May 30, 2006 07:30 PM

The red carpet on the steps leading to the Grand Palais theater has been rolled up for another year – which means it’s time for a quick wrap-up of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Coverage of the annual fest on the French Riviera uses up yachtfuls of ink, most of it focusing on Hollywood stars cavorting on the beach and hyping their movies. This year there were plenty of stars in evidence, including Tom Hanks for The Da Vinci Code, Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry for X-Men: The Last Stand, Bruce Willis for Over the Hedge and Fast Food Nation and Kirsten Dunst for Marie Antoinette. Then again, many of the films that screen in competition at Cannes are painfully slow art-house movies that will never open in the U.S. (and don’t deserve to). So there’s a reason journalists cover the waterfront rather than the darkened theaters.

This year’s winner of the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm prize), The Wind that Shakes the Barley, was indicative of the political concerns much in evidence at the festival. From director Ken Loach, Wind stars up-and-comer Cillian Murphy (Red Eye, Batman Begins), and depicts the Irish rebellion against British rule in the 1920s, with an emphasis on English brutality.

There was also a definite post-9/11 sensibility to many of the films shown this year. Babel (which stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), Flanders and Red Road each touched on a world in which we’re all being watched, fighting in foreign lands, or kept apart by our differences. The most direct 9/11 connection was in World Trade Center, a true-life drama from director Oliver Stone that’s due to open Aug. 9. A half-hour chunk of it unspooled at Cannes prior to a 20th anniversary showing of Platoon, the movie that first made Stone’s reputation.

Cillian Murphy
dpa /Landov

The absence of political context, however, upset most critics of Marie-Antoinette, director Sofia Coppola’s featherweight follow-up to Lost in Translation. Her historical biopic plays like a pop video, with Kirsten Dunst as the doomed 18th century French queen acting like a teenage flibbertigibbet intent on being the leader of the cool kids’ club.

Ironically, the most rapturous reviews at the festival were earned by a film that’s not even finished: Dreamgirls. Paramount/DreamWorks wowed with its sneak peek of director Bill Condon’s adaptation of the classic Broadway musical and also trotted out stars Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Hudson. Come December, when the movie actually opens, we’ll know if more of the parts equal a great whole.

For Leah Rozen’s previous dispatch from Cannes, click here

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