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... to the glittering resort town along the French Riviera

By Shane Danielsen in Cannes

The 60th edition of the Cannes Film Festival inspired among critics that rarest of all qualities: contentment. If it lacked the excitement of a major buzz title - a Pulp Fiction or Dancer In The Dark - it at least provided a consistent array of interesting and well-made films.

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It was a far cry from the patchy to outright disastrous selections of the last few years. The films ran on time. The queues were orderly. Even the gossip was minimal. A mood of dutiful, if weary professionalism was maintained.

Still, it managed to present a number of surprises - not least, in a devotional register. Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light offered a parable of sin and redemption, being a tale of adultery set in the Mennonite community of his homeland - one which climaxed with a literal resurrection. It also boasted one of the most jaw-dropping opening shots in contemporary cinema, as morning breaks across the north Mexican landscape with the force of a revelation.

Similarly religious, though slightly more discomfiting, was Secret Sunshine, by South Korea's Chang-dong Lee, in which a recently widowed woman turns to religion after her young son was kidnapped and murdered.

The scenes of the film's heroine singing away among the born-again flock inspired more than a few walk-outs - proving, as one observer noted, that audiences are happier to sit through a torture sequence than a sincere depiction of religious faith.

In a very different register was Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park - a dreamy, slightly abstracted drama about a skateboarder who accidentally kills a security guard. The film showed its maker's formidable technique but lacked a compelling narrative, thus becoming a demonstration of style for its own sake.

Less fortunate was James Grey's We Own The Night, a gangland thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, whose record-setting sales price of $11 million for the US rights did not prevent it from being booed at its press screening.

Among the strongest titles at the festival was the Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which offers not only an appropriately dismal snapshot of the final days of Ceausescu-era Romania, but depicts a purgatory where two girls must sell their bodies in order to secure one of them an abortion.

Another standout was the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men, a terse, ruthlessly efficient thriller which marries its makers' dark world-view with their fondness for genre. It featured standout performances from both Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, the latter playing one of the most chilling movie villains in recent memory.

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