Growing old on the Croisette: Loach leads Cannes silver foxes
While much talk at Cannes this year has been about the unprecedented seven women directors in competition, an impressive cavalcade of ageing maestros has charmed the French Riviera festival, with 86-year-old Ken Loach entering the race on Friday.
Loach could pick up a record third Palme d'Or if he wins the festival's top prize on Saturday with "The Old Oak" about a British pub struggling to survive and the tensions caused by the arrival of Syrian refugees.
He is the oldest director of the 21 in competition at the film festival -- but not by much.
Other silver foxes in the running include Marco Bellocchio, 83, Wim Wenders, 77, Nanni Moretti, 69, and comparative whippersnapper Aki Kaurismaki, 66.
Outside the main competition, there were also glitzy premieres for 80-year-old Martin Scorsese's American Indian epic "Killers of the Flower Moon", starring veteran screen legend Robert De Niro, 79.
Harrison Ford, 80, received an honorary Palme d'Or before the festival saw him reprise his role as Indiana Jones.
And at the opening ceremony, Michael Douglas, 78, was also given an honorary Palme.
Proving that it's never too late to return to the famed Croisette boulevard in Cannes, acclaimed 82-year-old Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice returned with his first film in 40 years, "Close Your Eyes".
- Mature magic -
Loach with his two Palmes is the big hitter in the group of masterful veterans, but early reviews of the films by Kaurismaki and Bellocchio suggest competition is tough.
Although Kaurismaki's red carpet appearance was not exactly graceful -- known to enjoy a drink, the Finn wobbled his way up the famous steps for the premiere of "Fallen Leaves" -- his bittersweet romance from the streets of Helsinki has been hailed as a feel-good gem.
Much darker but also generating a positive reaction is Bellocchio's "Kidnapped" about the 19th-century seizure of Jewish children by the Vatican.
The Italian maestro has had films in competition before, including his most recent "The Traitor" in 2019, but his only prize so far has been the 2021 honorary Palme.
Wenders won the top prize in 1984 for "Paris, Texas" and then three years later, best director for "Wings of Desire".
He returns with "Perfect Days", the tale of a Tokyo toilet cleaner that has been hailed as a small gem.
- Record third Palme for Loach? -
The only oldie with a dud is Moretti, whose "A Brighter Tomorrow" was widely panned, described as "bafflingly awful" by The Guardian.
But of the old masters, it is Loach who is mostly hotly anticipated.
Having had an amazing 15 films in competition at Cannes, according to the festival website, he has already won the Palme for Irish civil war drama "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" in 2006, and again 10 years later for "I, Daniel Blake".
Heading this year's jury is another double-Palme winner Ruben Ostlund, who promised to be scrupulously democratic if Loach's latest seduces the jury.
"If it's the best film we are going to give it the Palme," he said, adding with a laugh: "I will definitely work very hard to get over my own egoistic goals of being the first director with three Golden Palmes."