Cannes movie marathon ends as top honours unveiled

After a hectic 12-day round of glitz, glamour and gritty movie themes, the Cannes Film Festival reaches its climax Sunday with the world's leading movie fest unveiling its top honours for 2008, dpa reported.

But while the countdown to the jury's announcement at a lavish award ceremony gets underway, the festival appeared to have failed to produce a knockout candidate for its major award, the coveted Palme d'Or (Golden Palm).

As a result, a tight race has emerged among the films vying for some of the movie industry's most prestigious prizes, with the main competition for the 61st Cannes festival dominated by films exploring the darker side of life.

In particular, directors competing at this year's festival have presented gritty and hard-edged social commentaries with low-budget art-house movies going head to head with several big Hollywood studio productions.

Among the line-up of Palme d'Or favourites are Israel's Ari Folman's animated documentary Waltz with Bashir about the events surrounding the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon, China's Jia Zhangke's 24 City on his nation's rapid and convulsive change, as well as Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan's brooding family drama Three Monkeys (Uc Maymum).

After agreeing to go to prison to save his boss, an aspiring and unscrupulous politician, Eyup, the husband in Three Monkeys, returns home from jail to find his family torn apart by deception and drifting towards disaster. While boredom leads his teenage son astray, his wife has embarked on an affair with the politician.

Partly autobiographical, Folman's groundbreaking and emotionally charged documentary film tells of the traumas and memories of the Israeli soldiers caught up in the Lebanon war and the 1982 massacre in the Sabra and Shatila camps.

To tell his story in 24 City of the fast-paced transformation gripping China, Zhangke uses a factory which has been shut down to make for a luxury housing complex.

Also creating a buzz along the Croisette - the boulevard that cuts through the festival - was The Class (Entre Les Murs) from French director Laurent Cantet which has raised France's hopes of ending its long-running losing streak.

Shown on the final day of the competition, The Class is a hard-hitting docu-drama about teacher-pupil relationships in a French multicultural and often lively school classroom.

Based on an autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau, a young French teacher, Genet, turns the classroom portrayed in his movie into a microcosm of contemporary France and using real teachers and students from a tough Parisian school to play out their roles during the course of a school year.

The last French film walked away with the Palme d'Or for best film at Cannes in 1987: Maurice Pialat's Under the Sun of Satan, a melodrama about a 16-year-old girl who kills her lover and the priest to whom she confesses the crime.

French hopes also rest on Arnaud Desplechin's well-received Un Conte de Noel (A Christmas Tale) about a family torn apart as a result of a child's death.

In addition, the field of contenders for festival awards include Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Lorna's Silence which looks at immigration in modern Europe as told by a young Albanian woman who is caught up in the arranged marriage business.

But trying to read the collective minds of film festival juries can be a hazardous business with this year's nine-strong jury headed up by US actor-turned-director Sean Penn.

Hollywood movies were a little short on number compared with previous years Nevertheless, the Cannes glamour offensive largely came from the American movie business with Danny Glover, Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and Gwyneth Paltrow turning up for screenings.

In particular much of the wattage for this year's Cannes glamour voltage came from US actress Angelina Jolie (with partner Brad Pitt in tow).

The 32-year-old actress plays a mother determined to track down her young son after he vanishes in veteran US director Clint Eastwood's well-received The Exchange.

As a result of her performance, Jolie has been mentioned as a leading contender for the festival's best actress award.

Martina Gusman, who played Julia in Argentinian director Pablo Trapero's Leonera about a women's prison has also been mentioned as in the running for this award.

Apart from the Palme d'Or and the best actor and actress awards, the festival is also due to announce Sunday a batch of prizes including the Grand Prix, the jury Prize, best director and best screenplay.

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