(L-R) Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain and Shia LaBeouf arrive for the screening of "Lawless" at the 65th Cannes film festival on May 19. A Romanian nunnery tale, a killer whale of a drama and whimsical pre-teen love jostled for Cannes glory Monday as the world's top cinema showcase hit the half-way mark.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
CANNES: A Romanian nunnery tale, a killer whale of a drama and whimsical pre-teen love jostled for Cannes glory Monday as the world's top cinema showcase hit the half-way mark.
Awful weather and a lingering sexism row made only a slight dent in the French Riviera festival's glamour that saw stars like Jessica Chastain, Bill Murray and Marion Cotillard sashay up the fabled red carpet.
Cannes has hosted a frenzy of champagne-fuelled parties, deal-making and publicity pranks since its 65th edition started with a seafront stunt by a camel and Sacha Baron Cohen in character as his zany alter ego Admiral General Aladeen.
Love was a dominant theme in the nine movies premiered so far out of the 22 jockeying to get the Palme d'Or top prize on Sunday, with critics putting a Romanian film by a previous Palme winner and a French work in the lead.
Cristian Mungiu, who took Cannes gold in 2007 with the chilling Communist-era abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", was back in the running with "Beyond the Hills", the true story of a deadly "exorcism".
"'Beyond the Hills' is less fun than any film about lesbian nuns and their psychotic ex-lovers ought to be," said The Hollywood Reporter, but it declared it "an engrossingly serious work (that) confirms Mungiu as a maturing talent".
Screen International's compilation of ratings by leading critics gave the 150-minute Romanian film as Palme favourite, while Le Film Francais magazine's compilation put Frenchman Jacques Audiard's "Rust and Bone" in pole position.
Set a stone's throw from Cannes in Antibes, it stars Marion Cotillard as a killer-whale trainer who loses both legs in an accident before falling for bare-knuckle fighter Ali, played by Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts in a breakout performance.
"Moonrise Kingdom", a bittersweet American family romp by Wes Anderson with an all-star cast about the thrill and sting of first love, delighted audiences as it opened the festival last Wednesday.
"Love" is the title of the new work by previous Palme d'Or winner Michael Haneke who bowled Cannes over on Sunday with the tale of a devoted husband and his dying wife in a wrenching study of love at the bitter end.
Fellow Austrian director Ulrich Seidl was also back at Cannes with "Paradise: Love", which follows a middle-aged woman on holiday in Kenya whose search for love turns into a bitter lesson in sex tourism.
Another Palme contender creating a buzz was Australian John Hillcoat's "Lawless", a Prohibition-era rural gangster movie scripted by rocker Nick Cave, which the director said was a parable for the "failed" war on drugs.
The film by "The Road" director Hillcoat features Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce -- with Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain as love interests -- in a violent slice of hillbilly moonshine myth-making.
Geopolitics got a look in with "After The Battle", an Arab Spring drama by Egypt's Yousry Nasrallah, while Italy sent a tragicomedy by Matteo Garrone starring a prison inmate as a fishmonger who loses himself in a quest to become a reality television star.
"The Hunt", a taut psychological thriller by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Danish heart-throb Mads Mikkelsen as a man falsely accused of molesting a child, meanwhile emerged Sunday as a hot Palme contender.
But with 13 more movies to premiere before Sunday's finale, the race was still wide open, with mobster flick "Killing Them Softly", an adaptation of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road", and journalism caper "The Paperboy" the ones to watch out for.
Unseasonably wet weather caused some party-organisers to cancel beach events on Sunday, and forecasters predicted more rain in the coming days.
The festival's board at the weekend hit back at charges of sexism in its official line-up, saying they would continue to select pictures based solely on their merits.
Their statement came after more than a thousand women film-makers and others signed a US petition in support of French feminists protesting the lack of female directors in the line-up for the top prize.