60th Cannes festival kicks off

Politics, art, glamour vie for attention

“Ocean’s Thirteen” will combine with Darfur, Roman Polanski will rub elbows with the Coen brothers, and artistry will mix with commerce and politics as the 60th Cannes Film Festival opens today.

Centerpiece of the fest is Sunday’s official observance of the event’s anni. It will offer the world preem of “Chacun son cinema,” the omnibus pic with short contributions from 35 filmmakers, including Polanski, the Coens, Zhang Yimou and others ranging from Michael Cimino to Andrei Konchalovsky.

The glamour factor will shift into high gear toward the end of the fest, when the out-of-competition “Ocean’s Thirteen” offers George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle on the red carpet, though they’ll use the occasion to put the world spotlight on Darfur. Angelina Jolie will be here with “A Mighty Heart,” Michael Winterbottom’s study of the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.

Leonardo DiCaprio is bringing his ecological documentary “The 11th Hour,” Daniel Craig will be on hand for New Line’s splashy preview of “The Golden Compass,” and U2 will attend a midnight screening of its 3-D concert movie.

While tonight’s opener, “My Blueberry Nights,” intriguingly teams director Wong Kar Wai and Norah Jones, it’s doubtful that interest in the film will match the press frenzy for last year’s “The Da Vinci Code,” which survived its scorn at the Cannes preem to score $800 million worldwide.

The assembly of 10,000 members of the international media make this edition of the fest a potential forum for political causes, so just how political will the 60th event be?

Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf and her film “Two-Legged Horse,” DiCaprio’s eco-doc and recent Paris riots after the French election offer the potential for addressing larger issues here.

In 2004, Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” caused a sensation at the fest, galvanizing widespread global unrest about America’s war on terrorism and invasion of Iraq. This year, Moore has the unenviable task of trying to match that level of excitement with “Sicko,” which has already received a reprimand from the U.S. government.

Weinstein Co. topper Harvey Weinstein countered on Tuesday that “Sicko” should have universal appeal. “Everyone gets sick, and Big Pharma is everywhere. And the film is incredibly funny.”

Meanwhile, Makhmalbaf and her father, vet Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, will hold a press conference to talk about her Afghan film, lensing on which was halted by a bombing in March. Concerns are so high over the Friday press confab that media members are required to RSVP.

In local politics, Cannes will have to compete with the Paris swearing-in of President Nicolas Sarkozy at a ceremony where outgoing President Jacques Chirac will give his successor the secret code to France’s nuclear button.

The world’s media, which have watched this presidential race closely, will be following events alongside ordinary French folk lining the Champs-Elysees.

Though past French presidents have graced the Croisette with their presence, a trip to Cannes is not on Sarkozy’s agenda, said insiders.

While he likes to hobnob with showbiz friends like Jean Reno, France’s new leader intends to put on a sober front in his early days in office.

Cannes has a long and honorable tradition as a political forum. In 1968, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard closed the curtain on a screening, a symbolic shuttering of the festival to mark student rioting in Paris.

Last year, the Cannes screening of “Summer Palace” brought attention to China, which banned director Lou Ye from making movies for five years because the pic — which incorporated footage of the Tiananmen Square protests — had not been screened for Chinese officials.

A few years ago, French street performers brought their protests to the Palais steps over such issues as pay and benefits.

(Alison James in Cannes contributed to this report.)

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