's a sword and sandals saga set in Alexandria, chronicling the rise of the Christians in Egypt, starring Rachel Weisz and Max Minghella (son of Anthony).

It's certainly an ambitious project, but I'm afraid I couldn't stay to the end. At two-and-a-half hours it's a bit of an epic, and I had work to do!

Still, the majority of journalists were sitting tight as I left, and in Cannes the press often votes with its feet, so I guess that's a good start. Unless, of course, they were all just sleeping off their Saturday night hangovers...

Prophet, an all-male prison drama by French director Jacques Audiard, seems to be emerging as the favourite for the Palme d'Or (so far) after a strong critical reception yesterday.

Un Prophete
Un Prophete is emerging as an early front-runner for Cannes' top prize

The 57-year-old director is probably best known in the UK for his 2005 film The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s'est arrête), which picked up the Bafta for best film not in the English Language in 2006.

His only other Palme d'Or nomination was for A Self-Made Hero (Un Heros tres discret) in 1996, but then again this guy only seems to make films once every five years or so.

Anyway he, and more pertinently his leading man, actor Tahar Rahim, are definitely the darlings of the Croisette as I write. But there's still Loach, Tarantino and Almodovar to come. Not to mention the always controversial Gaspar Noe and Lars Von Trier, among others. So there is still plenty to play for.

Now time to check out of the Overlook… wish me luck!

SUNDAY 17 MAY, 1120 local time (1020 BST)
Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey dressed down for her film, but up for the after party

There's a Christmas tree on the Croisette - and Jim Carrey is the reason why.

He arrives in Cannes tomorrow, apparently, with director Robert Zemeckis, to promote the forthcoming 3D version of A Christmas Carol, with Carrey as Scrooge and Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchit /Tiny Tim.

The snow-covered tree looks bizarre sat under the Cannes' palm trees, but no more so than the giant Transformer outside the Carlton hotel.

All the A-listers are piling on the Riviera now - including, reportedly, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But Mariah Carey is still hogging much of the limelight, after "frumping up" for her portrayal of a social worker in Lee Daniels' Precious - which received a standing ovation at its gala screening on Friday.

Daniels - a friend of Carey - gave her the role after Oscar-winner Helen Mirren dropped out. Not two actresses you automatically think of as interchangeable. Can you imagine Carey as the Queen Elizabeth - I or II?

Still, Carey gives an assured performance, in as far as the pop diva side of her completely disappears from the screen.

"I never thought she'd be right," director Daniels told reporters yesterday. But he gradually came to realize "that if I was making such a bold movie, how bold would it be to cast Mariah?"

After that performance in Glitter, the man was bold indeed.

SUNDAY 17 MAY, 0800 local time (0700 BST)

I finally went to a party on the beach last night - albeit for about 20 minutes, and after all the canapes had run out.

Ryan Philippe
Ryan Phillippe. "Indisposed", apparently

I was trying to track down Ryan Phillippe (Crash star and former Mr Witherspoon) who is in town promoting his forthcoming film The Bang Bang Club.

Mr Philippe, however, was indisposed - at least that's what press were told earlier in the day. I did spot him at the party, however, with Bright Star actress Abbie Cornish.

Instead, I spoke to the South African-born director Steven Silver, who told me a bit about the film - the true story of four photojournalists who chronicled the violence in Apartheid-era South Africa in the early 1990s.

It's based on a book by one of the photographers, Greg Marinovich, who is played by Phillippe in the film. As a young man, Mr Silver was an anti-Apartheid activist himself and remembers meeting one of the photographers, Kevin Carter, at a demonstration.

The film is not finished yet, but Silver is hoping to screen it at this year's Toronto Film Festival in September. Sounds like it could be one to watch.

SATURDAY, 16 MAY 1530 local time (1430 BST)
Ang Lee
I'm pretty sure this isn't Demetri Martin...

I was studiously ignored in the Taking Woodstock press conference, despite my blazing red hair.

Instead, we had to listen to the surreal ramblings of a Brazilian journalist who wanted to know if Ang Lee, whose films often include characters struggling with their sexuality, was planning on a version of The Hulk with homosexual overtones.

Interesting... a superhero who turns pink when he's angry?!

SATURDAY, 16 MAY 1250 local time (1150 BST)

Jane Campion's Bright Star has found favour with the critics here in Cannes, with LA Weekly and Screen International among those giving the film their highest rating - a perfect four.

I have to admit to being a little surprised. Not because I didn't like the film, it was beautifully emotive, but it felt a little unoriginal in plot terms - and it didn't have the dramatic tension of The Piano.

