Sean Penn warns Barack Obama at Cannes Film Festival opening
By Anita Singh, Showbusiness Editor
The Cannes Film Festival got off to a lively start with Sean Penn, president of this year's jury, sounding off about US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama and the opening movie almost being upstaged by a bunch of performing pandas.
Penn joined fellow judge Natalie Portman on the red carpet for the premiere of the first night film, Blindness, a thriller starring Julianne Moore.
At a press conference beforehand, the actor, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, offered his views on the Democratic nomination race.
Asked if he would be joining other Hollywood A-listers in pledging support for Obama, Penn gave him a less than ringing endorsement and warned that he has an awful lot to live up to.
”I don't have a candidate I'm supporting and I'm certainly interested and excited by the hope that Barack Obama is inspiring,” he said, but went on to accuse him of a “phenomenally inhuman and unconstitutional” voting record.
”I hope that he will understand, if he is the nominee, the degree of disillusionment that will happen if he doesn't become a greater man than he will ever be,” Penn said. “This is the most important election, certainly in my lifetime, and maybe ever.”
Portman, 26, said she would not be endorsing Obama or his rival, Hillary Clinton, but added: “I think it's a very exciting year for our politics, that for the first time in a while we have a choice of who we like better instead of who we hate least.”
Penn said it was impossible to separate film from politics, and promised that the winning film would be a reflection of the current climate.
“One way or another, when we select the Palme d'Or winner, I think we are going to feel very confident that the film-maker who made the film is very aware of the times in which he or she lives.”
There are 22 films in competition for the Palme d'Or and the jury will watch them over the next 12 days. “The idea is to be wide awake with an empty bladder for the start of everything,” explained Penn.
Asked if he was enjoying it so far, he complained that he had been “discouraged from smoking” – France's smoking ban was introduced last year – before lighting up and chain-smoking his way through the press conference.
The opening film, Blindness, is a thriller from director Fernando Meirelles about a town struck down by a mysterious epidemic, leaving Moore the only character with the ability to see.
Based on the novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago, its story of a community hit by disaster and receiving no government help draws obvious parallels with Hurricane Katrina.
Moore said the film was timely: “I think there's sometimes something in the zeitgeist. There's a tremendous amount of tragedy right now, physical tragedy and man-made tragedy, and we are feeling anxious.”
The 47-year-old actress dyed her famous red hair blonde for the role. She said: “I'm a redhead and I'm always a redhead, except for this movie. I don't want to do it again. I didn't like it very much.”
Away from the main competition, comic actor Jack Black launched his latest movie, DreamWorks animation Kung Fu Panda, by performing martial arts moves on the beach in the company of 40 extras in panda suits. Black, who lends his voice to the film along with the likes of Angelina Jolie and Lucy Liu, explained that he was there to create “panda-monium”.
The film creating the most buzz on the Croisette remains Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which has its world premiere on Sunday. Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett and director Steven Spielberg will fly in later this week for the summer's most eagerly-awaited sequel.