Depardieu sings his way to favourite for Cannes award

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The Independent Online

By far the most acclaimed titles in selection were the Spanish film Volver by Cannes regular Pedro Almodovar, and Babel, by Mexican film-maker Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, who made his reputation in Cannes in 2000 with his debut, Amores Perros.

Almodovar's film, his simplest and most commercial in some time, is a comedy with Penelope Cruz as a long-suffering Madrid housewife, while Babel stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and young Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal in a story of interlinked destinies set in Morocco, Mexico and Japan. The two films were both critical and popular choices in a festival that many believed was decidedly lukewarm.

Many film-makers failed to deliver their best, and some - notably Sofia Coppola with Marie-Antoinette, and Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly with his futuristic folly Southland Tales - receiving bruising receptions, complete with press show booing. Overall, there was less buzz in Cannes this year, with few startling discoveries or real controversies. Even so, the festival's closing few days brought some welcome surprises.

In particular, French cinema's living monument, Gérard Depardieu, made a robust comeback in the lead role of The Singer, by young director Xavier Giannoli, as an over-the-hill cabaret singer who falls for a much younger woman (played by rising star Cécile de France).

Not only does he give a winning, self-mocking - and implicitly autobiographical - performance as an old warhorse who refuses to call it a day, he also sings, more than competently. At Friday's press show, much of the audience actually clapped along with the closing song. Depardieu looks a clear leader for the Best Actor award.

As for Best Actress, the odds haven't changed since the beginning of the week. The leading contenders are still Penelope Cruz in Volver and Scottish actress Kate Dickie, making her big screen debut in Red Road, a tense psychological drama by first-time British feature-maker Andrea Arnold.