Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 10:15 UK

Cannes Festival: The story so far

By Victoria Lindrea
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Cannes

As the Cannes Film Festival reaches its midway point, does 2009 look set to be a year to remember?

Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is a highlight of Cannes' second week

Monday is the sixth day of a Cannes Film Festival seasoned pundits feel has attracted fewer people than seen in previous years.

"The screenings haven't been as full as they have in the past - noticeably so," says Fionnuala Halligan of trade paper Screen International.

"In previous years there have been problems getting into stuff. Certainly it's not got that same feeling of crush this year."

Stuart Kemp of the Hollywood Reporter agrees: "There are definitely fewer people than normal, and people are being more careful with their money."

All in all, it seems the credit crunch has taken its toll on the festival atmosphere.

"There has been only one film backed by a major studio here this year - Disney's Up," explains Kemp.

"Studio people are good at creating an atmosphere and spending money. That's been missed."

'Strong contenders'

It's undoubtedly true that major entertainment players have scaled back their presence on the Riviera.

Vanity Fair magazine has even cancelled its annual party, usually regarded as one of the social highlights of the 12-day festival.

Abbie Cornish (right) with Ryan Phillippe
Cornish (right) is a strong contender for this year's best actress prize

Hollywood celebrities also seen thinner on the ground than usual.

In terms of films, though, the general consensus is that it is shaping up to be a good year.

"Last year was a hard year to follow," says Fionnuala Halligan. "But so far it's going well.

"It's unusual for the first couple of films to get such an enthusiastic reaction."

"Among the first films were three strong contenders for a prize," agrees Kemp, citing Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, Jane Campion's Bright Star and Jacques Audiard's A Prophet.

Arnold's film has been singled out for the performance of newcomer Katie Jarvis, who plays its lonely and hostile teenage heroine.

Her work makes her a strong contender for the festival's best actress prize.

She faces strong competition, though, from Australia's Abbie Cornish, whose work as John Keats' beloved Fanny Brawne in Bright Star has seen her receive rave reviews.

Hard-hitting

In Palme d'Or terms, though, Halligan thinks Jacques Audiard's film A Prophet has the edge over Campion's.

Tahar Rahim from A Prophet
Rahim has received acclaim for his role as a convict in A Prophet

"A Prophet had two strikes against it: it's a prison drama with an all-male cast and it's two-and-a-half hours long.

"But it's very intense and involving, and it features this fantastic central performance from Tahar Rahim who is totally compelling."

The Cannes jury are notoriously difficult to second guess, though. Indeed, Halligan suspects jury president Isabelle Huppert may be looking for something darker still.

"I would imagine Huppert's taste would tend towards something like Kinatay" - a hard-hitting crime drama about the brutal murder of a Manila prostitute.

Kinatay is the second feature from Filipino director Brillante Mendoza to screen in competition at Cannes in consecutive years.

"It's the kind of confrontational cinema that Cannes likes," says Halligan.

'Lean patch'

Still to come, though, is Quentin Tarantino's World War II drama Inglourious Basterds, which receives its premiere on Wednesday.

The film, about a group of Jewish-American soldiers on a Nazi-killing spree, will screen at a time when there is typically a lull in festival proceedings.

A scene from Kinatay
Kinatay tells of a young criminal who becomes an accomplice to murder

"It's a brilliant piece of programming," says Stuart Kemp. "Good or bad it will cause a fuss, and that's what the festival needs."

Halligan, though, thinks the next few days will see a dip in momentum, allowing events like the traditional fund-raiser for the American Federation for Aids Research (amfAR) to steal the limelight.

Thursday's gala will see actress Sharon Stone and former US president Bill Clinton sharing the hosting duties, with Annie Lennox providing entertainment.

"I think what's different about the festival this year is that it's kind of back-loaded," says Screen International's assistant editor.

"It started high and now it seems to be going through a bit of a lean patch."

However, Halligan expects things to rally with the arrival later this week of eagerly-awaited films from Michael Haneke and Gasper Noe.

Acclaimed directors like these, she says, are "what the critics are getting worked up about".



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