Franco-US political relations may be strained, but one wouldbe hard-pressed to notice at this year's Deauville Festival of American Film (Sept2-11), held in the Normandy region of France.

Director Ron Howard had a warm welcome here and was thesubject of a tribute on Tuesday night. He recently wrapped the French leg ofproduction on his upcoming $100m The DaVinci Code.

The film was given privileged access to the Louvre Museum, afeat rarely accomplished by any production of any nationality.

Arguably the most enthusiastic welcome so far was reservedfor Kirsten Dunst who was in town to promote Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown. The actress completedfilming her role as Marie-Antoinette for Sofia Coppola's eponymous film in Mayafter a lengthy Parisian shoot. Judgingby the crowds in Deauville, the idea of a blonde California/Jersey-girl hybridplaying the former queen of France is just fine by them.

Deauville festival founder Lionel Chouchan notes, "For overthirty years Deauville has been an intersection for the two cultures. There hasbeen a constant exchange of ideas and of business. People realise that thedecisions of the governments are not decisions of the people."

Speaking of an exchange of business, more and more talent isnow crossing borders too. Howard used several local actors including AudreyTautou and Jean Reno while Abel Ferrara, whose Mary will screen in Deauville on Friday night gave Juliette Binochea leading role and Marion Cotillard and Didier Bourdon are getting ready toplay opposite Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott's A Very Good Year. That film will shoot in France too.

Producer Bob Yari, who was in town early in the festival toaccompany Pierce Brosnan vehicle TheMatador and Paul Haggis' directorial debut Crash, recently produced Bruce Willis starring Hostage directed by Frenchman Florent Siri. "I'm very open to usinginternational talent," said Yari, "and it can help with local releases and taxincentives."

Speaking of tax incentives, France has recently beenembroiled in heated discussions about opening its subsidy system to UScompanies. Tempers appear to have cooled over the summer. Chouchan commented:"The big French producers and directors are for it because they are realisingthat cinema is much more cross-border than before. US directors are usingFrench actors and there are more co-productions, things are more universal."

The one major change this year is that Jack Valenti, formerpresident of the Motion Picture Association of America and a Deauville habitueand good friend of Chouchan's is not in attendance. His successor, DanGlickman, was kept away by pressing family obligations, but is certain to be intown next year. Valenti, on the other hand, diplomatically stayed away so asnot to usurp Glickman's role.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, March OfThe Penguins, a French film, has steadily been pulling in moviegoers tobecome the most successful film from its country ever in the US.

In other festival news, ten films are vying for thecoveted top prize which can increase a film's chances on the continent. Thusfar some highlights have been Paul Haggis' Crash, MarcosSiega's Pretty Persuasion and Lodge Kerrigan's Keane .Still left to screen are Edmond by Stuart Gordon and On The Outsby Lori Silverbush.

The upcoming weekend will see John Singleton, Abel Ferraraand Forest Whitaker and David LaChapelle in town for Four Brothers, Maryand Rize respectively.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride will also receive aspecial screening on Saturday in what is likely to be a packed house beforeawards are handed out Sunday.