Cannes 2009: Fun in the sun

Who's striking the deals? Which movies will wow the jury? And which stars will send the paparazzi into a frenzy? Our team on the Croisette presents everything you need to know about the world's glitziest film festival
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The Independent Culture

The Movies

By common consensus, Cannes 2009 is a cinephile's delight. The festival's competition is bulging with films from big-name, much-cherished auteurs. The question is whether they will all be on form. On a resolutely non-auteurial note, the festival will be hoping that its unlikely choice of opening film, Pixar's Up, will give Cannes the lift it needs. (The film is a 3D animated yarn about a cranky old man who ties thousands of balloons to his house and flies south toward Latin America.)

Before his ill-advised remake of Funny Games, Michael Haneke was cited by his peers as the most innovative and arresting European currently working. He has the chance to claw back some lost ground with The White Ribbon, a historical drama with a whiff of Heimat about it, which looks at the political convulsions in Germany at the start of the First World War.

Quentin Tarantino never disappoints. If his new film Inglourious Basterds (a Dirty Dozen-style story about Jewish-American soldiers taking on the Nazis) is lousy, that will be news. If it's good, that will be news too. When it screens next Wednesday, it's a fair bet that half of Cannes will acclaim Basterds as a masterpiece and the other half boos.

Controversy of a different sort will be attached to Lou Ye's Spring Fever. His previous feature, Summer Palace, scandalised the Chinese. The new film deals frankly with a gay relationship. It was made without government permission, so is unlikely to be screening officially in Beijing. any time soon.

Advance buzz suggests Ken Loach's Looking For Eric is one of his more cheery efforts. Eric Cantona himself. A Man Utd-obsessed and very unhappy middle-aged postman speaks to a poster of Cantona. With a little help from the spliff he's been smoking, the picture comes to life and starts spouting homely gallic wisdom.

One project that has excited international buyers – and seems set to rekindle fond memories of Steve Reeves sword-and-sandal movies or of Victor Mature in his toga-wearing days – is Alejandro Amenabar's Agora, starring Rachel Weiz and Max Minghella

Meanwhile, Francis Coppola is seemingly determined to go back to his filmmaking roots. Rather than direct multi-million dollar studio films, he wants to work in freewheeling, improvisatory style. He reportedly turned down a slot in competition for his new feature, the intimate family story Tetro. Instead, it screens alongside low-budget and experimental work in the Directors' Fortnight, the section of Cannes set up in the late 1960s in reaction to the perceived red-carpet excesses and bourgeois indulgence of the official festival. GEOFFREY MACNAB

The Parties

To some, Cannes is a party festival rather than a film festival. But this year, for once, the films may be more exciting than the festivities. Hollywood's glitterati will descend on the Côte d'Azur as usual, but the budget for decadence has been severely credit-crunched.

To see and be seen by the right people is as important as ever but, in recessionary times, it is also important not to be seen to be flaunting one's wealth. Or so we are told.

The Vanity Fair party at the Hotel du Cap – estimated to have cost €2m last year – has been cancelled. Other partygoers may have to settle for onion tart and sparkling rosé instead of foie gras and champagne. Some insiders point out, however, that talk of belt-tightening and sobriety is not new. There has been a gentle decline in the extravagance of Cannes in recent years but this year's schedule is filled with afternoon cocktail receptions, after-film parties, exclusive beach soirées – and parties on yachts, in hotel penthouses and country villas.

The hottest ticket in town is the amfAR Cinema Against Aids dinner and auction next Thursday. Former US president Bill Clinton will be the guest of honour at this year's black-tie event, which features a cocktail reception, dinner, and live auction.

Highlights of previous Cinema against AIDS events have included Sharon Stone dancing to an impromptu performance by Sir Elton John and Ringo Starr, 25 of the world's top models strutting down the runway, and Paul Sorvino serenading Sean Penn and Johnny Depp with an Italian aria.

Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon, of America's US Weekly magazine, describes the party scene as an essential element of the festival. "A lot of people spend time at Cannes trying to get into the right places and be seen rubbing shoulders with the right people. A film company is judged on how outrageous their party is."

