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Film

Craft and commerce in Cannes

Each year, the Cannes Film Festival draws international stars to the French Riviera. The 2014 event promises a controversial opening night film and plenty of big names in the race for the prestigious Palme d'Or.

There will be a few empty seats at the opening night gala on Wednesday (14.05.2014). In the first minor scandal of this year's Cannes Film Festival, the Monégasque royal family said it won't be attending in protest of the opening film, "Grace of Monaco."

It would have otherwise been a perfect fit for the 67th installment of the festival, which runs May 14-25. The French production from director Olivier Dahan was confirmed as the opening night film some time ago.

It focuses on a few crucial years in the life of Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, and her transition from starlet to Princess of Monaco. The film is a glossy biopic with a star-studded cast, including Australian actress Nicole Kidman in the title role. Coincidentally, it was also at the Cannes festival back in 1955 that Grace Kelly first met Prince Rainier III.

The current royal family would only need to travel a few miles from Monaco, along the Côte d'Azur, to get to Cannes. But they are outraged by the film.

Depressed princess, unhappy marriage

According to the family, the story the director wanted to bring to the screen was far too critical. Grace Kelly was just 25, and at the peak of her acting career, when she moved to Europe with Prince Rainier III.

The young princess was in danger of being crushed under the weight of the new responsibilities and expectations that came with royal life. Her husband also demanded she end her acting career, even though Alfred Hitchcock wanted her to star in his thriller, "Marnie." But Kelly gave in to her husband's wishes, and later became depressed.

Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco

Nicole Kidman plays Hollywood starlet Grace Kelly in "Grace of Monaco"

A second plotline in the film explores the diplomatic tensions between the Principality of Monaco and France. The French President Charles de Gaulle wanted to end Monaco's status as a tax haven. Isolated both economically and politically, the small republic finally had to give in to pressure from Paris.

The resulting story, complete with a broken marriage and profit-driven royals, was too much for Rainer III's children. They argue the film twists the family's history for purely commercial purposes. According to Monte Carlo, "Grace of Monaco" is "historically inaccurate" and "unnecessarily glamorized."

"The royal family doesn't want to be connected in any way to this film, which has nothing to do with reality," they said, adding that they would boycott the film's premiere in Cannes.

Big names out in force

Cannes 2014 should be able to withstand this setback. After all, "Grace of Monaco," which opens in European cinemas the day after its premiere in Cannes, isn't running in the official festival competition. And it's likely to be forgotten once the buzz surrounding the screening dies down.

Red carpet at Cannes

Plenty of big names are expected on the Cannes red carpet

Most eyes will be on the race for the Palme d'Or - arguably the most important film festival prize in the world. This year, there are plenty of big names in contention. Indeed, the festival has copped some criticism for depending too heavily on established stars, rather than giving new talent a chance to shine.

Most of the films in the competition race come from France. Film great Jean-Luc Godard, now 83, has entered a 3D film called "Adieu au Langage" (Goodbye to Language), and Bertrand Bonello is competing with a new Yves-Saint-Laurent biopic. Other names on the list include Michel Hazanavicius, who won international acclaim with "The Artist," and Belgian Palme d'Or winners Jean-Pierre und Luc Dardenne.

There are works from the UK by Mike Leigh and the master of socially-critical cinema, Ken Loach. The eagerly-awaited new film by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan also made the official competition list.

Modest showing from Hollywood

Big Hollywood directors are, however, noticeably absent. Film maker Bennett Miller, and Tommy Lee Jones, who is better known for his acting, don't exactly belong to the circle of elite directors. From Canada there are offerings by three of the most interesting film makers in modern cinema, namely David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, and 25-year-old wunderkind Xavier Dolan. Films from Russia, Japan, Mauritania, and Argentina round out the 18 competition entries.

Wim Wenders and the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado

Wim Wenders' (r.) is on the Cannes program with a documentary about Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado (center)

No German films made the final cut in 2014. Shortly before the competition list was announced, selectors were considering four prominent German directors, who had just finished new films - Christian Petzold, Andreas Dresen, Fatih Akin und Wim Wenders. None were accepted in the end, and Akin withdrew his film "The Cut," which explores a chapter of the historical conflict between the Turks and Armenians.

German talent

Outside the official competition however, Wim Wenders' new documentary "Salt of the Earth," about the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, will feature in the festival's special screening section, "Un certain regard."

Otherwise, Germany's participation is limited to a few short films - and providing money. Four films in the main program are German co-productions.

Wenders won the Palme d'Or 30 years ago for "Paris, Texas," and to celebrate the anniversary, a restored version of the masterpiece will be shown at a gala screening at this year's festival. It seems as though Cannes is still mourning "New German Cinema" associated with names such as Fassbinder, Herzog, Schlöndorff, and even Wenders. As long as that's the case, it's unlikely Germany's new generation of film talent will get a foot in the door.

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