BEIJING, May 13 -- Despite being hit by a freak storm last week and with the threat of airport closures and flights being grounded due to Icelandic volcano ash, the 63rd Cannes Film Festival began Wednesday with 19 films from 15 countries in the main competition lineup, proof that "cinema is alive everywhere," according to festival director Thierry Frémaux.
Tim Burton is jury president this year with auteur works in the main competition including Iran's Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy, China's Wang Xiaoshuai's Chongqing Blues and France's Bertrand Tavernier's La Princesse de Montpensier, as well as high profile US director Doug Liman's Fair Game with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.
Britain's Ridley Scott's long awaited Robin Hood premiered and opened the festival last night, featuring Russell Crowe as the medieval archer and Cate Blanchett as Marion Loxley.
Due to recent knee surgery, Scott himself was absent from the premiere, however a major delegation to support the film was flown in by Universal Pictures, including producer Brian Grazer, Crowe and Blanchett. The medieval epic film is one of the few high-profile Hollywood works to screen at this year's festival and opens in theaters tomorrow.
The festival's major focus is on "diversified international film works," media analyst Li Xie told the Global Times, with much of the international media reporting the noticeable absence of Hollywood blockbusters.
A total of five Asian films are in competition for Cannes' top prize Palme d'Or, four of the directors, all except Im Sang-soo, are familiar faces at the festival.
Nominated in the Un Certain Regard section for his film So Close to Paradise in 1999 and winning the Jury Prize for Shanghai Dreams in 2005, Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai returns to Cannes this year with his new work Chongqing Blues, telling a story of a sailor forced to reassess his life after his son is killed by police.
South Korea's Im Sang-soo's The Housemaid and Lee Chang-dong's Poetry will compete for the top accolade, Lee's Milyang saw lead actress Jeon Do-yeon win Best Actress at the festival in 2005.
Japan's Takeshi Kaneshiro's experimental work in his trademark violence genre Outrage and Thai director Apichangtpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, are also in competition. Takeshi Kaneshiro was nominated for a Palme d'Or with Kikujiro No Natsu in 1999. Apichangtpong Weerasethakul won the Jury Prize in 2004 with Tropical Malady.
Chinese director Jia Zhangke will see his work I Wish I Knew compete in the Un Certain Regard section, with Jia saying at his leaving for Cannes party that he was "confident in winning ap-plause at Cannes."
"There are many Chinese films and Chinese directors would clearly benefit from being screened prominently at what is still the second biggest film event of the year (outside the Oscars) and the biggest film market in the world," film commentator Patrick Frater was quoted by AFP as saying.
European art house films in competition see French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois present his latest drama Of Gods and Men, which spotlights a group of Trappist monks killed mysteriously in 1990s Algeria.
French maestro Bertrand Tavernier is in competition with 16th-century romance La Princesse de Montpensier, French director Mathieu Amalric will show his comedy On Tour and French New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard is returning to Cannes with his film Socialisme in the Un Certain Regard section.
Iraq-set drama Route Irish by British director Ken Loach was added to the main competition lineup just two days before the festival began, while Russia's Nikita Mikhalkov is back with his latest film Burnt by the Sun 2: Exodus. Italian director Daniele Luchetti's La Nostra Vita is also in competition.
Doug Liman's political thriller Fair Game is the only US film in the main competition.
Many studio films have also been scheduled to be screened out of competition.
Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps sees Michael Douglas return to his 1987 Oscar-winning role, Gordon Gekko. Emerging from a lengthy stint in prison, Gekko finds himself on the outside of a world he once dominated.
Woody Allen will also premiere his latest London-based film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, out of competition.
French director Julie Bertucelli's English-language film The Tree, shot in Australia and based on Australian writer Judy Pascoe's novel, Our Father Who Art in the Tree, will close the festival on May 23 following the announcement of the festival's annual awards, hosted by Tim Burton.