CANNES, France (Reuters) - An animated documentary about Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and a courageous attempt to portray the Naples mafia were among the frontrunners for top honors as the Cannes film festival hit halfway.
Film goers were generally impressed with the quality of the competition movies screened so far, although some said the main line-up lacked the punch of a standout contender.
That may have come on Tuesday with veteran actor and director Clint Eastwood, whose movie starring Angelina Jolie won warm applause after its press screening.
Originally titled "The Changeling," there was some confusion at the news conference about the English title for the 1920s drama, as production notes called it "The Exchange."
"Usually at this stage we would have seen more absolute stinkers," said film critic and author Mark Cousins, who is at his 18th Cannes festival. "For me it's a rather high standard."
Among his favorites for the Palme d'Or, which goes to the jury's choice of best film, is "Waltz With Bashir," director Ari Folman's attempt to piece together buried memories of the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila camps.
Italy's "Gomorra" was hailed for its bravery in depicting the brutal world of the Camorra crime network in Naples.
It is based on the best-selling account of the group by journalist Roberto Saviano, who has been living under police protection for the past two years.
Both entries are seen as political, which may give them the edge if jury president Sean Penn wishes to highlight topicality alongside cinematic craft at the prize ceremony on Sunday.
His impartiality could be tested by Eastwood's movie, which is based on the true story of Christine Collins, whose search for her missing son forces her to confront a corrupt Los Angeles police force and a serial child killer.
Penn starred in Eastwood's "Mystic River" in 2003, with which the new film has been compared.
"Three Monkeys," a Turkish film that tells a bleak story of family secrets and is directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, rates top of an informal poll of critics appearing daily in the Screen International publication in Cannes.
Domestic critics are also supporting French family drama "A Christmas Tale," starring Mathieu Amalric, while Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are aiming to win a third Golden Palm with their popular "Lorna's Silence."
South America is represented by four pictures in the main competition, all of which have been screened.
Opening film "Blindness," an adaptation of Jose Saramago's novel of the same name about a plague of blindness sweeping the world, scored poorly with critics and "The Headless Woman," by Argentina's Lucrecia Martel, was booed at a press screening.
But the region's two other entries impressed more -- prison drama "Leonera" from Argentina and "Linha de Passe" ("Line of Passage") set in the slums of Sao Paulo.
Jia Zhangke's Chinese documentary-style movie "24 City" has divided opinion and the majority of reviews judged Philippine drama "Serbis" ("Service") a dud.
Hundreds more films are unveiled out of competition and critics thought "Hunger," a powerful portrayal of Northern Irish militant Bobby Sands's fatal hunger strike, one of the best.
Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford were in town for the new Indiana Jones adventure, Woody Allen brought his comedy starring Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson, and boxer Mike Tyson and soccer legend Diego Maradona visited for new documentaries.
(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie and Bob Tourtellotte)
To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at blogs.reuters.com/fanfare