Cannes weaves controversial yarn
A torrid gay sex movie from China and a blistering denunciation of screen and music censorship in Iran threw world politics centre-stage at the Cannes film festival on Thursday.
Both movies were shot in secret and brought to France without official home country approval, but with controversy no stranger to Cannes they were scheduled to screen on the first day of the race to scoop the festival's Palme d'Or award.
"Cannes," said festival director Thierry Fremaux, "aims to unveil world cinema as well as unveil what is happening across the world around us."
Award-winning Lou Ye is among some of the world's 20 hottest directors competing for the top prize from the globe's leading movie showcase, to be awarded May 24.
"I hope to be the last Chinese director ever to be banned," he told AFP in an interview.
His Spring Fever is a two-hour tale of passion and seduction in twosomes and threesomes with lengthy graphic scenes of gay sex that he shot in just two months in Nanjing city with a hand-held camera, defying a ban on film-making.
"We were psychologically prepared to be stopped during the filming, but that never happened, and today here we are with the film and the cast, which after all is a good thing," he said.
The 44-year-old director is halfway through a five-year ban on film-making imposed by censors in 2006 after bringing his previous movie Summer Palace -- another steamy love tale set around the taboo subject of the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protests -- to Cannes in 2006 without official approval.
Iran's renowned Bahman Ghobadi's No One Knows About Persian Cats was selected by festival organisers as the opening film of its parallel section spotlighting fresh talent Un Certain Regard.
Ghobadi, romantically linked to just-released US journalist Roxana Saberi, also shot without permission in Tehran, was arrested twice and had to lie about the film, saying he was shooting a documentary on drugs.
His powerful movie shot in dingy cellars, rooftop sheds and even in a country cow-barn unveils an underground music scene ranging from indie rock to Persian rap to heavy metal -- as well as rare images of the Tehran urban scene.
"Many social liberties have been taken away in Iran without a replacement being offered," he told AFP. "In this film I'm crying out loud against the status quo."
"For the last 30 years, certain music, in particular Western music has been virtually forbidden by the authorities, forced into hiding underground and listened to underground," he says in his production notes.
Adding to the strong political undertone of Day Two at Cannes was a searing documentary about the Rwanda genocide shot over a decade in a lush hillside corner of the country.
The movie screened out-of-competition 15 years after the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 people -- My Neighbor My Killer -- looks at whether victims and perpetrators of a mass atrocity can ever learn to live together again.
The 12-day film showcase lifted off Wednesday with a gala opening ceremony that saw goofy 3D spectacles foisted on tuxedo-clad celebrities as Hollywood's Disney-Pixar studios premiered cartoon comedy Up.
"Film-makers ... tell us who we are and perhaps who we will become," said Isabelle Huppert, the French actress leading the jury that will pick the winner of the Palme d'Or top prize.
From Brokeback Mountain Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, to veteran New Wave icon Alain Resnais, at a ripe 86 back behind a camera, the world's grandest film-makers are competing to take home the coveted gong.
Huppert and her eight-strong team will choose from the work of directors such as Quentin Tarantino of the US, Spain's Pedro Almodovar, Palestinian Elia Suleiman, Park Chan-Wook of South Korea and Denmark's Lars Von Trier.
The competition is expected to be specially stiff this year with contenders including four previous Palme winners -- Tarantino, Von Trier, Jane Campion, and Ken Loach.