Still, Abbie Cornish was fabulous. And even if it doesn't win the Palme d'Or here, it's the sort of film that is sure to attract the attention of Oscar voters.

Can't believe I am talking about Academy Awards… it's only May!!

Also in the news is word that Ang Lee is developing a script for Life of Pi, perhaps I can find out more at the forthcoming press conference…

SATURDAY, 16 MAY 1030 local time (0930 BST)

Extracting croissant crumbs from your laptop keyboard really is one of the hazards of the job here in Cannes…

Up late last night for a screening of Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock - another Palme D'Or contender. It's a lot of fun, with some great comedic turns from Brits Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman, as well as a cross-dressing Liev Schreiber.

Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam: He does like to be beside the seaside.

Not sure there is really enough meat to the story to warrant a two-hour film, though. And comedy almost never wins in Cannes. In fact you have to go back as far as the 1970s and Mash to find an obvious comic victor here at the festival. Still, it made a nice change from all that harrowing drama.

One of the many problems with having more than 4,000 journalists in the same place is you always assume everybody else has got a better story.

One piece of news that came to my attention yesterday was the announcement that director Terry Gilliam is returning to the abandoned Don Quixote project, so memorably recounted in the cult documentary Lost in La Mancha.

Both Gilliam and Quixote's original lead, Johnny Depp, are expected in Cannes later this week for the out-of-competition screening of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - featuring the late Heath Ledger. So it will be interesting to hear what they have to say on the subject, and if Depp is also back on board.

SATURDAY, 16 MAY 0800 local time (0700 BST)
Eva Longoria Parker and Tony Parker
Eva Longoria Parker and her husband Tony on the red carpet. Spew!

With the weekend, comes glamour - even celebrities like a mini-break by the sea it seems. Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Eva Longoria, Juliette Binoche and Quentin Tarantino were all working the red carpet last night, at the gala screening of Bright Star.

Funny, I never would have had Tarantino down as a Keats fan, but then, after his benign performance on American Idol, perhaps he is discovering his softer side…

Martin Scorsese, also out and about, was afforded a special deference by organisers and press alike, but fellow film demi-god Francis Ford Coppola - who has also been in town showcasing is new film Tetro - has been curiously elusive. Mind you, the film - a family saga set in Argentina - hasn't received great reviews, with some critics branding it "a vanity project".

And the BBC's Tom Brook certainly appeared to press Coppola's buttons when he suggested that perhaps the director's glory days were over. Tom was firmly told that Coppola's films were typically only recognised as classics long after their initial release (certainly true of Apocalypse Now, though not of The Godfather).

Moreover, the great man added, he was one of the only star in Cannes who had a private jet ready at his disposal and "more money than he knew what to do with".

So if I miss my flight, I know who to call.

FRIDAY 15 MAY 1800 local time (1700 BST)

In Cannes, you really need to have a buddy (make that a flunky, if you work in TV). That special someone to bag you a place at the screening or pick up your lunch when you are still bashing away at your computer in the press room. Or bring you a spare pair of flip flops to accommodate the sudden change in weather.

Martin Scorsese
Scorsese gives his fans a wave

Yes, the sun has returned (I'm told the festival lays on a dramatic downpour every year) - just in time for all those Floyd fans to hit the beach this evening for the free screening of The Wall.

Alternatively, there is a screening of a restored version of Michael Powell's The Red Shoes, presented by Martin Scorsese - who is here in his capacity as founder of the World Film Foundation, an organisation dedicated to restoring and preserving film classics.

Personally I will be immersing myself in the apex of hippy culture, with a screening of Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock. A Taiwanese film-maker taking on an American cultural flashpoint on the shores of the Mediterranean... now isn't that what Cannes is all about?

FRIDAY 15 MAY 1630 local time (1530 BST)

Just back from a screening of the Sundance award-winner Precious which is featuring in Un Certain Regard. The auditorium was packed, the fullest I have seen it yet, no doubt thanks to the celebrity names attached to the film. Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and US comedienne Mo'Nique all feature in the film, which was executive produced by Oprah Winfrey - who also comes in for some name-checking in the movie.

Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz
Carey and Kravitz: much more glamorous in real life

Carey and Kravitz appear in the unlikely guises of dowdy social worker and male nurse respectively, but both prove effective in their roles, melding seamlessly into the ensemble cast. After Carey's successful performance here in last year's Tennessee, (also directed by Precious director Lee Daniels) it seems we may have to start taking her acting career seriously after all.

Newcomer and lead, Gabourey Sidibe, does a good job as 16-year-old girl Precious, raped by her father, abused by her mother, impoverished and illiterate. But the stand-out performance comes from Mo'Nique as her abusive mother. Quite remarkably monstrous, but ultimately revealing a pathetic humanity. The reaction was very positive in the screening room, making this film definitely one to watch.

