Strutting Cannes' Croisette
The international film world's most glamorous competition -- the Cannes film festival -- is gearing up for another round of star-studded promenades along the Mediterranean's palm-lined La Croisette. On Monday, the names of the jurors who will decide which of the festival's 20 films deserve top honors and which will be largely forgotten stabs at artistry were made public. They include a spicy blend of talent, intellect and sex appeal. Sarejvo-born director Emir Kusturica will serve as jury pooh-bah and his team will include: German-Turkish director Fatih Akin, who in 2003 won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival for his tough-love story "Head On," sultry Mexican actress Salma Hayak and -- in an odd pick -- US Nobel Prize winning-author Toni Morrison, who to our knowledge, has no experience in film. Other jury members include Indian actress Nandita Das, Spanish actor Javier Bardem and directors John Woo (China), Agnes Varda (France) and Benoit Jacquot (France).
The festival takes itself terribly seriously and has a reputation for mixing auteur pics with established film circle favorites. This year seems almost like a return to the past, with former Croisette pets -- Wim Wenders ("Don't Come Knockin'"), Hou Hsiao-hsien ("The Best of Our Times"), Amos Gitai ("Free Zone"), Gus Van Sant ("Last Days") and Lars Von Trier ("Manderly") -- once again competing. Other oldies -- Jim Jarmusch, David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan -- also made his year's cut. Do they really still represent the European avant garde? The fest will run May 11-22 and features films from 13 countries, including for the first time, Iraq. The awards will be announced on May 21. We won't be holding our breath. (2 p.m. CET)
Give us a break, Benedict
The media portrayed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as cold and calculating in his successful bid to become Pope Benedict XVI. The truth, at least as Benedict told a group of fellow Germans visiting Rome on a pilgrimage Monday, is that he never really wanted the job and that at the ripe age of 78 he had thought his "life's work was finished." That changed, he said, while he was inside the secretive Vatican conclave and he suddenly realized just how many votes he had. That's odd, because even before the 115 cardinals disappeared inside the Sistine Chapel for the conclave, Vatican insiders reported that Ratzinger was the favorite and had ratcheted up 30-50 votes. He only needed 77 to win. And, the Italian newspaper La Republica writes that as early as Christmas -- when John Paul's health seemed fragile at best -- support had began to coalesce around Ratzinger. That's quite a few months to mull the papal job over and to quietly let it be known that he didn't want it.
But that did not happen. In fact, going into the conclave, Ratzinger had some heavy hitters in the Curia (Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, Julian Herranz and Giovanni Battista Re) pushing for him -- and was actively mustering, rather than deflecting, votes. With all that behind the scenes hustling going on, it does seem a tad "dramatique" for Benedict to tell pilgrims that "as the voting slowly developed, making me realize that the guillotine would fall on me, I started to feel quite dizzy. ...I told the Lord with deep conviction, 'Don't do this to me.'" But, God, he said, "evidently didn't listen to me." Ratzinger was elected in a stunning 24 hours, after just four rounds of balloting. That's one of the fastest papal elections in a century. Clearly, clever cardinal Ratzinger -- known for his unmatched intellect -- must have had an inkling of what was going down.
Now, with the papal ring securely on his finger and new robes sewn to fit his measure, Benedict is bowing his head in humility. On Monday, he told the German pilgrims that he has accepted his fate. "The Lord's road is not comfortable, but we are not made for comfort and so I could not have done anything but say 'yes.''' The crowd, meanwhile cheered him as if he were a rock star, euphorically chanting "Benedict Sent By God" (which in German -- "Benedikt, Gott geschickt" -- rhymes). Meanwhile, he promised the pilgrims that under his guidance, the Catholic Church would "build bridges" with other religions, particularly with Muslims and would work to create unity among all the Christian churches.
The good news is that Benedict, who as Ratzinger had a reputation as something of a cold and dour academic and strict keeper of the faith, seems to flourish in the spotlight. He's even becoming a bit of a comedian. After apologizing for arriving late to meet the pilgrims, he effortlessly quipped, "Germans are used to punctuality." But after all those years in Rome, "I have become a bit of an Italian." (12:30 p.m. CET)
A new home town for Brigitte Bardot?
Ever dyed your pet poodle's poof pink just for kicks? Forget it in Turin. The Italian city is about to become the most stringent place in Europe -- if not the world -- in terms of animal rights. The city is gearing up to pass laws that fine owners up to 500 ($650) if they don't walk their dogs at least three times a day, Reuters reports. And, how the animals are walked is not optional, either. Riding a bike while walking a dog is permissible, the rules state, but not if it "would tire the animal too much." Needless to say, dying pet fur or engaging in any sort of "animal mutilation," for aesthetic reasons (including cutting dogs' tails short) will be a no-no. "In Turin, it will be illegal to turn one's dog into a ridiculous fluffy toy," writes the city's La Stampa newspaper. Italians are already serious when it comes to animal rights and anyone who tortures or abandons their pets can face fines of up to 10,000 and even be sent to jail for a year. (Nonetheless, about 150,000 Italian dogs and about 200,000 cats are abandoned every year.)
But the 20-page Turin rulebook goes one step further. It even makes it illegal -- for humane reasons -- for carnivals to give away goldfish in plastic bags. Where's Brigitte Bardot when you need her? But passing the law is one thing, and enforcing it will be quite another. Police will have to rely on the eagle eyes of animal-loving citizens for tips on nabbing rule breakers. We can see the headlines now, "Police Corner Man Suspected of Only One Dog Walk Per Day." In Turin, it looks like dogs will no longer be man's best friend. Instead, they will his greatest burden. (10:30 a.m. CET)
19 Years after Chernobyl, Poland Mulls Building Nuclear Plant
Is Poland about to conduct a U-turn on its anti-nuclear energy policies? On the 19th anniversary of the meltdown at Chernobyl, which happened less than 700 kilometers from the Polish border, the government has approved plans calling for the construction of a nuclear power plant to go online in 2025. A little over a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable, with memories of Chernobyl still fresh in people's minds. Indeed, in 1990, the residents of Gdansk voted to stop the construction of what was originally planned to be the country's first nuclear reactor.
But realities in Poland have changed today. Currently, more the 96 percent of the country's energy comes from coal burning -- the highest proportion anywhere in the world. To make matters worse, Poland is highly dependent on Russia for oil and gas imports. And though it has lowered its emissions from coal burning, Warsaw still fears it will be unable to meet the requirements laid out in the Kyoto Protocol on climate change without a conversion to nuclear energy.
Not surprisingly, there's a lot less resistance this time around to nuclear power -- and even the country's left-leaning newspapers are heralding the "environmentally friendly and clean" energy. The only serious opposition to the nuclear plant seems to be coming from the Green Party, whose leaders are asking: "Why leap back into the Atomic age when renewable energy sources are getting better?" In nearby Germany and Sweden, where governments have firm plans to abandon nuclear energy, the move has some scratching their heads. (9:50 a.m. CET)