A brisk dash of glamour was supplied by Jeanne Moreau who introduced the jury she will lead this year. Here, too, the press conference was unusually serious. The producer Norma Heyman, who was to have represented Britain, had resigned on the grounds that her next project involved several people with films in competition. There was talk of loss of integrity, all firmly quashed by Moreau (who herself has plans to work with Merchant- Ivory, competing here with Jefferson in Paris). What, she said, would be the point of a jury with no connections with cinema? There was further talk of truth and politics, and of whether cinema can change the world. A couple of things became clear: Madame la Presidente will be a force to conjure with. And this year's Pulp Fiction will be unlikely to carry off the Palme d'Or.
Not that there are many likely contenders. Most of the American genre films are tucked away in midnight screenings: the competition menu includes apartheid and famine in Africa, opium wars in China, revolution in Paris, Civil War in Spain, totalitarianism in Burma and Bulgaria, bloody conflict in Yugoslavia and HIV-positive teenagers in America. Two French entries are called Hatred and (another Aids-themed movie) Don't Forget You Are Going to Die. Where, we all wondered, was the light relief?
The Directors' Fortnight kicked off with Le Confessionel, a first film by the French-Canadian theatre director Robert Lepage. It's that diciest of ventures, an homage to Hitchcock - a modern riff on I Confess set, like that film, in Quebec City. Lepage acquits himself honourably although the complex plotlines and themes don't quite resonate as they should.
Back in competition, Waati, from Africa, deserves a little attention. It has been eight years since Yeelen, the last work by its director, Souleymane Cisse, a reminder of the huge difficulties confronting Third World film- makers and, perhaps, an explanation of why Waati went wrong. It seems as if, after all the wait, Cisse had wanted to cram everything into this ambitious, pan-Continental story about a young woman who grows up in South Africaand confronts social deprivation on the fringes on Timbuktu, in Mali. A schematic, sometimes naive screenplay stocked with vicious white racists and noble blacks is studded with flashes of startling lyrical brilliance.
No great finds yet, then, but the heavy hitters, including Ken Loach, Zhang Yimou, and Emir Kusterica, come next week.