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Cannes Film Festival opens with star-studded action flick, but focuses on emerging filmmakers

CANNES, France (AP) — This year's lineup at the Cannes Film Festival is leaner and less star-studded than usual, but you wouldn't know that from Wednesday's high-glamour opening ceremony.

Hollywood celebrities from Eva Longoria to Salma Hayek strutted their stuff on the red carpet for the premiere of Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," which opened the French Riviera's 12-day film extravaganza.

The film's stars, Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, electrified the throngs of spectators who lined the red carpet hoping for a celebrity glimpse. Crowe, who plays the title role in Scott's muscular adaptation of the classic tale, sported sunglasses with his tuxedo.

Blanchett, Lady Marion in the film, donned an off-the-shoulder gown by late British designer Alexander McQueen. Emblazoned on the front and back by a silver eagle in flight, the dress was part of McQueen's pre-fall 2010 collection.

McQueen, a British designer who was widely considered among the brightest lights of contemporary fashion, committed suicide in February at age 40.

Indian actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, wearing a frothy gown in blue-gray lace, Britain's Helen Mirren in a black sheath and Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal filled out the ranks of the celebrities at Wednesday's ceremony.

Still, despite its high-wattage start, the festival's 63rd edition has fewer household names among the actors and directors to be featured here. The pared-down roster of 19 movies in competition is dominated by emerging filmmakers from Asia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Jury president Tim Burton played down the relative lack of big names at Cannes, saying he and his fellow jurors — including British actress Kate Beckinsale and Puerto Rico's Benicio del Toro — were going into the competition without preconceptions.

"We don't want to have a certain kind of thing we're looking for," Burton, his eyes obscured by dark shades and his hair a halo of frizz, told reporters at a news conference. "The point is to just feel the films and then discuss them and just be open."

"We've all been judged, so I think we're going into it with a certain kind of spirit of openness and hopefully compassion for any filmmaker," said the director of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Edward Scissorhands."

Key names are among the films competing for the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize, including new movies by "Amores Perros" director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Cannes best film laureates Ken Loach and Abbas Kiarostami, as well as Japan's Takeshi Kitano.

British actress Kristen Scott Thomas presided over the opening ceremony, which included a medley of songs from Burton's films by Melody Gardot, clips from the competition movies and the official presentation of the jury.

A chair was left symbolically empty for renowned Iranian director Jahar Panahi, who had been asked to be on the jury but is under detention in his home country. In a joint statement Wednesday, France's culture and foreign ministers called for Panahi's release so "he can come to the festival as soon as possible."

The media blitz around "Robin Hood" comes at a convenient time for the action-packed film, which will go head-to-head with the reigning blockbuster "Iron Man 2" when it opens in parts of Europe and the U.S. this week.

Other big-name movies in this, Cannes' 63rd edition, to be shown out of competition include Michael Douglas and Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" — the follow up to their 1987 hit "Wall Street" — and Woody Allen's ensemble romance, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," starring Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Freida Pinto.

Only one U.S. film will be in the running for Cannes' top prize: director Doug Liman's "Fair Game," starring Watts as CIA covert operative Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked by officials in the Bush administration. In years past, there were as many as five American films in competition at Cannes.

Early contenders for the Palme d'Or include "Biutiful," by Mexican critical darling Gonzalez Inarritu. Set in Barcelona, "Biutiful" stars Spanish hunk Javier Bardem as a father struggling to protect his children.

With "Certified Copy," top Iranian director Kiarostami leaves his native country, serving up an Italian-set romance starring Juliette Binoche.

British directors Mike Leigh and Loach, both Cannes laureates, are in the running for a second Palme d'Or — Leigh with his relationship drama "Another Year," and Loach with "Route Irish," which is set in Iraq.

This year's selection also includes a strong Asian contingent, with two films from both South Korea and China, as well as one entry each from Japan and Thailand.

The Cannes film festival runs through May 23.

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On the Net:

http://www.festival-cannes.fr/en.html