Spielberg joins regulars at Cannes

CANNES, France

Then there's Steven Spielberg -- who's not quite a newcomer, since he's been at Cannes before. But the festival's centerpiece, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," marks the director's first trip back since the 1980s, when he showed "The Color Purple" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" here.

The new "Indiana Jones" flick opens worldwide May 22, four days after its Cannes premiere, giving the movie a similar global rollout that preceded blockbuster "E.T."

"That's our benchmark. This is the same kind of movie in that (Cannes is) kind of the perfect launching pad, because we can bring the whole world there," said Frank Marshall, producer on the "Indiana Jones" movies. "It's perfectly timed for our release worldwide."

In its 61st year, the world's most-prestigious film festival sometimes catches heat for including too many glossy Hollywood productions, such as past opening-night film "The Da Vinci Code" or action spectacles such as "Matrix Reloaded" and "X-Men: The Last Stand."

While this year's festival, which opens Wednesday, also includes the cute and cuddly animated comedy "Kung Fu Panda," featuring the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman, the rest of the schedule is mostly serious cinema, much of it from past Cannes luminaries.

Eastwood returns with "Changeling," a child-abduction drama starring Jolie, while Soderbergh is showing "Che," his two-part epic on revolutionary Che Guevara, featuring Benicio Del Toro. Wenders offers "Palermo Shooting," a thriller about a photographer pursued by a mysterious gunman, and Egoyan presents "Adoration," centered on a youth who reinvents himself in cyberspace.

Also back are Belgian siblings Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose stark drama "L'Enfant" won the Palme d'Or, the top honor at Cannes, two years ago. This time, the Dardennes present "Lorna's Silence," the tale of an Albanian woman caught up in an elaborate underworld crime plot in Belgium.

With international press mobbing the French Riviera resort, there is no better spotlight than Cannes for a film to gain global attention, said Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. is premiering Allen's romantic drama "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" with Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.

"Cannes is a grand stage," said Weinstein, whose past top prize winners at the festival include "Pulp Fiction," "Fahrenheit 9/11" and Soderbergh's "sex, lies and videotape." "You have the Oscars, which are American-centric, and the world-centric place is Cannes. It's the most far-reaching, important festival in the world and creates a worldwide image for films you're launching there."

Among other Cannes highlights: James Gray's romance "Two Lovers," with Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow and Isabella Rossellini; James Toback's "Tyson," a documentary on the rise and fall of heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson; and "Synecdoche, New York," the directing debut of "Being John Malkovich" screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

Then there's the parties, fashion and stargazing. With a red carpet that swoops up the broad stairs of the Palais, the festival's headquarters along the Mediterranean, Cannes puts celebrities under a glamor microscope like no other.

"It's a carnival, it's a spectacle. It's fun," said David Koepp, who wrote "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and came to Cannes twice previously as a young assistant to a film sales agent. "There's a lot of crazy people. What you get to see at Cannes is all the crazy, rich foreigners who want to get into Hollywood, having parties on their yachts."

The festival presents two major premieres most nights during its 12-day run, with stars preening and posing in front of an endless throng of shouting, gesticulating photographers.

Karen Allen, who reprises her "Raiders of the Lost Ark" role in a reunion with Spielberg, executive producer George Lucas and "Indiana Jones" star Harrison Ford, recalled her first trip to Cannes.

"It was one of the most surreal moments of my life, standing at the bottom of those stairs at the Palais," Allen said. "So many flashbulbs are going off, you're blind."

The new "Indiana Jones" movie has been kept under tight wraps, with Spielberg and his collaborators playing coy on key plot points.

This much is known: The story is set in 1957, 19 years after the action of 1989's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," and archaeologist-adventurer Indy is battling Cate Blanchett's Soviet operative over ancient crystal skulls that may possess immeasurable power.

However the movie turns out, fans are happy at the return of Allen as Indy's old flame Marion Ravenwood, whose stormy relationship with Jones promises to pick up where it left off more than two decades ago.

"It's just like `Raiders of the Lost Ark,"' Lucas said. "It's like you just said, `We'll wait 20 years, and we'll do the reunion movie."'

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