Tarantino, Almodovar kick off Cannes. Jury president Quentin says he's in movie heaven, while the Spanish Oscar winner's controversial ''Bad Education'' opens the fest

By Gary Susman
Updated May 13, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Tilda Swinton, Quentin Tarantino, Kathleen Turner and Benoit Poelvoorde: Patrick Gardin/AP

Back in 1992, when Quentin Tarantino was an unknown director showing his first film (”Reservoir Dogs”) at the Cannes Film Festival, he got into a scuffle with a guard who barred him from a screening of the movie ”Man Bites Dog,” a mockumentary about a serial killer made by another unknown filmmaker, Belgium’s Benoit Poelvoorde. Today, Tarantino is the jury president at Cannes, whose film ”Kill Bill — Vol. 2” is screening out of competition there, and Poelvoorde is a juror. Both men recalled the incident with laughter at a press conference opening the 57th annual edition of Cannes on Wednesday. ”We have found the guard,” Poelvoorde joked. ”He is still working here.”

”As a cinephile since as far back as my memory goes back, to me, Cannes is heaven. If you love cinema, this place is just heaven,” Tarantino told reporters on Wednesday. ”It’s a place where dreams come true. I was able to watch the first film I ever made in the Palais. The next dream was winning the Palme d’Or [the fest’s top prize, which Tarantino won in 1994 for ”Pulp Fiction”]. The next dream was being on the jury. Now I’m jury president. If there’s another level above heaven, that’s where I’m at, all right!”

Tarantino, who appeared on the red carpet with new galpal Sofia Coppola, oversees a Cannes slate that is unusually Hollywood-dominated this year. Four of the nine jurors are American (the others are Kathleen Turner, writer Edwidge Danticat, and director Jerry Schatzberg, who won the Palme d’Or for 1973’s ”Scarecrow”), and the screening schedule includes such Hollywood summer blockbuster fare as ”Shrek 2” and ”Troy,” whose hotties Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom are expected to dominate red carpet coverage with their arrival on Thursday.

Opening night, however, belonged for the first time to a Spanish film. It was Oscar winner Pedro Almodóvar’s ”Bad Education,” a warmly received drama about the lingering aftereffects of sexual abuse of Catholic school students, starring Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal (”Y Tu Mamá También”), who also stars in the Che Guevara biopic ”The Motorcycle Diaries,” due later in the 12-day festival. Almodóvar dedicated the screening to the victims of the March 11 terrorist bombings in Madrid. ”I’m not in competition this year to win a prize,” the writer-director said at a press conference. ”To play the part of the person who opens the curtain is, as I say, a prize in itself. So what I feel is enormous joy.”