CANNES, France (Reuters) - Hard-hitting Brazilian film "Blindness" gets the Cannes film festival under way on Wednesday, kicking off 12 hectic days of movies, publicity and late-night revelry in the Riviera resort.
Directed by Brazil's Fernando Meirelles, of "City of God" renown, the movie is an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning writer Jose Saramago's novel of the same name, and tells the apocalyptic story of a plague of blindness sweeping the world.
Julianne Moore plays a doctor's wife, who, like the film's audience, is able to see the harrowing events going on around her and who gradually becomes aware of the responsibilities that brings.
The movie is an appropriate choice to open a festival that is showcasing South American cinema.
Joining Meirelles in the main competition is another Brazilian entry "Line of Passage," by Walter Salles, and two Argentine productions -- Pablo Trapero's prison drama "Leonera" and thriller "The Headless Woman" by Lucrecia Martel.
They are up against Clint Eastwood's "Changeling," starring Angelina Jolie, and Steven Soderbergh's "Che," a two-part, four-and-a-half hour epic on Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, with Benicio del Toro in the title role.
The other two U.S. entries are James Gray's "Two Lovers," featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix, and Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The biggest show in town this year is likely to be the latest instalment of the Indiana Jones series, again starring Harrison Ford as the whip-wielding archaeologist in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" by Steven Spielberg.
Also out of competition, Woody Allen presents "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" starring Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem.
Italy has a strong presence in Cannes, with two competition films reflecting the darker side of its recent past.
"Gomorra" is directed by Matteo Garrone and based on Roberto Saviano's book about how the Neapolitan mafia works and makes its money, while "Il Divo," by Paolo Sorrentino, tells the story of controversial former prime minister Giulio Andreotti.
Outside the main lineup comes "Sangue Pazzo" based on the story of two actors who fall foul of partisan rebels fighting fascism at the end of World War Two.
Previous winners of the Palme d'Or vying for the prize again in 2008 are Belgium's Dardenne brothers, Soderbergh and German director Wim Wenders.
Israeli director Ari Folman is contesting the main award with "Waltz With Bashir," an eagerly anticipated animated documentary about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila camp massacres by members of the Christian Israeli-backed Lebanese Forces militia.
Pop star Madonna, Argentine soccer hero Diego Maradona and U.S. boxer Mike Tyson are also expected in Cannes, making it a star-heavy year for the world's biggest film festival.
The event winds up with an awards ceremony, where the coveted Palme d'Or is handed out on May 25.
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