Stars and stunts mark Cannes festival, but small Romanian film wins

George Clooney auctioned off a kiss. Bono wailed "With or Without You" on the red carpet. And Jerry Seinfeld dressed up like a furry bumblebee and went flying above the beach.

The 60th edition of the Cannes Film Festival was full of stunts and celebrity - not to mention men on a mission, from the "Ocean's Thirteen" crew's campaign for refugees in Darfur, to Michael Moore's crusade to overhaul U.S. health care, to Leonardo DiCaprio's save-the-environment message.

But the big news for moviegoers was the films - one of the strongest lineups at Cannes in years, full of moving performances by women. When the curtain fell Sunday on Cannes, the big prize went to a small film by a director who didn't have money to shoot it just six months ago.

Winning the top prize, the Palme d'Or, is "like a fairy tale," Romanian director Cristian Mungiu said in his acceptance speech.

Mungiu's film, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," is a gritty, realistic look at illegal abortion in communist-era Romania - just the kind of movie that Cannes critics are proud to champion over films with better commercial prospects.

"Cinema entertains, but cinema also makes us reflect on the world," actress Jane Fonda said in French before handing Mungiu the award. "And Cannes is a fragile balance between these two realities."

The winning films were generally dark and somber, on topics like death, mourning and loss. The jury led by director Stephen Frears ("The Queen," "Dangerous Liaisons") offered up some surprises.

The grand prize, Cannes' No. 2 award, went to a film panned by many critics - "Mogari No Mori" (The Mourning Forest) by Naomi Kawase of Japan, about an elderly man at a retirement home and a caretaker at the center and their attempts to overcome personal losses.

Both acting prizes went to actors who played characters struggling with the deaths of loved ones - Russia's Konstantin Lavronenko in "The Banishment" and Jeon Do-yeon in South Korea's "Secret Sunshine."

The festival started light, with Norah Jones' acting debut in Wong Kar-wai's "My Blueberry Nights," a sweet - some would say saccharine - look at modern love. Festival organizers perhaps realized they needed to start on an upbeat note to prepare critics for the heavy lineup ahead of competition films.

In another attempt to lighten up, Cannes also invites big Hollywood movies, like "Ocean's Thirteen," into the mix, often screening them outside the competition. Clooney, possibly self-conscious to be at Cannes with a caper flick, joked: "This film is a cry for peace in the world."

Seinfeld screened about half an hour of his DreamWorks Animation feature "Bee Movie." Afterward, he dressed up in a bee costume and went flying over the Croisette on a cord.

Moore's "Sicko," his indictment of the U.S. health care system, screened to raves, while DiCaprio's environment documentary, "The 11th Hour," got a more muted response - it was basically back-to-back talking heads. Neither were up for prizes.

Red carpet antics abounded. The "Ocean's Thirteen" cast, including Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, delighted fans by signing autographs before they went into the premiere. U2 played two songs on Cannes' red steps before screening their documentary "U23D," with Bono treating the crowd to a few words of French: "Bon anniversaire, Cannes!"

Two charity gala dinners on the sidelines of the festival brought stars together for good causes. The "Ocean's Thirteen" cast hosted dinner on a cruise ship to collect money for refugees in Darfur, raising US$9.2 million (euro6.4 million).

The next night, they showed up at another gala auction dinner hosted by Sharon Stone to raise money for AIDS research, bringing US$7 million (euro5.2 million). Stone promised that Clooney would throw in a kiss to a woman who bid US$350,000 (euro260,000) for a yacht vacation. Always the gentleman, he obliged.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova