Robin Hood braves volcano, freak storm for Cannes filmfest

Megastars and movie directors kept a worried eye on a volcanic ash cloud wafting across Europe Sunday as they geared up for the Cannes film frenzy that will see "Robin Hood" lead a charge against the rich and powerful.

A freak storm lashed the chic French Riviera resort last week and now an Icelandic volcano is threatening to prevent A-list Hollywood stars like Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Russell Crowe from sashaying up the fabled red carpet.

A score of flights were cancelled Sunday to and from Nice, the nearest airport to Cannes, because of the ash cloud, and festival organisers were praying that traffic will be back to normal by the gala opening on Wednesday.

"Everyone wants to get an invitation to Cannes, even the ash cloud," joked Cannes deputy mayor David Lisnard.

Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," starring Russell Crowe as the medieval English archer who robs the rich to help the poor, and fellow Australian Cate Blanchett as his love interest Maid Marian, will open the 12-day bash.

Later in the week Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" sees Michael Douglas reprise his 1987 role as rogue stockbroker Gordon Gekko now getting out of jail and warning Wall Street of impending financial disaster.

Gekko was the man who coined the phrase "Greed is good" back in the avaricious 1980s, but he has now seen the error of his ways.

Denouncing greed is a theme running through the notoriously extravagant festival this year, with the documentary "Inside Job" delivering a scathing analysis of the 2008 financial crisis that brought the world close to economic collapse.

"Cleveland vs. Wall Street" meanwhile stages a mock trial in which small-town victims of the subprime crisis in the United States fight it out with bankers and mortgage brokers.

This year's festival will see gala premieres of films by Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Japan's Takeshi Kitano, veteran US director Woody Allen and New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard.

The event that first began in 1946 this year sees "Alice in Wonderland" director Tim Burton preside over a jury that will present the coveted Palme d'Or top award to one of the 18 films in the main competition.

This year's crop is marked by austerity and a distinct lack of frivolity.

It includes works from the likes of Iran's Abbas Kiarostami, who makes his first foray into European cinema with "The Certified Copy," starring French actress Juliette Binoche.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's "The Screaming Man" brings Chad for the first time to the Palme competition, whose results will be announced on May 23, while Ukraine also makes a debut in the main category with Sergei Loznitsa's "My Joy."

Asia has a strong showing, with two entries for the Palme from South Korea - "Poetry" by Lee Chang-dong and Im Sang-soo's "The Housemaid" - and China, Japan and Thailand are also represented.

France has three films in the main race that last year was won by Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon."

The United States has just one.

"Fair Game," by "The Bourne Identity" director Doug Liman, looks at the bid by former US president George W. Bush's administration to discredit CIA agent Valerie Plame.

The prestigious Directors' Fortnight sidebar competition promises some lively fare, with documentaries on disabled Congolese street musicians and ageing rockers The Rolling Stones.

Cannes would not be Cannes without a controversy and this year two rows have already started about movies to be screened at the event.

"Outside Of The Law" by Rachid Bouchareb, about France's colonial past in Algeria, has been denounced by a French politician as a "negationist" rewriting of history and has sparked complaints from far-right groups.

And Italy's minister of culture has said he will boycott the festival after a documentary on the L'Aquila earthquake in April 2009 he has slammed as anti-government propaganda was included in the programme.

Around 10,000 movie industry types, 4,000 press and thousands of film lovers and celebrity watchers are due to attend the festival gig whose heady cocktail of commerce, glamour and high art makes it the top film event of the year.

"In Cannes you have both a major film from a (Hollywood) studio for the opening, and a totally unknown Ukrainian filmmaker with an experimental film in the competition," said festival director Thierry Fremaux, summing up the event's diversity.

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