Mike Leigh and monks vie for top Cannes film prize

Thu May 20, 2010 7:32pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

CANNES, France (Reuters) - British director Mike Leigh's family story "Another Year" and French religious drama "Of Gods and Men" are seen as favorites to win the coveted Palme d'Or for best film at this year's Cannes festival.

The 12-day cinema showcase on the French Riviera winds up with Sunday's awards ceremony which will determine which of the 19 movies in the main competition take away prizes.

After a slow start that had critics scratching their heads about the overall quality of the selection, later entries have lifted the mood in Cannes, where the economic crisis, lack of Hollywood stars and travel disruptions have weighed heavily.

With four films yet to screen, Leigh leads the critics' polls in Cannes. In 1996 he took away the big prize with "Secrets and Lies."

Another Year is his examination of the hidden drama of everyday lives set in a London suburb and starring regular Leigh cast members Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville. The Daily Telegraph called it "one of Mike Leigh's best films."

Close behind is "Of Gods and Men," French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois' stately re-telling of the true story of seven French monks mysteriously murdered in Algeria in 1996.

The film focuses mainly on the rhythms of monastic life and how the men face up to the growing threat of violent death as civil conflict escalates around them. It has the added appeal of tackling universal themes of faith and religious tolerance.

"It's got crucial things going for it -- a real generosity of spirit, a real sense of forgiveness, and nowhere is Islam blamed," said Mark Cousins, a film historian and Cannes veteran.   Continued...

<p>Director Mike Leigh attends a news conference for his film "Another Year" in competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival May 15, 2010. Nineteen films compete for the prestigious Palme d'Or which will be awarded on May 23. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier</p>