Behind the glitz and glamour of the social circuit is the serious business of networking. "Everyone in Cannes is looking for a movie, or to sell their movie, or just to sell themselves," says Ian Thompson. "The opportunity to bump into the right person or get access to five financiers at just one party saves an awful amount of work." THOMASIN PROCTER

The People

Last year it was all about Brangelina and the bump. One year and a double birth later, the biggest names on the red carpet at the Croisette will be...Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Well, we think so. Pitt's a cert – he'll be at the festival promoting his role as a Tennessee hillbilly in Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti-western-cum-war epic Inglourious Basterds. And, despite fevered red-top rumours of a break-up, Jolie may yet stand by her man at Cannes – certainly, Tarantino's backers would welcome a repeat of last year's paparazzi storm.

Away from that celebrity sideshow, Pedro Almodovar will lead the Euro vanguard with his noir drama Broken Embraces. He's hoping to shake off the "eternal bridesmaid" tag. The Spanish director has won best director for All About My Mother (1999) and best screenplay for Volver (2006) but so far the Palme d'Or has remained out of reach. Almodovar will be supported on the red carpet by the film's star, the reliably photogenic Penelope Cruz. If the paps are lucky, she'll be there with actor boyfriend Javier Bardem, too.

Giving Pitt a run for his money in the heartthrob stakes will be Johnny Depp, who's in town for Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, (expect more tearful tributes to the late Heath Ledger, whose role in the film had to be completed by Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law). Isabelle Huppert will add class to the proceedings. The French arthouse favourite and Piano Teacher star is this year's chair of the jury, becoming only the fourth woman to achieve the honour.

The Channel-straddling actress and singer-songwriter Charlotte Gainsbourg will likely be the face of controversy, starring as she does alongside Willem Defoe in Lars von Trier's sexually-explicit horror flick, Antichrist.

Two all-American entertainers should be strutting the for the paparazzi this year. Lenny Kravitz and his trademark shades will bring cool to the stifling Côte d'Azur when he drops in to mark his acting debut (unless you count his 1998 voiceover The Rugrats Movie). He and Mariah Carey feature in the Sundance hit, Precious, which charts the troubled life of a Harlem teenager.

Representing the next generation of red-carpet regulars is Australian starlet Abbie Cornish (Somersault, Elizabeth: The Golden Age), who's in Bright Star.

Joining her are most of the cast of Ang Lee's latest awards sponge, Taking Woodstock, which stars Emile Hirsch as a Vietnam vet in the story behind the legendary 1969 music festival. SIMON USBORNE

The Brits

The red carpet might have been virtually bare of British talent last year, with no entries in the official competition, but this week sees a return to form for homegrown filmmakers with three British films vying for the coveted Palme D'Or.

Cannes veteran Ken Loach is set to make a trip along the Croisette early next week with his story of a football obsessive starring Eric Cantona, Looking for Eric, while the Australian filmmaker, Jane Campion, has collaborated with British producers and actors in her dramatisation of the love affair between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne in Bright Star, starring Bedfordshire-born Ben Whishaw. The actor is due to appear for the movie's premiere at the Grand Theatre Lumiere on Friday.

Michael Fassbender will make his second consecutive appearance at Cannes – last year (when he shed two stones for his art) he stole the hearts of film critics with an astounding performance in Steve McQueen's Camera D'Or winner, Hunger, about the life and death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. This time around, he is starring in Andrea Arnold's film about teen angst and single motherhood, Fish Tank, which has already created a buzz in the South of France; the British filmmaker already made a name for herself in Cannes three years ago with her debut movie, Red Road, which won a nomination and comparisons to the work of Michael Haneke and Lars Von Trier.

Terry Gilliam will take his brand of Britishness to the film festival on the final Friday of the fortnight with The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. Its screening has arguably become one of the unmissable events of the festival, not least because it features the last performance given by the late Heath Ledger. Model-turned-actress Lily Cole, set to walk the red carpet along with Jude Law, who also features in the film alongside Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp.

