If there's one thing that's almost certain about this year's Cannes, it's that Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny - resoundingly booed at its first press screening on Tuesday - is extremely unlikely to win the Palme d'Or. Mind you, it might be in with a chance of a Hot d'Or, the pornography industry's top prize. Trophies in this parallel competition are handed out every year while the legitimate festival is running, honouring winners in such categories as "Best Blow Job" and "Best Threesome". The Gallo film, co-starring Chloe Sevigny, has got both activities in it, although you can see better sex acts on your local hotel-room TV sets (at least they're in focus).
So far, Lars von Trier's Dogville is loping ahead of the pack as favourite to win the Palme, judging by the buzz, the critics' polls in the trade magazines and the 5-2 odds laid down by the film critic Derek Malcolm. Although arguments were still raging over the setless drama starring Nicole Kidman, even doubters had to concede that it was in with a chance of a Palme d'Or given that its formal audacity was likely to appeal to the jury president Patrice Chèreau and juror Steven Soderbergh. Meanwhile, other jurors such as Meg Ryan and Aishwarya Rai, both actors, might be impressed by Kidman's risk-taking central performance and the film's strong ensemble cast.
Opinion was divided as to whether the proximity of von Trier's win for Dancer in the Dark in 2000 would count for or against his latest effort. The film was running a score of 3.1 out of 5 in Screen International's daily critics' poll and pulling bravos from the French critics polled in Le Film Français's daily.
Other hot tips include Hector Babenco's prison drama Carandiru and Samira Makhmalbaf's Afghanistan-set At Five in the Afternoon, especially as both offer humanist messages. But based on word-of-mouth and the trade polls, Dogville's biggest threat might be Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Uzak/Distant, which is getting raves from everyone. At the very least Ceylan, who is also the film's writer and producer, could take the Best Director prize. His rivals for the title include Gus Van Sant for Elephant, François Ozon for Swimming Pool and maybe Clint Eastwood for Mystic River.
Other contenders for best auteur include Peter Greenaway and Alexander Sokurov. Ron Holloway of the trade magazine Moving Pictures, who's been coming to Cannes for more years than he can remember, reckons the Russian has a very strong case. Having competed four times at Cannes, the jury might feel a little pressure from the festival brass to palm Sokurov a Palme at last.
In the acting stakes, Kidman is getting the smart money for Best Actress, although Swimming Pool's duo, Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier, are judged to have given outstanding performances in a film with a very mixed reception.
Sagnier also stars in Claude Miller's upcoming La Petite Lili, which could get the both photogenic and talented actress extra points. Few have a favourite for Best Actor yet, although Mystic River promises a dream team of male thespians in the shape of Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Bacon.
Finally, there have been whispers that the Chinese film Purple Butterfly, which is showing late in the competition, is outstanding. It's become festival received wisdom that programmers often save their best for the closing days, and recent winners such as the Dardennes Brothers' Rosetta and Roman Polanski's The Pianist both bowed late in the schedules during the years they competed.
But critics are often wildly out of step with what juries finally select. Who knows: maybe The Brown Bunny is in with a chance after all.