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Glitzy escapism to gritty politics marr Cannes

More contemporary politics lie ahead at the Cannes festival with screenings of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center.

india Updated: May 20, 2006 15:05 IST

After opening with the glitzy escapism of The Da Vinci Code, the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival was plunged headlong into gritty politics with the showing of Ken Loach's The Wind that shakes the Barley and Lou Ye's Summer Palace.

Loach is well known for his very personal and dramatic brand of left-wing social realism, and in his new film, he and his long-time screenwriter Paul Laverty, applied that vision to the Irish rebellion of the 1920s against British rule.

A complex, brilliantly written and directed work, The Wind that shakes the Barley dramatises the perverse consequences the political occupation had on the Irish, creating a situation in which a young man is forced to kill a childhood friend and another man must execute his brother.

The situation of ordinary people being trapped in political events is neatly summed up in the film by its main character, Damien, when he declares, "I didn't want to fight this war. But I did. Now I want to get out of it, and I can't."

The 69-year-old Loach was quick to point up resemblances of the Irish situation of that day to the present, and therefore of the pertinence of his film to today's political events.

"There are always armies of occupation in the world being resisted by the people they are occupying. Britain now has an illegal army of occupation causing death and destruction in Iraq."

His films have always been more popular in continental Europe than in his native Britain and the US due to his outspoken criticism of capitalism. The Wind that shakes the Barley still has not found a distributor for North America.

However, Loach's problems of distribution pale when compared to those of Lou Ye, whose Summer Palace was in danger of not being shown at all because Chinese censors have not approved it.

Lou, however, is ready to change his film in any way to receive approval by the film bureau of the Chinese state administration of radio, film and television.

"I would agree to removing any scene they want," Lou said after a screening of Summer Palace, the only Asian movie selected this year to compete for the Palme d'Or for best film.

The reason given by the bureau was that the print had lighting and sound flaws, informed Nai An, one of the producers of the film.

However, most observers believe that the censors are objecting to the film's explicit sex scenes and its political background - the student rebellion of June 1989, which culminated in bloody repression by Chinese soldiers in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Although Tiananmen is never mentioned in the movie, certain filmed and documentary scenes in Summer Palace point directly at that event, in which several hundred protesters were killed.

In a probable attempt to appease Chinese authorities, Lou tried to play down the political implications of his film, calling it "a love story" and said he set the film in 1989 only "because I was a student at university then and I was in love."

This is not the first time the 40-year-old Shanghai-born director has had problems with the film bureau. He was previously banned from making films for two years for his 2000 movie Suzhou River, which was produced without official approval.

If Summer Palace is rejected by the authorities, he could be blacklisted again and the film would probably be denied legal exhibition in China.

More contemporary politics lie ahead at the Cannes festival with screenings of a 20-minute excerpt from Oliver Stone's World Trade Center; Paul Greengrass' United 93 - about the fourth plane hijacked on Sep 11, 2001; and An Inconvenient Truth, featuring former US presidential candidate Al Gore as a crusading environmentalist.

The Cannes festival ends May 28.

First Published: May 20, 2006 15:05 IST