Because they cannes, cannes, cannes!

French Riviera rolls out the red carpet as the Cannes film festival opens
CANNES, France (AFP) – The world’s most extravagant celebration of international cinema, the Cannes film festival, kicked off 12 days of screenings, dealmaking and celebrity bashes in an atmosphere far removed from the uncertainty gripping some parts of the planet.
The first day of the glitzy event, with thousands of movie industry types and journalists in attendance, was to officially start with a red-carpet ceremony presented by stunning Italian actress Monica Bellucci.
“Fanfan la Tulipe”, a French swashbuckler starring Penelope Cruz, was then to begin the packed timetable of screenings in front of the crowd of stars and VIPs in evening wear.
More than 700 other films will be shown over the following days of the festival. Most are small productions looking for distribution in the business end of the event, but a selected few — 20 to be exact — are in the running for the prestigious Palme d’Or, Cannes’s top prize.
French films dominate the Palme field, making up a quarter of the nominations, while US films this year have been whittled down to just three — although one of them, “Mystic River”, is a thriller directed by Clint Eastwood seen as an early favourite.
Films by rising Asian directors, particularly from Japan, are also present, but many other nationalities will still get noticed in parallel sections dedicated to auteur productions.
A special out-of-competition screening of “The Matrix Reloaded”, the sequel to the sci-fi blockbuster, will dominate the early days of the festival, especially as stars Keanu Reeves and Bellucci will be there to plug it in person, a day before it opens worldwide.
A near-general strike Tuesday took some wind from Cannes’s sails, delaying the arrival of many of the 30,000 festival-goers heading to the Riviera rendez-vous.
But others chose to move their travel plans ahead a day, turning up Monday instead. Among them were the members of the Palme d’Or jury, including actresses Meg Ryan from the United States, Aishwarya Rai from India and directors Steven Soderbergh from the United States and Danis Tanovic from Bosnia.
Bellucci also made it early enough to shrug off her jetlag during a breakfast meeting with a handful of journalists Tuesday, just before Reeves, too, checked in.
The strike nonetheless compounded other problems that tarnished some of Cannes’s glitzy welcome.
The mysterious SARS illness from Asia, the global economic downturn (and the plummeting US dollar), along with the aftershocks of the US war on Iraq and the suicide bomb attacks on Western housing complexes in Saudi Arabia’s capital Monday all seemed to have some effect.
The manager of one two-star hotel, Marcel Moura, said that most of his guests were expected to arrive Thursday and “for the first time in ages, I still have a free room for the weekend.”
French government health authorities distributed a leaflet with each accreditation packet which sought to reassure attendees that festival-goers arriving from Asia did not pose a particular health threat as long as they showed no symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The leaflet did, however, urge those taking part to leave their phone number or address with organisers so they could be contacted after their departure should a confirmed SARS case come to light.
At the same time, French police and festival security staff imposed unprecedented restrictions in and around the stretch of seaside that makes up the festival. Parking was forbidden along Cannes’s famous beach promenade and stringent bag- and body-screening took place.
Cannes’s police chief, Andre Trouve, said his units “had already been put at the maximum” level of alert and that no extra precautions were being taken in the wake of the deadly Saudi bombings.
For the attendees already in the Riviera town, there was little sign of concern at what was happening elsewhere in the world.
At many of the cafe tables set back from the sparkling Mediterranean sea, the conversation was more focused on film business, brushes with celebrity, or party plans for the coming days.