FRIDAY 15 MAY, 1045 local time (0945 BST)

Now that's more like it - corsets with my croissant on the Croisette (who said I couldn't get that into one sentence?). Up early again - in the pouring rain - for a screening of Bright Star, from director Jane Campion. Actually there weren't any corsets, it's set in the Regency period, but you'll forgive the inaccuracy for the sack of some wanton alliteration…

Abbie Cornish
Actress Abbie Cornish turning heads in Cannes

New Zealander Campion is the only woman to have won the Palme D'or, for her 1993 Oscar-winner The Piano - so there is justifiably a lot of interest in her return to the competition. The film tells the story of Fanny Brawne's brief but intense romance with the poet John Keats, cut short by his tragic death at the age of 25.

Sorry, should I have added a spoiler alert there?!

It's simply but beautifully shot - and I have to confess to a tear or two, but we'll put that down to a lack of sleep and coffee. It didn't have the dramatic impact of The Piano for me, but Campion certainly understands how to draw the best out of her female stars.

Australian actress Abbie Cornish is exceptional as Fanny. And the chemistry between her and Britain's Ben Whishaw (as Keats) lifted the film beyond standard, glossy period fare.

More about that after the press conference…

THURSDAY 14 MAY, 2200 local time (2100 BST)

I have just come out of the opening film for Un Certain Regard, from Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, whom I happened to have the pleasure of interviewing back in 2005 when his third feature film Turtles Can Fly was showing at London's ICA.

Bahman Ghobadi (centre) with Negar Shaghaghi (l) and Hamed Behdad (r)
Ghobadi (centre) along with the stars of the film

Ghobadi has been in the news recently following the imprisonment and subsequent release of his partner, journalist Roxana Saberi, in Iran earlier this week. The film-maker acknowledged that Saberi - who was only released on Monday and who co-wrote the film - was unable to join him in Cannes because she wanted to stay close to her family in the US.

No One Knows About Persian Cats is essentially a showcase for the extraordinary movement of underground music that exists in Tehran, where young people are largely banned from performing Western-style music. It features real bands and real musicians - and I was struck by the diversity and quality of the music - from indie to rap to heavy metal - and by Ghobadi's raw portrayal of city of Tehran. It's also very funny, and ultimately very sad.

Ghobadi, who shot the film in just three weeks without permission from the authorities, introduced the film - revealing how he first came across the underground music scene when he was looking to music as a means of escaping a period of depression - prompted by obstructive measures being taken against his film-making.

From the 3D magic of Up via Andrea Arnold's gritty urban realism to Ghobadi's lyrical expose of a hidden Tehran, Cannes is truly proving a festival of contrasts.

Now back to those cocktails...

THURSDAY 14 MAY, 1615 local time (1515 BST)

Matt Smith - so good I had him twice! Well, not literally of course - that would be cradle-snatching, among other things. Unfortunately, I was hit by the curse of the dodgy sound recorder during my brief chat to the future Doctor Who star this morning (yes, I did turn it on!), but the lovely Matt gallantly offered to regenerate for me all over again this afternoon.

He is now officially my favourite Doctor.

However, it does mean that I probably won't make it to my one and only party on a yacht - for the launch of a live action film called Bubblegum Crisis, based on a popular Japanese Anime. Never heard of it? Me neither - just fancied the free cocktails and a taste of the high life before schlepping back to the Overlook Hotel and the sound of that tricycle rattling down the corridor. "Hi honey, I'm home...."

Anyway, the yacht is called Mimi the Sardine (Mimi La Sardine ) which suggests it may be a fishing trawler after all, so perhaps it's a lucky escape.

THURSDAY 14 MAY, 1215 local time (1115 BST)

Morning... or should I say afternoon. Either way it's the first time today that I haven't been in a darkened room, having emerged from bed directly to the early morning screening of Fish Tank.

From there it was on to the opening ceremony of Critic's Week, which features a short film starring none other than the new Doctor Who, Matt Smith. Hopefully, more about that later.

Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, one of the three British contenders for the Palme D'Or, certainly wasn't the cheeriest start to the day.

Kierston Wareing and Michael Fassbender with Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold
The director (right) and stars of Fish Tank greet the press with a smile

Two hours of unremitting misery, its resounding motif appeared to echo the chosen theme song from rap star Nas: "Life's a bitch, and then you die."

That's not to say it wasn't an extraordinary piece of work, and a worthy follow-up to Arnold's 2006 Jury Prize winner Red Road. But I am not sure this is a film-maker you would want at your birthday party.

