The Cannes Film Festival's going to be a study of contrasts, if the opening day's content is any indication.
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14 May 2009 - 10:20 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 12:57 PM

The 62nd Festival de Cannes kicked off on Wednesday night (May 13) with the 3-D animated feature Up. The jury chaired by Isabelle Huppert featured several other lovely, accomplished women in long gowns with sufficient spare fabric trailing along the ground to house a boxed DVD
set of Cannes Greatest Hits.

Their trains were on time — mine, alas, was not. Which explains why what I have to convey about Up — the story of an elderly man who ties balloons to his house and heads off in the titular direction — is short but sweet. The opening night crowd emerged from the auditorium smiling. Nobody was overheard complaining that the 3-D glasses had produced a headache. In France to date almost all 3-D productions have been released in dubbed prints, as subtitles are said to interfere with the sensation of depth the animators toiled so long and hard to achieve. But Cannes fest-goers enjoyed an English-language print subtitled in French.

Few of us would care to have a bright red carpet in our homes, but the colour is synonymous with glamour at film events. The carpet leading up the stairs of the Lumiere Auditorium, which houses the evening black tie gala presentations, is red. (The carpet at the adjacent Debussy Auditorium -- home to Un Certain Regard, the festival's official companion sidebar – is blue, for a pleasant royal effect. Of course, France hasn't had a king for a long time, although some think the current head of state is on track to revive the concept.)

Along with the formally attired photographers who no longer use film but scramble to get digital shots of the people who do, the stairs were lined on both sides with adorable young ballerinas in stiff white tutus. Light on their toe shoes and radiating grace, one balloon per girl might have been enough to achieve lift-off.

That red carpet, by the way, gets surprisingly dirty, surprisingly fast.

Up falls under the heading of "Official Selection – Out of Competition," meaning it was hand-picked by the festival's programmers but is not in the running for a prize. The first film competing for the Palme d'Or is Lou Ye's Spring Fever (Chun Feng Chen Zui De Ye Wan), the brutally intimate tale of a gay man in contemporary China who crosses paths and orifices with two ostensibly straight men, creating consternation and regret on multiple fronts. Did I mention that there is much grunting and straining in the throes of sexual ecstasy?

Much as ads for the new JJ Abrams juggernaut bragged that "This Is Not Your Father's Star Trek" it's safe to say this is not your father's Chinese movie.

The political backdrop (1989's Tiananmen Square protests) to portions of the Mainland Chinese director's previous Cannes entry, Yihe Yuan (Summer Palace), resulted in a ban on his working as a director for five years. That was in 2006. And yet here he is, brazenly showing his directorial flair. Although no offending appendages are ever seen here (there was one scene of co-ed full frontal nudity in Summer Palace), the man-on-man sex scenes are strikingly convincing in their sheer effort and ferocity.

But the strong emotions that accompany strong sensations are not evenly distributed and some characters suffer more than others. Or rather, everybody suffers, but to different degrees and on a staggered schedule. The central protagonist, haunted by a 1923 poem he and his lover once shared, concludes that disrupting routine and flaunting convention has its charms, but one should never be cavalier toward true love.

As it is a costly and exhausting proposition to trek to France each May in hopes of seeing a film or films to cherish, Cannes remains an act of faith and a labor of love for thousands of eager devotees.