Hanif Kureishi will return to Cannes 12 years after his screenplay for the Stephen Frears film My Beautiful Laundrette set the festival alight, this time as a member of the jury. His longtime friend Frears will himself appear as part of the British contingent at the festival, while the actress Sally Hawkins, from Mike Leigh's comedy, Happy-Go-Lucky, will be promoting We Want Sex, in which she plays the role of Rita, a feisty factory worker. ARIFA AKBAR

The Critics

The best in show at Cannes is not any of the movies in competition. It is the daily press conference given by the stars of the film of the day. These starry, heady occasions demonstrate that the bulk of the world's film critics are a gaggle of drooling sycophants, who put the most hardcore fans to shame.

I will never forget the press conference given by Charlton Heston a few years ago, when the late actor was still performing. This was the first "question" from a Lebanese film critic: "Mr Heston, you are a god in my country. You are my father, my mother, my sister and my brother."

There's no answer to that. Well, actually there almost is, and it was given on another occasion, when a journalist also from the Lebanon (clearly a breeding ground for sycophants) made a similar speech to Emma Thompson. "Where is it you come from, and how easy is it to move there?" Ms Thompson replied.

Happily, the Brits do it differently and inject some moments of sanity and objectivity into these occasions. But we do so at our peril. For those on the platform are all too easily infected by the Cannes approach to rigorous questioning. One year, when I put it to the then member of the Cannes jury, Jeremy Irons, that it was a pity there were so few British films in competition, he ended the debate before it had really started by responding: "You must be incredibly stupid." That psychoanalytical approach to questioning was equalled by the demand for patriotism made by Harvey Weinstein, who yelled at me and a couple of British colleagues who had dared to ask critical questions about one of the British films: "You guys are meant to be here defending your industry." Give or take an expletive or two.

That's why British journalists feel out of place in Cannes. They do things differently there. Or perhaps it is because the British contingent has never recovered from the shame of 15 years ago when our own VIPs mounted their own press conference. The then Conservative arts minister Stephen Dorrell attended the festival, which happened that year to be paying tribute to the divine actress Jeanne Moreau. "I am happy," said Mr Dorrell, "to pay tribute to Jeanne Moreau, a great Frenchman." DAVID LISTER

The Deals

According to Michael J. Werner, chairman of film sales agent Fortissimo Films, early indications are that Cannes will see a return to deal-making after the gloom of the American Film Market and Berlin Film Festivals. This would be a major turnaround – before Cannes, the trade press was packed with stories of studios cutting costs. Now Fortissimo say they are fielding offers for films screening at the festival.

While American studios may have slashed costs, the big money announcements are likely to come from Imagenation Abu Dhabi and India's Reliance Big Entertainment. Abu Dhabi CEO Ed Borgerding has been charged with investing in gritty social films. Last year, Rajesh Sawhney and Amit Khanna of Reliance left Cannes with smiles as wide as a billionaire's yacht after announcing creative partnerships with stars including George Clooney, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks. One year on, the expectation is that the company will announce the projects which resulted from those deals. The day we see Clooney on screen in a shawal kameez is a little closer.

American producers, including the Weinstein brothers, will be holding court on their yachts. Last year, the Terminator franchise owners Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek, (pictured below) CEOs of The Halcyon Company, were quick off the mark. Owners of a 'first look' deal with the Philip K. Dick estate, they announced that the first book that they will adapt is Dick's award-winning 1974 Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. Cast and crew announcements are expected during Cannes.

Charles Roven, producer of the Dark Knight and Get Smart is also expected to announce new projects this week.

Yet Cannes is also a place for movie-making dreams to be made. Author Richard Hains, who wrote the financial thriller Chameleon, is arriving with an adaptation of his novel, and is hoping to secure finance so the film can shoot in Australia later in the year.

And there will be many more like him in Cannes, all hoping to fulfill their celluloid dreams. KALEEM AFTAB

The Fashion

Just as Paris is the catwalk capital of the world, so Cannes is the jewel in the crown of red-carpet dressing – for all those interested in fashion, at least.

True, the requisite LA superstar in attendance can always be relied upon to dress entirely obviously to impress (Sharon Stone in liquid gold satin, anyone?), but for the European contingent this is a chance to flaunt any fashion credentials in a more elevated manner.

