Jonathan Romney: Camp soirees for arthouse crowd

Cannes Diary

Cannes has a way of making you jaded horribly quickly. But a few things can always be counted on to revive your sense of the extravagant - such as a warm night, a spectacular firework display and the sound of a choirboy singing "Moon River" in Spanish. In a year when Hollywood returned to Cannes in a big way, it was good to be reminded that European art cinema knows how to throw a party, too, and the opening-night bash for Bad Education by Pedro Almodovar (below) was memorable.

The director himself played compere for a drag show featuring his new film's co-star Javier Camara - previously the hero of Talk to Her. If the jury president Quentin Tarantino, witnessed the portly Camara dolled up in a wig and yellow tracksuit imitating Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, he won't forget it in a hurry. Almodovar alumni, including Victoria Abril, Marisa Paredes and this year's Cannes poster boy, Gael Garcia Bernal, were also present; one observer noted that for sheer camp, the soiree beat even the Moulin Rouge opening night a few years ago.

The official competition itself is only just warming up. The biggest name to show so far was Emir Kusturica with Life is a Miracle, the Serbian director's portrayal of the Balkan conflict as a three-ring circus.

Madder still, but gruesomely hypnotic, was Old Boy, from South Korea's Park Chan-wook - bound to appeal to Tarantino as it was flashy and exceptionally violent, especially for the octopus which the hero eats alive (apparently for real). But the competition film that most impressed me was The Consequences of Love by the young Italian director Paolo Sorrentino - an unsettling and glacially cool existential number about a middle-aged man without qualities who is stuck in a Swiss hotel. Sorrentino's film also features a contender for the festival's Best Actor award: Toni Servillo, whose chilling way with a quizzically raised eyebrow makes John Malkovich look like Jim Carrey.

A welcome antidote to the usual festival alarums and excursions was Five, by the Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. Even starker than his previous digital essay 10 on Ten, Five has no narrative, only four long continuous shots of a seashore, and one of the moon reflected in a pond at night. More akin to gallery video art than film, it nevertheless demands to be watched in a cinema, where you become unusually aware of time and subtle changes in light and texture; besides, as Kiarostami told me, it really doesn't matter if you fall asleep.