CANNES, France – The Cannes Film Festival (search) opened Wednesday with a lineup of judges that looked like the guest list for the ultimate dinner party of artists and entertainers.
Over 11 days, the nine jurors will debate the 21 films competing for the top prize, the Palme d'Or. Their leader is Emir Kusturica, the Sarajevo-born director who has already won that honor twice.
"We are not going to have, for sure, pathetic decisions," he promised at a news conference. "It's not going to be a box office-pushing kind of decision ... We are going to mostly concentrate on the aesthetics."
The other jurors are Spanish actor Javier Bardem, French filmmakers Benoit Jacquot and Agnes Varda; German director Fatih Akin and Indian actress Nandita Das.
On the first day — the cinematic aperitif of the festival — the chemistry seemed good and jurors cracked jokes.
Kusturica conceded that he might have a tyrannical streak. "For me to be (a democratic leader), it's very difficult," he said.
Morrison said she was honored to be invited, then cracked: "I know that my judging is infallible in spite of the fact that I'm not in the industry." Only one of Morrison's novels, "Beloved," has been adapted for the cinema.
Hayek said she looked forward to her new role as juror because she'll be able to immerse herself in movies. Usually, as an actress promoting a film at a festival, it's more tedious. "Mostly what you have to do is give interviews," she said.
After the initial news conference, jurors stop talking with the media. The thoughts that emerge during their meeting of minds will be known only after awards are announced May 21.
One of the festival's highlights is likely to be "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (search)," which plays here days before its theatrical debut. It is not competing for prizes.
At the opening ceremony, Belgian actress Cecile de France ("Around the World in 80 Days") introduced the jury, who watched as an acrobat from Cirque du Soleil twirled overhead on long cords. U.S. filmmaker Alexander Payne ("Sideways") and Indian star Aishwarya Rai ("Bride & Prejudice") declared the festival officially open.
Then came the screening of "Lemming" (search), a French film about a young couple whose lives take a bizarre turn after they find an unusual rodent stuck in the pipes of their sink.
"Lemming" director Dominik Moll previously made the hit thriller "With a Friend Like Harry," in which the title character turned out to be a deranged creep instead of a pal. The new film's stars include Charlotte Rampling, whose career has been jump-started by young French directors.
The festival features many Cannes regulars — among them, Woody Allen, David Cronenberg, Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier, Atom Egoyan and Gus Van Sant.
For the first time, an Iraqi film will compete. "Kilometre Zero" is set in 1988, during the country's war with Iran. Other selections include films from China, Belgium and Mexico.
Of the films in the main competition, none look likely to match the political punch of "Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the top prize last year. Organizers hope the jurors stick to the films' artistic merits, not their politics.
"Michael Moore's talent is not in doubt," Cannes director Gilles Jacob said. "But in this case, it was a question of a satirical tract that was awarded a prize more for political than cinematographic reasons, no matter what the jury said."