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A mix of politics and freedom at the fest

Competition gets under way at the Cannes with two films stoking controversy for their focus on pivotal political events.

india Updated: May 18, 2006 11:50 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Competition gets under way in earnest at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday with two films stoking controversy for their focus on pivotal political events fuelled by youthful dreams of freedom.

Summer Palace by Chinese director Lou Ye is a complex love story set to break taboos at home not only for its erotic sex scenes, but also for its handling of the crackdown of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

The jury will also be watching British director Ken Loach's entry The Wind That Shakes The Barley, which focuses on the run up to the Irish Civil War in 1922 and Ireland's struggle for independence from Britain.

Lou and Loach, nominated for the eighth time for a Cannes award, are among 20 directors vying to win over the jury headed by Hong Kong Chinese director Wong Kar Wai and take the coveted Palme d'Or for best film.

Summer Palace, an absorbing, thoughtful film, takes place in five Chinese cities as well as in Berlin as it traces a love affair over some 15 years between two young students.

Yu Hong, played by Hao Lei, falls passionately and painfully in love with Zhou Wei, played by Guo Xiadong, after leaving her home in Tumen on the North Korean border to study at Beijing University.

Lou uses minimal dialogue between the two, communicating their growing intimacy through gestures and body movements, with the help of a powerful sound track mixing Chinese and western hits.

But along with the loss of their innocence, the outside world is changing as students become caught up in the pro-democracy movement.

The Tiananmen Square crackdown, in which hundreds of protestors are thought to have died when troops opened fire on the demonstrators after six weeks of demonstrations, is still a taboo subject for China's Communist authorities.

And so far Beijing's state censorship body has refused to approve the film, saying there were technical problems with the copy they had seen.

"We are awaiting a good copy of the film before we can make a decision," a spokesman from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television told AFP.

Although the Tiananmen scenes occupy very little of the two hour and 20 minute film, it is a focal point with shots echoing over the campus, irrevocably altering the lives of the two students and their friend3.

Lou, who finished college in 1989, said in a statement the tone of the film had to change from that point on.

"One of the challenges in the narrative is that the climax of the story is actually in the middle of the film and not at the end. But it wasn't possible for the story to end there."

In fact the film goes on to seek out parallel bursts for freedom such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union.

Lou, who first appeared in Cannes with his 2003 film "Purple Butterfly", may well win support from jury member Zhang Ziyi, the Chinese actress who starred in the film.

His world is one of the gritty, grimy urban city, with his characters crossing bridges, hemmed in by walls, staring out over concrete wastelands or dwarfed by skyscrapers. Yet in this unyielding landscape they find beauty in love, and tenderness in sex.

In comparison Loach's film is set in the heart of rural Ireland in 1920 when workers from field and country unite to form volunteer guerrilla armies to stand up to the ruthless "Black and Tan" British soldiers.

It is the first time that Loach, one of Britain's most renowned directors for his radical films, as well as his ground-breaking socially conscious television dramas, has returned to a period piece since the 1995 "Land and Freedom" which focused on the Spanish Civil War.

"I wouldn't call this an anti-British film," he says in notes. "I'd encourage people to see their loyalties horizontally across national boundaries, so this isn't a film about the Brits bashing the Irish."

In the film two brothers Damien, played by Cillian Murphy, and Teddy, played by Padraic Delaney, join forces to fight for freedom, but despite apparent victory a civil war erupts.

It is not the first time Loach has turned his eye on Ireland and its troubles with a Cannes' entry.

The 1990 Hidden Agenda about Britain's shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland was dubbed the IRA entry to the festival.

"We're hoping that this time the response may be a little more sophisticated. Times have changed and current events force us to re-assess the past," said producer Rebecca O'Brien.

First Published: May 18, 2006 11:50 IST