The Iraq war returned to Cannes on Thursday with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts taking the lead roles in thriller Fair Game, the true tale of a CIA agent betrayed by the Bush administration.
The movie by The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman got a round of applause -- but also a few boos -- at a press screening ahead of its red carpet premiere at the film festival in the French Rivieria resort.
It tells how the glamorous spy Valerie Plame, played by Watts, was stitched up by a vengeful White House after her diplomat husband publicly denounced its claims that Iraq leader Saddam Hussein was working on weapons of mass destruction.
US president George W. Bush used those claims as the main reason for invading Iraq in 2003 and ousting Saddam.
Fair Game is the second film this year to focus on the controversy, after the political thriller Green Zone, starring Matt Damon as a US army officer hunting in vain for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The Iraq conflict also came to Cannes on Wednesday, when Britain's Ken Loach screened his Route Irish, about the murky world of private security contractors in the war-torn country.
Liman's movie is the only US film in the race for the festival's Palme d'Or top prize to be handed out on Sunday.
He said it was the first foreign feature film to have actually shot some scenes in Iraq, where the director made a 24-hour trip to film surrounded by heavily armed guards.
"It's the story of two incredible people who found themselves in the middle of a giant maelstrom," the director said at a press conference held with Watts and the film's screenwriter.
Plame herself is in Cannes this week in connection with another film screening here, on the threat from nuclear weapons titled Countdown to Zero, in which she is interviewed as an expert witness.
Back in 2003 she was an undercover agent for the CIA, working in a dangerous counter-proliferation job linked to the hunt for suspected weapons of mass destruction.
Her husband is the former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, played by Sean Penn in Liman's film.
Wilson visited Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium for nuclear bombs and in 2003 wrote an article in the New York Times titled What I didn't find in Africa.
That article was the start of a campaign to show that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence reports to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam.
A week after the New York Times article, the Washington Post put an effective end to Plame's CIA career by revealing that she was a secret agent who for years had been passing herself off to friends as a businesswoman.
Plame and her husband alleged her identity had been leaked as revenge by the White House for Wilson's opposition to the war.
A top White House official, I. Lewis Scooter Libby, was sentenced to jail for perjury and obstructing a probe of the leak. Bush commuted the jail term but did not grant him a full pardon.
Liman said Thursday he also saw his film as a domestic drama that looks at "how a marriage between a spy and a non-spy works" when the wife's job is "to lie to people all day long."
He added that with Fair Game he had finally fulfilled his ambition to "make films that are both entertaining and meaningful."