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Make money by picking top winner at Cannes? You bet!

CANNES, France--Derek Malcolm will take your bet. The distinguished film critic of the Guardian, Britain's venerable left-wing daily, sets the odds on the winner of the Cannes top prize, the Palme d'Or. He takes actual money. He pays off at the end of the festival. This is not a joke.

"I've been doing this for years," Malcolm told me. We were standing in the crowd outside the morning press screening, and he seemed relaxed; his eyes were not scanning the crowd for gendarmes.

Is it legal? I asked.

"I don't know. It is in England."

Do you make a profit?

"Almost every year. One year there was a tie for the Palme d'Or. That wasn't a good year for me."

So you give me the odds, I hand you money, you put the money in your pocket, and you take my bet? Then if I win you pay me?

"That's how it works. Every year there are a few silly buggers who don't leave me their addresses, and of course I can't call them because the festival is over and they've moved out of their hotels."

So what are the odds this year?

"Well, of course they change daily. Right now I can give you 5-2 on 'Dogville,' 7-2 on the Babenco film, and 5-1 on Samira Makhmalbad."

"Dogville" is the three-hour film by Lars von Trier, founder of the Dogma movement, and it stars Nicole Kidman. Babenco is Hector Babenco ("Pixote," "Kiss of the Spider Woman"), the Brazilian director who is here with "Carandiru," about a doctor who moves through the underworld of San Paolo. Samira Makhmalbad is the 23-year-old Iranian director of "At Five O'Clock in the Afternoon," the well-received film about women in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

What about Peter Greenaway? I asked. Greenaway is the British director whose films are sometimes brilliant and always impenetrable. He is here with "The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part One: The Moab Story," described as encompassing 20th century history from the discovery of uranium in Colorado to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"Greenaway is 50 to 1," he said.

I told Malcolm I heard that before joining the ranks of film critics, he was a jockey.

"Quite right. But a National Hunt jockey--over the sticks, not around the track. In fact, I first joined the Guardian as their turf correspondent."

And is it true, I asked, that you are such a keen sportsman that you once flew back to London from the Venice Film Festival for one day, to captain the Guardian's cricket team?

"It was a very important match."

Now what if I bet on a film and it loses the Palme d'Or but wins the Grand Jury Prize?

"No payouts for place or show. I only handle the Palme d'Or. I have my hands full as it is, going to see all of these movies."

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