Film: 50th Cannes Film Festival

Back in 1946, when Cannes staged its first film festival, Britain was represented by David Lean's Brief Encounter. The sight of Home Counties heroine Celia Johnson sobbing into her hanky to the accompaniment of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto clearly didn't much impress that year's jury, who awarded the main prizes elsewhere.

Given Francois Truffaut's old jibe about the "incompatibility between the terms 'cinema' and 'Britain'", it is perhaps not surprising that British film-makers have often returned empty-handed from Cannes. Although Mike Leigh won the Palme D'Or last year for Secrets and Lies (French-funded admittedly), the announcement earlier this week of the 1997 festival selection suggests the Brits won't make much of a show at this year's 50th anniversary.

British hopes of a second successive Palme D'Or lie with Gary Oldman, who takes his place behind the camera with Nil By Mouth, a rites-of-passage story set in south-east London that has already earned him the sobriquet of "the Deptford De Niro", and with Michael Winterbottom, whose Welcome to Sarajevo offers a dramatised account of how ITN journalist Michael Nicholson came to adopt a Bosnian child. Oldman also appears alongside Bruce Willis in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, which opens the festival.

Outside the main competition, Judi Dench and Billy Connolly enjoy a knees- up in Victorian mufti in John Madden's comedy, His Majesty, Mrs Brown, Hanif Kureishi figures as scriptwriter for Udayan Prasad's My Son the Fanatic, the ubiquitous Ewan McGregor pops up in Philippe Rousselot's The Serpent's Kiss, and Sean Mathias's Bent features in The Critics' Week.

Even if they have precious few pictures in the festival, the Brits in Cannes will still have plenty to gossip about. They'll be waiting on tenterhooks to hear how the Arts Council has decided to divide the pounds 156m of National Lottery cash promised to the film industry, and they'll all want to catch a glimpse of the new Heritage Secretary, who ought to be in town.

While the international critics try to judge the relative merits of new films by Wim Wenders, Matthieu Kassovitz, Wong-Kar Wai and Atom Egoyan, and wait to see if Johnny Depp can direct as prettily as he acts (his directorial debut, The Brave, is in competition), the photographers will be on the look-out for starlets who can emulate Bardot and the 1996 cynosure, Liv Tyler. Lately, Cannes has lost out to Venice in the battle for Hollywood glitter, but Gilles Jacob's decision to close the festival with Clint Eastwood's thriller Absolute Power should ensure that at least Clint turns up.

In 1946, delegates enjoyed a leisurely glass of champagne in the gardens of the Grand Hotel as fireworks exploded above them. In 1997, the celebrations are likely to be rather wilder. After all, it has taken Cannes a long while to reach its 50th anniversary. The first festival was planned to open at the beginning of September 1939, with Mae West as special guest, but Hitler sabotaged the event by ordering the Nazi invasion of Poland. The 1948 and 1950 festivals were cancelled. Only in 1951 was Cannes put on a firm footing. It has run uninterrupted since then, with just one notable blip: in May 1968, Godard, Truffaut and co closed down the 21st festival after a week as a gesture of solidarity with the students and striking workers. (Which film-makers these days would be politicised enough to make such a gesture?)

This year's films are in danger of being relegated to sideshow status: competition won't hinge so much on winning the Palme D'Or as on throwing the most lavish party. All the accommodation in the little seaside town for the first two weeks in May has long since gone. Not even politicians can pull rank to get themselves a room. (Reportedly, one British sales company provoked the wrath of Jacques Chirac by booking the Imperial Suite in the hotel where the French President intended to stay.)

Although industry pundits like to boast about how easy it is to set up meetings when so many producers, directors, sellers and buyers are in town, Cannes has always been as much about hedonism as hard work. One veteran sales agent grumbles about "the very, very long period of immense expense with nobody ever really doing their business very seriously".

The enduring fascination of the festival lies in its carnivalesque clash of opposites. Complementing the official competition (or, depending on your point of view, its bastard younger brother) is the Cannes Market, Le Marche International Du Film as it proclaims itself, which was officially established in 1961 and now attracts hundreds of films, some from "reputable" sales companies, many from hucksters and mountebanks. You can watch the latest masterpieces of world cinema in the vast, Escorial-like Palais Du Cinema, then slope off to some backstreet, shoebox-sized screening- room to catch up on Bugged! (its best scene is a killer cockroach devouring an innocent squirrel) or some other monstrosity from low-budget schlockmeisters, Troma. There are even the "Hot D'Or" awards for the best sex films. It seems that Cannes in May is one honeypot that the flies just can't resist.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us