he tragedies of the real world — the quake that rocked China and the cyclone that devastated Myanmar — invaded the fantasy world of movies as the Cannes film festival moved into top gear yesterday.
The red-carpet gala opening was as star-studded as ever but despite the glitz the party got off to a somber start with a nightmarish parable of the apocalypse.
Blindness, a Brazilian movie in which the government of an unnamed country locks up and then abandons citizens afflicted by a blinding plague, opened the 12-day bonanza whose centerpiece will be the long-awaited return of Indiana Jones.
The Latin American film is “a metaphor that applies to any official neglect,” said its scriptwriter Don McKellar.
There were obvious parallels between the story, starring Julianne Moore, and the reaction to disasters such as the cyclone in Myanmar, where the junta is blocking foreign aid offered to help survivors of the cyclone that killed tens of thousands, said director Fernando Meirelles.
The earthquake that struck this week in China leaving more than 40,000 dead, missing or buried under rubble was also felt in Cannes.
24 City, a movie by China’s Jia Zhangke (賈樟柯) set in Chengdu City in the quake-hit province, is among the 22 films in the running for the coveted Palme d’Or top prize.
Sean Penn, the US actor and director heading the jury that will decide on the prize, said events like the earthquake and the Myanmar cyclone showed the inefficiency of government responses to such disasters.
“When these things happen, all these governments, and I include mine, their control over people ... their keeping people from getting help when they need it, they’ve got to be pushed out of the way by people,” he told reporters.
Penn lit up and led a minor revolt at the film festival against France’s new anti-smoking laws. He pulled out a cigarette and puffed on it at a press conference with fellow jury members, in defiance of laws in place since January that ban smoking in public enclosed spaces.
He only took a couple of drags before putting it aside and getting back to answering reporters’ questions.
But jury member Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian director clearly inspired by her colleague’s defiance, then asked to much laughter if anyone minded if she smoked “for medical reasons.”
She then lit a cigarette, with Penn and French actress Jeanne Balibar quickly following suit.
Meanwhile, politics looked set to intrude on the festival again yesterday, with an offering from Israel’s Ari Folman. His Waltz With Bashir is an animated documentary on the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 Beirut massacres by members of an Israeli-backed Christian militia.
But the movie guaranteed to hog the limelight is the animated Kung Fu Panda from Dreamworks.
Jack Black, who voices the slacker bear who takes up martial arts to fight evil oppressors, set the tone on Wednesday when he boated in to Cannes beach to be greeted by dozens of giant pandas in a promotional stunt.
The star act of the 12-day film bonanza — the world’s top cinema showcase — was however set to be Sunday’s world premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Steven Spielberg has given little away about the movie, which is not in the official competition. But fans who have waited 19 years for this latest installment can expect swash-buckling galore from the intrepid archaeologist played by Harrison Ford.