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CANNES, France (Reuters) - Emmanuelle Bercot's "La Tete Haute" (Standing Tall), an unusual opener for the Cannes film festival, is a raw tale of youth crime that echoes the mood of a France still reeling from last January's Paris attacks.
The film about a young delinquent and the judge, counselor and mother who try to steer him straight seems as far from the trademark glamour of the annual Riviera extravaganza as its filming location in the northern French port of Dunkirk.
By contrast, last year's festival opened with a film much closer in many ways to Cannes - "Grace of Monaco".
"La Tete Haute" was due to be screened later on Wednesday.
"Choosing this film for the opening is a response by the Festival to a difficult year in Europe and especially in France," French movie icon Catherine Deneuve told a news conference in reference to the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket that killed 17 people.
"It may be indeed an echo to the year we have been going through," Deneuve, who plays the judge, added.
"The film is not linked to what happened at the beginning of the year, but I cannot deny that there is a resonance with what happened," said Bercot, the first woman to direct a Cannes opening film since Diane Kurys in 1987.
"The film is about education, it says that education is a fundamental right for the children and that when family cannot ensure that education, it is society's duty to ensure it."
The January attacks by militant Islamists stunned France and prompted a huge protest rally in Paris led by President Francois Hollande and attended by several foreign leaders.
Ironically, Deneuve herself was the subject of Charlie Hebdo's latest front page, which shows an unflattering caricature of the former "Belle de Jour" on La Croisette, the seaside promenade where the festival is held.
"I did not see it. If it's mean, I hope it's funny," she said.
"La Tete Haute", which is not in competition, has also been the talk of the town because it is a rare festival opener directed by a woman.
Bercot, however, could not care less. "I am going to disappoint you but I do not pay attention to the fact that the opening film is directed by a woman," she said.
Two of the 19 in-competition films are directed by women - "Marguerite et Julien" by Valerie Donzelli and "Mon Roi" by Maiwenn.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Michael Roddy and Tom Heneghan