-- The crosstown Quentin and Pedro Show launched this year's Cannes Film Festival with a collective bang. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who heads the prestigious Cannes jury, machine-gun-chattered his way through a packed news conference Thursday, while Spanish director Pedro Almodovar lit up the festival with the well-received opener, "Bad Education," a film-noirish melodrama that deals in part with priestly sexual abuse. The flamboyant Almodovar, the first Spaniard to open Cannes, then hosted a rousing harbor party that included fireworks and a campy post-midnight drag show.
Cannes is clearly Tarantino's home away from home. He has been revered here ever since he took the first-time filmmaking prize (the Golden Camera) for 1992's "Reservoir Dogs." And never let it be said that the director of "Kill Bill, Vol. 2," also showcased in this fest, doesn't know how to work -- not to mention work up -- a room.
"Cannes is heaven, all rriiiiight?" he riffed in his sputtery, volume-surge approach to human speech. "It's just . . . heaven! We've all dreamed of going to heaven."
His first dream, he continued, was to get into Cannes and enjoy red-carpet treatment -- which he did with "Reservoir Dogs." After that, he said, his second dream was to take the Golden Palm, which he achieved in 1994 with "Pulp Fiction."
"My next dream was to be on the jury," he added, "and then they made me the president! If there's another level above heaven, all riiiight, then that's where I'm at."
Juror Tilda Swinton, an English actress and well-known luminary in the art-film world, countered that she didn't think Cannes was about being in heaven so much as about representing work from around the globe. Cannes, she said, "is about the world."
Hong Kong film director Hark Tsui, another member of the nine-person jury, quipped that, with all this talk of heaven, he felt like the "devil" of the group. The jury news conference -- which included a Tarantino anecdote about a shoving match he had with a French security guard in 1992 -- suggested that one of the most intriguing dramas this year could take place behind closed doors as Tarantino plays den daddy to the wildly diverse group.
Joining Tarantino, Swinton and Hark are American actress Kathleen Turner (who presented Tarantino with that Golden Palm trophy), French siren Emmanuelle Beart, veteran American filmmaker Jerry Schatzberg, Finnish movie critic and film festival programmer Peter von Bagh, Belgian actor-screenwriter Benoit Poelvoorde and Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-born American fiction writer. Asked later about the potential for head-to-head battles in the sequestered chamber, Swinton replied: "To be continued."
Bickering or not, the jurors have their work cut out for them. Mindful of last year's criticism that the competition lacked spark, festival Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux has selected a provocative lineup that combines documentaries with dramatic features, cartoons with live action, and ready-for-multiplex entertainment fare with highbrow art.
This year, the 19 contenders in the top category include "Shrek 2," the Coen brothers' "The Ladykillers" and Michael Moore's politically hard-hitting "Fahrenheit 9/11," which the Walt Disney Co. recently dumped from its rolls, purportedly for its incendiary contentions about unholy ties between the Bush family and the royal house of Saudi Arabia. They will vie with more Cannes-customary offerings from French director Olivier Assayas ("Clean"), Kar Wai Wong ("2046") and two-time Palm winner Emir Kusturica, who's looking for a hat trick with "Life Is a Miracle," set in Bosnia's warring 1990s.
More wild-card entries include Walter Salles's "The Motorcycle Diaries," which garnered major buzz at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and "Tropical Malady," the first entry from Thailand. And no one should discount Mamoru Oshii's Japanese sci-fi animation film "Innocence," Korean director Park Chan-Wook's kidnapping melodrama "Old Boy," or "House of Flying Daggers," a 9th-century warrior epic from Chinese director Yimou Zhang. Given Tarantino's passion for Asian anime and action films, these three could find themselves rising through the competitive sweepstakes with a bullet.