'Brokeback' gets Minister's seal of approval


Apart from days in the dark watching films, there was time for sun, socialising and movie gossip in Cannes, as Michael Dwyer reveals in his festival diary.

Minister for Arts John O'Donoghue is a regular filmgoer, generally taking in a night at the cinema once a week, he told me when we talked in Cannes on Sunday.

His favourite recent film?

"I would say that Brokeback Mountain is the best I've seen in the last five to 10 years," he said, and we would not disagree with that. He was underwhelmed, however, by Mission: Impossible III.

Before he officially opened the Irish Pavilion at Cannes, the Minister posed for photographs with two of the leading actors from The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Padraic Delaney and Liam Cunningham. During his speech he remarked that they were much more polite than Colin Farrell, who, when posing for a shot with him a year or so ago, told the Minister to breathe in.

Towards the end of his speech, he congratulated me on spending 25 consecutive years covering the Cannes festival, but he quipped that he could top that, having attended the Listowel Races for 33 years on the trot.

The stars that eat the canapés

Earlier in the festival, O'Donoghue was among 140 guests at the celebratory party after the world premiere of Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Dinner was served under a canopy on a beach along the Croisette, and the guests enjoyed delicious canapés, followed by tender roast lamb and some sinful chocolate desserts, all washed down with a selection of fine wines.

The film's leading actor, Cillian Murphy (pictured), was with his wife, Yvonne McGuinness, while their young baby, Malachy, snoozed across the road in the five-star Martinez Hotel. Murphy was looking forward to celebrating his 30th birthday on Thursday; coincidentally, another hot Irish actor, Colin Farrell, who co-starred with Murphy in Intermission, was born six days later and passes that milestone next Wednesday.

Farrell's partners in crime

Farrell, meanwhile, has signed on to co-star with Ewan McGregor (as brothers drifting into crime) in the new Woody Allen movie, to be shot in London this summer. As a result, Farrell is no longer among the six actors playing Bob Dylan in "different life-guises" in Todd Haynes's decidedly offbeat project, I'm Not There, which will be filming in the US around the same time. Five actors are already set to play Dylan in what is described as "a ferocious musical romp": Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Slater, rising star Ben Wishaw, and, no kidding, Cate Blanchett.

Designer living

Globetrotting Irish costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh made a flying visit to Cannes for the premiere and party for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, her second project with Cillian Murphy after dressing him in women's clothes for Breakfast on Pluto. The designer was back on an early plane to Dublin the next morning, for the last two days of filming on Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway as the young Jane Austen. And after the wrap party for that film in Dublin last Saturday, Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh was off to Mexico City, where she will spend the summer working as costume designer on Vantage Point, a thriller which reunites her with Omagh director Pete Travis, and which stars Lost heart-throb Matthew Fox, plus Dennis Quaid and William Hurt.

Short odds on Almodovar . . .

To mark Europe Day at Cannes this week, a formal dinner was organised in the plush grand salon of the Carlton Hotel, with 18 arts and culture ministers, including our own, in attendance. I was seated next to former jockey and racing correspondent Derek Malcolm, who has been writing about movies for decades and is now the film critic with the Evening Standard in London.

Every year Malcolm takes bets from his fellow critics on the winner of the coveted Palme d'Or, and I'm one of many who has had to pay up when I backed the wrong film with him in the past.

At the time of going to press, and with a few potentially strong contenders yet to be screened, Malcolm had installed Pedro Alomodovar's Volver as the 9/4 favourite to win at tomorrow night's festival closing ceremony. The fact that Almodovar has never won the top prize at Cannes is bound to be a factor, but then, as I pointed out to Malcolm, neither has Ken Loach, who has had eight films in competition and turns 70 next month. However, Malcolm ranks Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley down the field in fifth place as a 12/1 shot.

His rank outsider is Richard Kelly's spectacularly naive folly, Southland Tales, at 5,000/1.

. . . Coppola chasing in the Blahniks

Second favourite to win in the Malcolm odds is Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, which blends period costumes with modern trappings and a rock soundtrack. Win or lose at Cannes, Coppola's movie, which stars Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, is the firm favourite to be the most influential movie on fashion this year.

The look, as devised by Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero, is, I am reliably informed, a mix of "crispy textures and sorbet tones that are decadent and colourful, plus fresh greens, sunny yellows and creamy whites". All of which sounds like a wine review to me. And if you're so inclined, you can expect a revival of taffeta, tulle and organza.

The shoes for Coppola's picture are getting a great deal of attention, given that they were designed by Manolo Blahnik, who, I must confess, I assumed was an American woman until I learned this week that he is a Spanish man.

Apparently, his flouncy pink footwear will be hottest thing on feet this year.

Waltzing Finns

We were ensconced in the Palais for the Cannes premiere of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's new film, Lights in the Dusk, as footage of the guests arriving outside was projected on to the vast screen before us. When Kaurismaki and his team made their way on to the red carpet, the director impulsively engaged one of the women from his party in a waltz.

After a while, all the film's cast and crew were waltzing on the carpet. When the Finns finally ascended the steps and were greeted by festival president Gilles Jacob, Kaurismaki grabbed Jacob for a last waltz before the movie finally began.

Norah on board

Every available display space at Cannes is being used to promote movies, some already shot, some about to be made, and inevitably, some that will never raise enough finance to go into production. The town is festooned with billboards dominated by singer Norah Jones and the news that she is to make her film debut in My Blueberry Nights, the next movie from Chinese director Wong Kar-wai, who is president of the jury at Cannes this year.

Wong's first English-language film, it will be shot in the US and comes described as "a hip, romantic exploration of the sensual link between love and food".

Corr value

Another singer-turned-actor, Andrea Corr (pictured), seen earlier this year in The Boys and Girl From County Clare, was in Cannes for the announcement of a thriller, Knife Edge, in which she co-stars with Charles Dance and Melvil Poupaud, the French actor from the recently released Time to Leave. The director is Tony Hickox, who made

Hellraiser 3. The Corr made her film debut as Jimmy Rabbitte's sister in Alan Parker's The Commitments (1990) and also appeared in Parker's screen musical, Evita.

Different world

After a busy day of early movies and copious writing on Tuesday last, it was relaxing to unwind at a lavish beach party, this one hosted by Diff - not the Dublin festival, which can't afford to do beach parties, but the Dubai International Film Festival. The theme of the party was Arabian Nights, with belly dancers, tarot-card readers and henna tattoos - and a real live camel looming over the guests. Tuesday nights in Dublin just won't be quite the same when I get home next week.