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Gold on hold

CANNES, France -- The Cannes Film Festival heads into its second weekend, still without a likely Palme d'Or winner, unless we have already seen it, and it is Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother." We have been here a week, and that entry, first screened Saturday, is the film most people mention when you ask them what they liked the most.

Of course, some major films remain to be seen - among the official selections (David Lynch's "The Straight Story," Takeshi Kitano's "Kikujiro," Peter Greenaway's "8 1/2 Women") and in sidebars (Spike Lee's "Summer Of Sam," Kevin Smith's "Dogma").

And there has been enthusiasm for such films as Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog," Steven Soderbergh's "The Limey," Tim Robbins' "Cradle Will Rock," Bruno Dumont's "L'Humanite," John Sayles' "Limbo," Atom Egoyan's "Felicia's Journey" and others. Just nothing that looks like it has Palme d'Or written on it.

The only scandal so far was the opening film, from Russia, Nikita Mikhalkov's "The Barber of Siberia," which I missed - luckily, I guess, since it has now been enshrined as the worst opening film in the festival's history.

Of the movies I've seen, I have great regard for Sayles' "Limbo," a story set in Alaska and starring David Strathairn as a onetime fishing boat operator and Oak Park native Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as a club singer stranded in Juneau. It contains two kinds of surprises so basic that I will wait for my review to discuss it at all.

I also felt great affection for Jarmusch's film, with the full title "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai." Forest Whitaker stars as a gentle hit man who tries to order his life in the samurai way and communicates with mob bosses by carrier pigeon. There's a hilarious scene where a gangster (John Tormey) explains to his bosses why Ghost Dog is paid only by annual retainer, "on the first day of autumn."

Dumont's "L'Humanite" is one of those hypnotic films that you don't exactly enjoy, but you can't stop watching. It's about a hangdog police inspector who investigates a horrible murder while remaining mired in his own static life.

Robbins' film, "Cradle Will Rock," is joyously ambitious, re-creating a turning point in the history of the Federal Theater Project, with key roles played by Orson Welles, Nelson Rockefeller and William Randolph Hearst. Its climax is a famous night when a cast was locked out of its theater and forbidden to perform by its union, and somehow overcame both obstacles.

Not in the competition but among my happiest moments was a film named "East Is East," starring Om Puri as a Pakistani fish and chips shop owner in Manchester, who unsuccessfully tries to bully his half-white children into following customs they resent - especially when he tries to arrange the marriage of two of his sons to women so homely that his own wife refers to them as Laurel and Hardy.

Egoyan's "Felicia's Journey," adapted from a novel by William Trevor, is his third film in a row that involves, in one way or another, the sexual abuse of a teenage girl. Yet the three (also including "Exotica" and "The Sweet Hereafter") have nothing else in common, so the coincidence doesn't exactly add up to a theme. "Felicia's Journey" centers on one of Bob Hoskins' best performances, as the food supervisor for a factory, who leads a lonely life that got a wrong twist, we gather, from his mother, who did a TV cooking show. Elaine Cassidy, fresh and appealing, plays the runaway girl he befriends - or so she thinks.

There may be an award for Chen Kaige's "The Emperor and the Assassin," an epic billed as the most expensive film in Chinese history. But the film, which stars Gong Li, didn't much engage me, and lacks the narrative sweep of a David Lean movie to go along with its impressive historical set pieces. Nor did I much like the Proust adaptation "Le Temps Retrouve," which demonstrates, if it needed demonstrating, that the fiction of Proust is too interior for the film medium, which persists in photographing the outsides of things. There were engaging qualities, however, in Soderbergh's "The Limey," with Terence Stamp as a Cockney in California to avenge the death of his daughter, and Peter Fonda as a '60s record producer who may have been involved. It's the kind of movie that sidles up to the very edge of satire and then blinks.

Le Petit Carlton, legendary late-night bar on the Rue D'Antibes, where Godard held court in the 1960s, Fassbinder in the 1970s, Herzog in the 1980s and Tarantino in the 1990s, is closing after this year's event. Its owner, Roger Constantin, is retiring, and the location will become just what Cannes needs, another boutique.

Midnight footnote: The original "Austin Powers" received good reviews when it was released in 1997. But now its ingrate writer and star, Mike Myers, has launched a campaign to drive all the major movie critics at this year's Cannes Film Festival stark-raving mad.

A gigantic advertising kiosk for the forthcoming "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" has been erected directly beneath the windows of the Hotel Splendid, where the critics for Time, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times have their rooms, along with your faithful correspondent. The kiosk is equipped with powerful loudspeakers which repeat ad slogans, music and sample dialogue from the movie over and over and over and over and over again, from late afternoon until late at night. There also is a sound effect that may be, well - you know.

Readers will recall that two years ago Planet Hollywood moved into premises on the ground level of the Splendid, and kept journalists awake with high-decibel personal appearances by Bruce Willis, who usually dropped by about 1 a.m. After the hotel protested, the Planet dialed down its act. This year, ironically, the only place in the neighborhood where you can't hear the "Austin Powers" audio attack is . . . inside Planet Hollywood.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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