Fists fly as the film world gets festive at Cannes

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The Independent Online
The 50th Cannes Festival began yesterday just as the scriptwriter ordered - with fists flying as photographers jostled to snap Bruce Willis, the star of the opening film, The Fifth Element.

Meanwhile, new arrivals in town gazed with astonishment at the blue bubble- shaped object parked by the harbour - not, as it happens, a passing spaceship, but the venue for last night's opening party.

Cannes has seldom been associated with good taste, but even by its own sub-Babylonian standards, the vast mural which hangs over the entrance to the Palais Du Cinema is a shocker - two gigantic golden palms either side of a red stairway on which stand various stick-like luminaries in evening dress, apparently famous figures from festivals past, but all so indistinctly drawn as to be unrecognisable.

The image of the golden palm is all over town. It hangs from hundreds of red pennants along the main thoroughfare, the Croisette. It is stencilled into the pavement. It is in every shop window. There are already reports of memento hunters shimmying up flagpoles in an attempt to purloin the pennants.

The little seaside town has now undergone its usual opening day metamorphosis into mini-police state.

The Croisette is cordoned off. Gendarmes stand at every corner, checking press passes.

In the back streets, rich old ladies, out walking their poodles, scowl at the strangers who've descended on their home town in record numbers.

Despite festival director Gilles Jacob's assertions to the contrary, Cannes is simply a celebration of the art of cinema. It's one of the film world's biggest markets and it is also an opportunity for tourists, journalists and photographers to gawp at stars and starlets.

As expected, there is more glitter than ever this year. Michael Jackson is due in town tonight for a midnight screening of his 40-minute spectacular, Ghosts.

The Spice Girls arrive tomorrow to promote their forthcoming film and, no doubt, show off their Union Jack underwear.

Johnny Depp will be on the Croisette, promoting his directorial debut, The Brave, in which Marlon Brando co-stars. It is a dark film with a dark history. In late 1993, Aziz Ghazal, the director originally pencilled in to make the movie killed his ex-wife and daughter before shooting himself.

It is too early to predict where this year's prizes will be going, but the buzz surrounding the two British films in competition, Michael Winterbottom's Welcome To Sarajevo and Gary Oldman's South London psychodrama, Nil By Mouth, suggests that the prospects of a second consecutive Palme D'Or (after Secrets and Lies last year) aren't as far-fetched as they first seemed.

Geoffrey Macnab