FILM’S BEST FETE 50TH FEST

CANNES — The international film community paid its own hommage to the Cannes Film Festival last night, as dozens of major cinema names gathered for the official celebration of the fest’s 50th edition.

Thousands of people, who had spent most of the day sheltering from the rain, packed every available inch around the red-carpetted steps that lead into the festival’s main venue, the Palais des Festivals.

With French President Jacques Chirac in Cannes on Sunday — he made a fleeting visit via Concorde, lunched with previous Palme d’Or winners and was back on the plane to Paris by mid-afternoon — security in the town was high and, as the stars drove into Cannes, they were accompanied by presidential-style security runners, keeping fans from getting too close for comfort.

For German director Wim Wenders, Sunday was a moment for mixed feelings. His competition film, “The End of Violence,” starring Bill Pullman, Andie MacDowell and Gabriel Byrne, got the kind of talent-filled audience that meets on only the rarest of occasions. Unfortunately, Wenders’ Cannes experience had been jolted on Saturday, when he was attacked by two masked assailants who later fled on a motorcycle.

Wenders appeared recovered by the time it came for him to lead “The End of Violence” team into the Palais, the last in a lengthy procession of cinema names to have ascended the steps for Sunday’s gala celebrations.

Palme-winning helmers

Fest president Pierre Viot and fest director Gilles Jacob this year assembled the majority of Cannes Palme d’Or winning directors (29 in all) to appear on stage before the competition screening. Among those present was the only woman to have won the top prize, “The Piano” director Jane Campion, along with the only three helmers to have taken two Palmes — Bille August, Francis Ford Coppola and, more recently, “Underground” director Emir Kusturica.

They lined up alongside the likes of Costa-Gavras, who won “Missing,” British director Mike Leigh, who took the competition last year with “Secrets and Lies” and who is now on the fest jury, “MASH” director Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese (“Taxi Driver”) and two Palme-winning brother teams, Italian directing duo Paolo and Vittorio Taviani from Italy, and Joel and Ethan Coen from the U.S.

Among the other directors introduced, in chronological order of their wins, were: Richard Lester, Claude Lelouch, Michelangelo Antonioni, Francesco Rosi, Jerry Schatzberg, Andrzej Wajda, Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch and Chen Kaige.

Moreau draws ovation

Spurred on by the evening’s host, Gallic actress and former Cannes jury president Jeanne Moreau, the packed auditorium gave the assembled directors a three-minute standing ovation. Among those on their feet were: Sylvester Stallone, Charlton Heston, Lauren Bacall, Roman Polanski, Pedro Almodovar, Claudia Cardinale, Gina Lollobrigida, Hugh Grant, Anjelica Huston, Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp, Kevin Kline, Carole Bouquet, Gerard Depardieu and Liv Ullmann.

The Norwegian actress-director Ullmann took part in the evening’s most poignant moment. The previous Palme d’Or winners had overwhelmingly voted to give the specially created Palme des Palmes — for a director who has never received the prize — to Ingmar Bergman.

Bergman ‘shy and silent’

The veteran Swedish helmer was a no show, but his daughter, accepting the award from Jane Campion, said her father asked forgiveness for his abscence. “Life itself has caught up with me, making me shy and silent,” Bergman said through his daughter. Also onstage were distinguished Bergman actresses Harriett Anderson, Bibi Andersson, Gunnel Lindblom, Pernella August and Lena Olin.

In contrast to last week’s opening night “spectacle,” which had artisanal written all over it, Sunday’s 30-minute pre-film show was a simple and stylish dance tribute to cinema, put together by French choreographer Philippe Decoufle, who was responsible for the opening ceremony at the Alberville Winter Olympics.

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