U.S. films have smaller role at this year's Cannes festival

— The Hollywood touch may be a bit lighter at this year's Cannes Film Festival, with a lower-key lineup of American films and only one big studio showcasing its movies.

After two straight years featuring premieres from big U.S. studios, opening night at Cannes was back in French hands. The 56th festival opened Wednesday with "Fanfan la Tulipe," an 18th-century swashbuckler starring Penelope Cruz and Vincent Perez.

Monica Bellucci, a co-star in "The Matrix Reloaded," officially opened the festival, introducing Cruz, Perez and the Cannes jury. The "Matrix" sequel debuts today in the United States and about 20 other countries, and is playing at Cannes the same night.

Opening ceremonies included an avant-garde dance tribute to the head of the jury, French director Patrice Chereau, and his films, which include "La Reine Margot" and "Intimacy."

"Our work for 12 days is to love films and defend them," Chereau said of the festival, which runs through May 25.

Opening night tends to focus on glitz, glamour and fun before the festival gets down to more serious business and some starker films. Two years ago, the festival began with 20th Century Fox's dazzling musical "Moulin Rouge," starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Last year Cannes opened with DreamWorks' comedy "Hollywood Ending," the latest from Woody Allen.

Kidman, fresh off her best-actress win at the Academy Awards for "The Hours," will be back at Cannes this year with a far less flashy film than "Moulin Rouge." She stars in the 1930s-era tale "Dogville" from director Lars von Trier, who specializes in somber drama. Von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" won top honors at Cannes three years ago.

Other celebrities expected at Cannes, whether for films in the festival or publicity events, included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Tim Robbins, Emily Watson, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Joan Allen and James Cameron.

Among the 20 films in the festival's main competition, Hollywood studios have a generally lower profile than other recent years at Cannes.

The competition includes three U.S. entries: Eastwood's murder thriller "Mystic River," with Robbins, Sean Penn and "Matrix" co-star Laurence Fishburne; Gus Van Sant's "Elephant," a high school drama with a cast of teenage newcomers; and Vincent Gallo's racy indie flick "The Brown Bunny," a motorcycle-racing tale starring Gallo and Chloe Sevigny.

Along with "The Matrix Reloaded," out-of-competition U.S. films this year include Cameron's Titanic documentary "Ghosts of the Abyss."

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