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Cannes film festival rolls out the red carpet

The world's most famous film festival has begun in Cannes on the French Riviera, with a special emphasis on women. This year's first film was a decidedly less glamorous affair than the flashy openers of recent years.

The Cannes Film Festival opened on Wednesday with director Emmanuelle Bercot's "Standing Tall." The low-budget film about a young delinquent caught in a cycle of violence is a far cry from the glamorous, star-studded movies that have opened the festival in recent years like "Moulin Rouge!", "The Da Vinci Code", "The Great Gatsby" or last year's "Grace of Monaco."

The choice marked a shift to a more socially-conscious festival focused on women in leading roles both on and behind the camera.

"To choose this film for the opening of the festival is a response to a difficult year in Europe, especially in France," said French icon Catherine Deneuve, who starred in "Standing Tall," referencing the violence that rocked Paris in January when Islamist gunmen attack the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

Ironically, Deneuve is herself the subject of the magazine's latest front page. She said she hadn't seen it, but added: "I hope it's funny."

Other highlights on the festival will be Natalie Portman's directorial debut about the early years of Israel - premiering, but not in the competition running - and "Carol" starring Cate Blanchett in a film about a lesbian relationship in New York in the 1950s. Even the festival's big blockbuster, "Mad Max: Fury Road", which premieres Thursday, puts a woman (Charlize Theron) at the center of the action.

Coen brothers are jury co-presidents

Heading up this year's jury are US film director siblings Joel and Ethan Coen, co-presidents of a group that includes stars like Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller and Sophie Marceau.

The Coens jokingly took a swipe at movie industry upstarts Netflix and Amazon at a press conference Wednesday.

When asked how they felt about the surge in popularly for Internet-based companies like Netflix, which had a documentary nominated for an Oscar this year, Joel Coen asked in deadpan tone: "How do I feel about people watching 'Lawrence of Arabia' on their iPhone?"

The director, who along with his brother has been a regular fixture at the festival for decades, added that "nothing can compete" with "sitting in a crowd of people watching at movie on an 80-foot screen."

The press conference was a rare moment for journalists to converse with the usually tight-lipped jury, who are unlikely to make many more public comments ahead of awarding the festival's top prize - the Palme d'Or - along with the acting and directing awards on May 24.

es/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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