FILM / Cannes Diary: Life and nothing but: They also show movies at the Cannes Film Festival. Sheila Johnston on those making the biggest waves

It is becoming more and more difficult to make wonderful movies. Watching Une Partie de campagne (1936), which kicked off a centenary tribute to the French master Jean Renoir, one is struck by its combination of beauty and passion, but above all by how rarely that combination is found today. Today, film-makers are hip, self-conscious, clever, cine-literate. They make witty genre pastiches like the opening night film, the Coen brothers' enjoyable comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, in which Tim Robbins plays an innocent sap propelled to the presidency of a conglomerate. It's a satire on the American way of greed, Frank Capra painted cynical and black.

They make films like Hal Hartley's Amateur (from the Directors' Fortnight), in which a cluster of this director's typically marginal and dislocated characters become embroiled in an outrageous thriller. Or like Exotica, another of Atom Egoyan's glacial meditations on fantasy, voyeurism, desire and the disintegration of the family. All these movies are highly intelligent and expertly crafted, but they have a cold heart.

There is one film here, however, which is exciting cinema and also carries a fierce emotional impact: Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red, the final part of his Blue, White, Red trilogy, which so far towers above the rest of the competition. Irene Jacob, a model involved in a destructive love affair, meets a reclusive judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who passes his time spying on his neighbours: hurt by a woman many years ago, he has become desiccated and bitter. But his curious friendship with Jacob brings him back to the world. The third major character, a young lawyer, seems to exist on the fringes of the story: his path keeps crossing Jacob's, but they appear destined to never quite meet. You gradually realise he is a younger Trintignant; they are doppelgangers a little like the two characters played by Jacob in Kieslowski's earlier The Double Life of Veronique. And, at the end, a tragedy gives all three of them a second shot at happiness.

The film includes many motifs from Kieslowski's earlier work, in a brighter key. The director remains as fatalistic as ever, but the powerful climax, which involves the major characters from Blue and White, suggests that, for all that they have suffered, they will ultimately survive.

In Berlin, Kieslowski announced his retirement from cinema, but at the press conference here he left film-lovers a glimmer of hope: he would like to spend the future in the country, on a chair . . . filming. 'I've had enough . . . but who knows?'

Against expectations, I liked Mike Figgis's The Browning Version, an arch- traditional remake of Terence Rattigan's bittersweet play and the only (part-) British film in competition. Albert Finney plays the central character, a disillusioned Classics master, as a man near to exploding with repressed energy and passion. It's an affecting performance that may cause history to repeat itself (Michael Redgrave won Best Actor here for the role in the 1951 version). But The Browning Version is also conventionally filmed, and makes a serious error in updating the setting. Its reception has been divided.

So has Riaba My Chicken, for which Andrei Konchalovsky, who has been based in America for some years, returns to his native Russia. He also returns to one of his own earlier films, Asya's Happiness (1967), which was banned by the Soviet authorities for its frank view of peasant life. Riaba revisits the same characters, but the tone is different: it's a broad folk comedy about a golden egg which becomes the centre of a fable on human folly and the chaos of Russian society. It's filmed with a hand-held camera and a cast of mainly non-professionals playing themselves, and has a wacky, erratic charm.

(Photograph omitted)