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Films making the headlines at Cannes as stars harder to find

LIGHT on A-list stars, extravagant parties and celebrity stunts, this year's Cannes film festival has not escaped the global economic crisis.

That, many say, has been a blessing in disguise, allowing thousands of reporters, executives and Hollywood hopefuls in the French Riviera resort to concentrate on the movies rather than the off-screen distractions.

Reaction to the 20-strong competition has been mainly positive as Cannes hit the halfway stage yesterday, with a French prison drama, Jane Campion's take on John Keats, and Ken Loach's picture headlined by football star Eric Cantona, tipped as early favorites for the coveted Palme d'Or.

And while there has been little buzz along the palm-lined Croisette waterfront, where Cannes' late-night revelry is concentrated, Danish director Lars von Trier has got people talking with a movie that shocked and offended many who saw it.

"Antichrist," a sexually charged and violent horror starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, has stirred the kind of controversy organizers may welcome.

"Overall it's a good Cannes so far," said film critic and author Mark Cousins, who defended von Trier for a movie he found innovative and surprising.

There have been fewer stars this year. "When Mariah Carey is the biggest star by the end of week one, you know you're in trouble," said one seasoned producer.

That said, Brad Pitt is expected and Penelope Cruz is already in Cannes.

"A Prophet," directed by Jacques Audiard, is currently frontrunner for the Golden Palm. It stars Tahar Rahim as a young convict who must use his wits to survive in prison where he seeks to play one gang off against another.

Close behind is Campion's "Bright Star," about the affair between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne and Ken Loach's "Looking for Eric."

Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock," about the legendary 1969 rock festival, was welcomed for its celebration of innocence, though some critics did not like the movie.


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