Cannes Film Festival Readies for Its Close-Up

The Cannes Film Festival conjures images of glamour and decadence -- black ties, red carpets and the blue Mediterranean bobbing with the glowing lights of yacht parties -- as film glitterati from around the world converge on the French Riviera.

The global audience for the annual event, which opens Wednesday, makes it a favorite place for Hollywood to introduce potential Oscar films as well as some of its biggest crowd-pleasers.

This year, Cannes will showcase 57 full-length films from 31 countries. American offerings include the latest "Indiana Jones" movie, director Clint Eastwood's 1920s-era mystery drama "Changeling" and the DreamWorks animated comedy "Kung Fu Panda."

"Cannes is the world stage," says Harvey Weinstein, co-chair of The Weinstein Co. "It's got good acceptance in the United States, but not the mass acceptance that it has in Europe, Asia, the Middle East. People from everywhere come to the Cannes Film Festival."

This time, Weinstein is rolling the dice with "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." The romantic comedy, written and directed by Woody Allen, stars Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz in a story of American sisters who visit Spain and are drawn into love affairs with a painter and his explosive ex-wife.

The on-screen erotic couplings of the top stars has generated much talk leading into the festival, and Allen acknowledges that the emphasis is less on comedy and more about the chemistry.

"This is mostly a romantic film. It's really about the complexity of relationships. It's a love film," Allen says. "I had the good fortune to be able to bring together a tremendous cast of actors, and it made the thing really sing for me. Same script not done in Barcelona, not done with these people, would not have the same resonance."

Weinstein is counting on the movie's lightheartedness to win admirers. "Sometimes at Cannes you watch a lot of serious films. All of a sudden you see a movie like this, and it lifts your spirit," he says.

Positive word-of-mouth can add rocket fuel to a movie, as it did for Weinstein with "Pulp Fiction" in 1994 or Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" in 2004, both of which won the festival's Palme d'Or grand prize.

But the festival also can deliver a critical wounding. In 2006, the sci-fi black comedy "Southland Tales" (from "Donnie Darko" filmmaker Richard Kelly) was booed at Cannes and went on to belly-flop in release.

Among other high-profile films:

"Blindness." The festival's opening-night movie, starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Sandra Oh in a sci-fi fable about a mystery illness that causes everyone in the world to lose their sight. It's directed by Oscar nominee Fernando Meirelles ("City of God," "The Constant Gardner") and based on a novel by Nobel laureate Jose Saramago.

"Changeling." Angelina Jolie stars in this Prohibition-era drama about a woman whose child vanishes in Los Angeles, and when he is returned to her, she insists it's not her son. Directed by Eastwood and co-starring John Malkovich.

"Synecdoche, New York." Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) makes his directorial debut with this tale of a theater producer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who builds a mock New York City in a warehouse and begins living his life there with his cast.

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