And the award for the worst festival goes to...

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The Independent Online

As the Cannes Film Festival crawled to its frustrating conclusion today, pundits were predicting that the pre-eminence of the once unassailable showcase is likely to be seriously challenged in August by its emerging rival in Venice. This year's 56th official selection was widely felt to be the worst ever.

While doubts were raised about the competence of the event's programmers, pulses were already racing at the prospect of the Venice Film Festival selection, expected to feature entries by Robert Altman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Theo Angelopoulos, Ingmar Bergman, Jane Campion and the Coen brothers.

Todd McCarthy ofVariety called for the festival to be seriously re-thought. But the riposte, from festival president Gilles Jacob, was swift when he barked: "Todd, put your gun down."

Signs that the festival had done little to heal wounds between America and France snowballed when French newspaper Libération said: "Now Cannes is over, McCarthy can go and relax at his cabin in the Rockies and reload his rifle, which always misses its target."

American director Vincent Gallo presented his much-derided The Brown Bunny, then publicly apologised for it. But his crimes were outdone by Les Côtelettes, a contemplation of sex and death byBertrand Blier, who was greeted with extended booing.

Things scarcely improved. The last competition film, Peter Greenaway's The Tulse Luper Suitcases Part 1: The Moab Story, was met with muted applause, and left many viewers bewildered and exhausted.

As for 2003's winners, the likeliest Palme d'Or is Lars Von Trier'sDogville, with leads Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany well placed for acting awards. Other favourites include Gus Van Sant's Elephant and the low-key Turkish film Uzak.

There will be no prizes for Errol Morris's The Fog of Warabout Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defence under Kennedy and Johnson, but it was, by far, the most important film here. Its startling revelations about American foreign policy will no doubt prove extremely controversial when it is released in the US.