With its bleak depiction of East London housing estates and broken families, complete with Christian Bale-worthy dialogue peppered with words that BBC Breakfast might forget to bleep out, it did make me wonder how exactly the international press views family life in Britain.

After all, Cannes favourites Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and now Arnold all offer a similiar gritty urban oeuvre. And while it might be compelling, I'm not sure I don't prefer the Merchant Ivory version of bonnets and bustles with my morning croissant.

WEDNESDAY 13 MAY, 1800 local time (1700 BST)
Up
Up tells the story of a 78-year-old grouch who dreams of floating to Peru

I absolutely loved Up - an incredible piece of film-making from those masters of animation at Pixar. The level of craftsmanship is breathtaking, lots of clever film references and spectacular set pieces. I can see why the organisers selected the film to open the festival, with its wistful overtones.

The Pixar team have already proved their deft hand for comedy in classics such as Toy Story and The Incredibles, but Up was also unexpectedly touching - a deliberate bid, according to director Pete Docter, to evoke the Capra-esque films of the 40s and 50s. Provided you didn't turn around and look at all the chin-stroking journalists in their fetching red goggles, that is!

Actors Tilda Swinton, Giovanni Ribisi and Jury president Isabelle Huppert are among those joining the red-carpet opening as I write - but even Tilda hasn't braved those goggles in public. If only Elton John were here.

WEDNESDAY 13 MAY, 1430 local time (1330 BST)

The hotel corridor is eerily reminiscent of The Shining, but at least I am now the proud owner of a pink press badge.

Unfortunately I have no idea whether this is good or bad - and it doesn't seem to be clear in the library of information I am now carting around on my back in my official rucksack (steel grey, for all you fashion pundits).

Just heading into a press screening of Up complete with nerd goggles... a piece of childhood that I missed out on back in the early 80s. If only I still had braces the nostalgia trip would be complete!

WEDNESDAY 13 MAY, 1300 local time (1200 BST)

No stretch limo for me - I am on the free bus to Cannes, and there is not an empty seat in the house - a veritable pick 'n' mix of Euro trash - en route to the French Riviera.

No one famous, as far as I can tell, but the bus driver looks strangely like Steve Evets, the lead actor in Looking For Eric, albeit with a Gallic shrug employed to maximum effect as he ejects would-be travellers from our over-subscribed bus. It seems the credit crunch has finally hit Cannes…

WEDNESDAY 13 MAY, 1200 local time (1100 BST)

A snapshot of books being read on my journey to Cannes prompted a game of match the title to the reader: Coach Yourself to Success (novice film-maker), Predator (wannabe Weinstein), Rebels on the Backlot (film journalist) , Fight Club (ah, the double life of the publicist) and Slumdog Millionaire (no idea - but at least he's an optimist).

It seems there is life beyond the Cannes Film Festival. My flight companion is headed to a pharmaceutical conference in Nice - five-star hotel on the seafront, roof-top parties and free botox (OK, maybe it was just a memory stick). I am definitely in the wrong job.

Incidentally, the French for swine flu is 'grippe porcine'. One face mask spotted, but air kissing still seems de rigueur.

WEDNESDAY 13 MAY, 1030 BST
Palais de Festivals
The red carpet has been rolled out at the infamous Palais de Festivals.

It sounds obvious, but this year's Cannes Film Festival really is all about the films.

No pandemonium of pandas, no twin-bearing A-listers (even Angelina can't be pregnant again, yet) - not even an old man in a fedora.

This year, it seems organisers are casting off celebrity gimmicks in favour of a vintage line-up of classic filmmakers.

And you might even have heard of them: Coppola, Almodovar, Tarantino, Ang Lee and Von Trier - to name but a few.

With four previous Palme D'Or winners, a pair of past nominees and a host of European favourites vying for the festival's top prizes, the award ceremony should be worth waiting for.

British favourite Ken Loach will also be back on the Croisette - and he's on form. I managed to catch an early screening of his latest film, Looking For Eric, and was amazed to find I actually emerged with a smile on my face.

And not just because it was over.

I can't say too much for fear of an imminent knee-capping by PRs, but suffice to say Loach seems to have taken a leaf out of Danny Boyle's book with this urban fairytale.

And he may well reap the rewards, especially with French hero Eric Cantona on board.

Loach, it seems, is firmly on trend, with lots of cross-cultural films on offer. A Spanish thriller set in Japan, a Taiwanese filmmaker's travails in France and Johnny Hallyday as a French chef on the trail of vengeance in Hong Kong.

But while Asia and Europe have a strong showing, there's a noticeable absence of films from Latin America.

So no face masks then... accessorised or otherwise.



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