Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone Topline Stellar

Marion Cotillard, Patricia Clarkson among festival guests

MARRAKECH — Traditionally known for its thick French accent, Marrakech’s glamorous opening night, held on Friday at the Congress Palace, had a definite Hollywood flavor with Sharon Stone getting a career tribute, as well as jury president Martin Scorsese and fellow members Marion Cotillard and Patricia Clarkson, among others international guests.

“It’s good to be home again here in Marrakech. I’ve made two features here. It’s also a precious moment for cinema, as you can tell from the roster of guests – there are so many talents in attendance this year,” said Scorsese, after being welcomed on stage with a long standing ovation.

Marrakech’s opening night gathered the jury members: directors Paolo Sorrentino, Amat Escalante (“Heli”), Anurag Kashyap (“Ugly”), Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”), Fatih Akin (“New York, I Love You”) and Narjiss Nejjar (“Les yeux secs”), thesps Golshifteh Farahani, Elsa Zylberstein, Tahar Rahim and Francois Cluzet, Cesar Academy’s prexy Alain Terzian and Metropolitan Filmexport co-founder Samuel Hadida.

Scorsese, who directed Stone in “Casino,” which earned the actress a Golden Globe, said: “The great French author Roland Barthes in his famous piece on Greta Garbo wrote that Garbo offered to one’s gaze a sort of a platonic idea of beautiful face …

“Then we’ve seen true stars over the years who were not beautiful according to the standards of the time — Humphrey Bogart would be a perfect example — but they had a greater beauty because they reminded us of the time of dealing with ourselves.

“And Sharon Stone really is an incredible beauty according to the standards of our time, but she’s also brilliant, charming and absolutely fearless.”
Added Scorsese: “She’s a true star. When she walks in a room the energy changes. I had the pleasure to work with Sharon on ‘Casino’ in 1996 and she took that character of Ginger, ran with it and brought out a dimension that Nicholas Pileggi and myself had not imagined.”

After a series of clips from her best-known films, including “Casino” and “Basic Instinct,” Stone, who was in cheerful spirit, stepped up on stage wearing a low-cut black gown and danced to Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” while the crowd roared with applause.

“There were two words that made me fly from India to Morocco with my three children: Martin Scorsese. Martin once told me ‘Stay with what you know, do what is true to you,’ and it is true to me to follow these things that I care the most about: Cinema, the demonstration of what it is like to live in someone else’s skin both on screen and off,” said the actress, who last starred in “Lovelace.”

“The Marrakech film festival has given us an opportunity to do both: to bring cultures from around the world, to show the true spirit of peace and compassion in a Muslim country. I’m particularly grateful and honored to receive this award at this particular time in history.”

French thesp Juliette Binoche and Japanese helmer Hirokazu Kore-eda will also be feted at Marrakech with career tributes.

The gala ceremony was followed by the screening of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s romance drama “Ram-Leela,” one of the films playing in the Cinema at Heart selection.

“It’s an important festival since it supports world cinema, films from the Maghreb and independent films from all over the world,” said “The Past” thesp Tahar Rahim, who’s currently shooting Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s “Samba,” an immigration-themed dramedy also starring Omar Sy and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

“Intouchables” star Cluzet, who turned up at the opening gala with his wife, said he met Scorsese while playing alongside him in Bertrand Tavernier’s “Around Midnight.” “I thought, ‘what a great actor!’” quipped Cluzet.
Under the helm of Bruno Barde, who also heads up Deauville film fest through the org Public Systeme, Marrakech has steadily gained international presence with more high-profile stars attending year after year.

Whereas Barde has been professionalizing Deauville over the last three years with a mini-mart for sales agents, distributors and producers, Marrakech has remained a festival where international talent and industry players gather to be seen, promote their movies and exchange filmmaking tips via the masterclass sessions — which will this year be hosted by James Gray, Nicolas Winding Refn, Abbas Kiarostami, Bruno Dumont and Regis Debray.

Set to play 110 films from 23 countries, Marrakech’s competition lineup features 15 films, including Kevin Macdonald’s “How I Live Now,” Mariana Rondon’s mother-son drama “Bad Hair” and two Moroccan films, Sean Gullette’s “Traitors” and Hiram Ayouch’s “Fevers.”

Scandinavia, a territory boasting one of the world’s fastest-rising film and TV industry and a highly exportable talent pool, is being celebrated at the fest. The tribute includes the programming of Scandi films such as B.O. hit “Waltz for Monica,” as well as a large delegation attending, including Mads Mikkelsen, Noomi Rapace and Bille August.

Fest wraps Dec. 7.

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