Recent history has seen Charlotte Rampling head-to-toe in vintage black Yohji Yamamoto (douze points – and spring/summer 1997 for any fashion trainspotters out there), Tilda Swinton practically drowning in an oversized bow of a dress courtesy of Viktor & Rolf, and Charlotte Gainsbourg in feathered leather Balenciaga.

This time, heading to the Croisette to promote Lars Von Trier's AntiChrist, it would be no great risk to predict Ms Gainsbourg will be wearing this most prestigious of labels again – and so, too, may jury chair Isabelle Huppert, spotted front row at the spring/summer 2009 Balenciaga show.

Whatever, none of the above are names broadly associated with such high-octane occasions. If the big brands flex their considerable muscle in Hollywood, at Cannes any cachet lies in the obscurity (and with that, credibility) of what an actress chooses to wear.

Only last year, Natalie Portman opted for Lanvin, the fashion editor's cocktail-wear of choice, but with no big-budget advertising campaign to ensure that is the case. Julianne Moore chose a typically idiosyncratic design by southern-French born designer Christian Lacroix. How apt. Catherine Deneuve said it with flowers – flowers courtesy of Balenciaga again. There was barely a tiresomely retro floor-sweeping train in sight.

That is not to say that the household names are ever likely to be conspicuous in their absence, and this applies especially to the French household names. Cannes 2009 looks set to be a big year for Chanel in particular. With Jan Kouren's Coco & Igor holding the prestigious closing slot, one can only assume that the film's star, Anna Mouglalis, will be this label's most high-profile poster girl. Chanel couturier Karl Lagerfeld has dutifully created at least part of her wardrobe for the film, and entirely lovely it looks, too. Monsieur Lagerfeld will also certainly be dressing long-time Chanel-ophile Vanessa Paradis, whose appearance alongside partner Johnny Depp is always a high point. Quintessentially Cannes: witty, pretty and Gallic in the extreme. SUSANNAH FRANKEL

The Sideshow

Whether it's Pamela Anderson in a tight leather top, or Jerry Seinfeld in a bee costume climbing to the top of a building, one thing's for sure – Cannes doesn't do understatement. With thousands of studios, independent filmmakers and hangers-on all scrabbling for publicity, you really have to push the yacht out to get noticed.

"A film festival would not be a proper festival without a plethora of grandiose, delightful, ludicrous and attention-grabbing stunts," says PR consultant Mark Borkowski, author of The Fame Formula, a history of Hollywood publicists. "They help the films leap from the screen into the collective consciousness of the public."

The media circus is fuelled, in part, by the Hot d'Or, an alternative film festival held a mile down the road. This is to pornography what Cannes is to art-house cinema. In 1995, it first brought Lola Ferrari to public attention. She turned up at the festival with just two claims to fame: her 51in breasts and a pending lawsuit from the Italian sportscar manufacturer for infringement of its brand name (the press pack did the rest). The same year, when Miramax tried to publicise a Hugh Grant movie, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain, the studio built a 20ft mountain, which Grant was supposed to climb, on Canne's Majestic Beach. As Grant was about to begin his ascent for his photocall, a Russian porn star appeared from nowhere, climbed to the top and began disrobing.

"Our efforts to remove her achieved far wider coverage than the movie might otherwise have expected," says Graham Smith, of the film's publicists DDA.

The studios are guilty of the odd dirty trick themselves. In 1992, muscle-bound combat heroes Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme were walking down the red carpet to promote their film Universal Soldier when they became embroiled in a slanging match. It almost descended into violence before they were pulled apart.

In recent times, the publicity-seeking has become much more overt. In 2007, Jerry Seinfeld climbed to the top of the Carlton Hotel, dressed in a bee costume, to promote Bee Movie. Thirty minutes after checking his gear, Seinfeld slid down eight storeys, across the Croisette, to the beach below, before repeating the stunt again. Last year, Jack Black arrived by speedboat with 40 people dressed as giant pandas for the release of Kung Fu Panda, while Pamela Anderson arrived by the same method, dressed as Barb Wire, for her forgettable 1996 action film of the same name. And who can forget Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat in his mankini in 2006?

So what of this year? Potential comes in the form of Ken Loach's Looking for Eric, which will have its party in a local football stadium. Hopefully it'll yield a kung-fu kick or two. ROB SHARP