Asthe festival awaited news from the jury, the front-runners for prizes wereemerging from a competition that most critics agreed was stimulating, butuneven. Among the favourites were TheBeat That My Heart Skipped, Jacques Audiard's stylish homage to JamesToback's 1970s classic Fingers, which was tipped to net a best actorprize for Romain Duris - though he will be given a close run by a more seasonedFrench actor, Michel Bouquet, who does not so much play as become the formerFrench president in Robert Guediguian's The Last Mitterand.
Anotherstrong contender for some sort of prize is Palestinian director HanyAbu-Assad's controversial but audience-pleasing Paradise Now, whichrecounts the final hours in the lives of two suicide bombers.
Othertitles being talked up were Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, MarkRothemund's moving study of the anti-Nazi resistance heroine; Raoul Peck'sharrowing but structurally clumsy story of Rwandan genocide, Sometimes InApril; and the surprise last-minute entry Fateless, LajosKoltai's powerful, unsentimental viewof the Holocaust. Though the Golden Bear is unlikely to go to a German film twoyears running, Sophie Scholl lead Julia Jentsch is a hot tip for thebest actress prize.
Asylum, David Mackenzie's story of passion and madness in the Britain ofthe late 1950s, divided the critics, but there was fairly unanimous agreementthat cliche-ridden opening film Man To Man should have screened out ofcompetition, and that two modest entries, the German film One Day In Europeand the Italian entry Smalltown, Italy (Provincia Meccanica), would havebeen better in the Panorama sidebar.
Thisyear's Panorama featured at least three films that could have made it up toCompetition. Two formed a neat antithesis: Polish director Malgosia Szumowska'sStranger (Ono), a finely-scripted study of a young unmarried mother whodecides to have her baby against the odds could not have been further in spiritand theme from Dumplings, Fruit Chan's chilling study (given an extraedge by Chris Doyle's limpid photography) of the lengths an older woman will goto regain her fading youth; but neither would have looked out of place up therewith the big boys.
Belgianlandscape painter and short film director Bouli Lanners' first full-lengthfeature, the quirky comedy-tinged estate-agent drama Ultranova, was alsowell-liked, as was US director Ira Sachs' intimate love triangle drama, FortyShades Of Blue.
Forumwas the usual lucky dip of ultra-arthouse experiments and more commercialstrays. One of the highlights was Mongolian Ping Pong, a slow butheartwarming film about the attempts of three young boys to return the'ball of the nation' to Beijing.