For all the glitz, Cannes is dazzled by an old hero

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The Independent Online

There was arthouse philosophy and Hollywood glamour. There was Sean Penn, Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman. Even a troop of kicking kung-fu pandas got a look in. As the world's cinematic elite descended on Cannes yesterday, it was festival time again.

Actors, directors and critics turned out in style for the opening of this year's event, the 61st in its illustrious history, as a political and philosophical thriller from Fernando Meirelles became the first film to compete for the Golden Palm award.

Blindness, a dystopian epic about a world in which more and more people lose their sight, features Moore in the starring role and has been praised for its thoughtful and challenging portrayal of humanity spinning out of control.

But, for all its critical cachet, Meirelles and Moore failed to take centre stage. Despite the festival's reputation for showcasing the world's most innovative cinema, there was only one film anyone was talking about, and it starred the decidedly mainstream actor Harrison Ford.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not even in the official competition to win the Palme d'Or, but many yesterday felt it might as well be. Few among the crowd outside the Palais des Festivals could stop talking about the excitement generated by Steven Spielberg's new blockbuster, to be premiered on Sunday in Cannes.

Even the critics agreed it was understandable that the cinematic juggernaut, starring Cate Blanchett with Ford, was eclipsing other offerings. Dan Jolin, features editor of Empire magazine, said that while Blindness, adapted from the novel by the Portuguese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, was a worthy choice, it was also bleak and uninviting.

A British film that examines the last six weeks in the life of the Maze prison hunger striker Bobby Sands has drawn criticism from those who see it as an untimely celebration of terrorist martyrdom. The 96-minute film, Hunger, was part-funded by Channel 4 and directed by the artist Steve McQueen.