Moral responsibility (and early closing) give the first day of Cannes an unusual sobriety

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The Independent Culture

The organisers of the opening day of the world's most glamorous film festival didn't know what hit them yesterday, as movie glitz and excess came under attack from all directions.

The organisers of the opening day of the world's most glamorous film festival didn't know what hit them yesterday, as movie glitz and excess came under attack from all directions.

First, the Cannes festival's decision to have a Booker Prize-winning political activist on the jury rebounded when Arundhati Roy told the journalists and photographers at the opening press conference that they should be elsewhere in the world "where terrible things are happening".

Next, the town's mayor decided to order all beach parties to end just after midnight. And then, with a French prime minister visiting the festival for the first time, police went into overdrive, raiding incoming trainsto weed out undesirables.

It was down to the Hollywood actress Uma Thurman, starring in the opening film Vatel, to smile seductively and say: "I love France and I love this festival. It celebrates film and utterly indulges the highest levels of glamour." But she must have wondered if she'd come to the right place.

It was Roy, the author of The God of Small Things, who first set the cat among the pigeons. Flanked on the festival jury by performers Kristin Scott Thomas and Jeremy Irons, and directors Luc Besson and Jonathan Demme, she admitted she was not part of the film world. She said she had just come from the Narmada Valley in south India where there had been anti-government protests against the construction of a massive dam.

In an emotional and impassioned outburst she said she felt it hard "to connect" between that and the glamour of Cannes. She said: "To be honest, I've just come from a world where terrible things are happening. One journeys between powerlessness and power. I so wish that all the cameramen and all the journalists [here] were in the places where terrible things were happening."

Having been reminded of their moral responsibilities, the movie world was also reminded of the need for sobriety. Cannes' mayor, Maurice Delauney, sent off a memo to hotels and party organisers informing them that all beach parties (the high point in Cannes glitz and exclusivity) must end promptly at 12.30am.

In terms that seem to compare movie parties to a battlefront he said: "The city will not tolerate any violation. I emphasise with the greatest firmness that the closing hour of establishments that have been authorised to open for the evening is fixed at 12.30."

Meanwhile, with memories of a homemade bomb being found and defused last year, and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin last night becoming the first PM to attend the festival in its 63 year history, police launched a security operation that matched the mayor's militaristic language.

More than 230 security guards controlled admission to the Palais, where the stars mount the red carpeted staircase from the seafront to the cinema; the 300-strong national police force based in Cannes was reinforced to 500 for the festival, plus some 30 plainclothes agents in addition to the 200-strong municipal police.

"Security is a permanent problem which has grown with the festival," said the festival's president, Pierre Viot.

Police forces in several major cities, including Paris, Lyons and Marseilles, were instructed to stop possible troublemakers en route for the Riviera. And the French railway company SNCF stepped up patrols on trains and at the surrounding stations.

Going to the movies has never been so tricky.

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