CANNES, France (Reuters) - When director Pedro Almodovar was named hot favorite to triumph at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, he called it a curse after he failed to win.
The dubious honor of pre-award favorite -- which so often goes to a film that then fails to win the competition -- falls this year to a movie depicting Romania towards the end of the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu and all its uncaring grimness.
One of the first films to be screened, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" has led virtually from the start.
Directed by Cristian Mungiu, it unfolds in a single day and tells the story of Gabita illegally aborting an unwanted baby and the trials of her friend and accomplice, Otilia.
Its popularity in Cannes is appropriate given that the main competition was full of harrowing tales, while several have also featured outstanding performances by leading actresses.
The movie marathon wraps up with Sunday night's award ceremony. Journalists are winding down, the crowds are thinning out and the films are back in focus after 10 hectic days of screenings, interviews, red carpets, parties and deals.
"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" is one of the few films in Cannes this year that united critics from France and those from the non-French-speaking world.
The often yawning gap between the two camps has made the 60th Cannes Film Festival even more difficult to predict than usual, although there is a general feeling that the quality of the main competition line-up has been generally good.
With two films yet to screen -- Emir Kusturica's "Promise Me This" and Naomi Kawase's "The Mourning Forest" -- favorites include "No Country For Old Men" by the Coen brothers, "Alexandra" by Russia's Alexander Sokurov, "Zodiac" by David Fincher (U.S.) and "Secret Sunshine" from South Korea.
COENS BACK ON FORM
Critics said Joel and Ethan Coen were back to their best with their entry, in which Tommy Lee Jones plays an aging sheriff along the U.S.-Mexican border who struggles to make sense of the increasingly violent world around him.
"Alexandra" is set and actually filmed in Chechnya, and is an understated examination of loss, pain and separation in times of war. Galina Vishnevskaya in the lead role has been widely lauded, and the music stood out for many critics.
One of the five U.S. entries in competition, Fincher's serial killer film "Zodiac," was warmly received despite a poor box office run in its home country.
Quentin Tarantino, also hoping to use Cannes to resurrect a domestically unsuccessful film, fared less well when "Death Proof," his homage to slasher movies of the 1960s and 1970s, flopped with Cannes' notoriously picky reviewers.
It will be an invited jury that makes the final decision.
Two French films in particular underlined the divide between French and non-French reviewers.
"Les Chansons d'Amour," Christophe Honore's musical, won over French critics but fell on deaf ears elsewhere.
And "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," a French film directed by an American, about French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffered a stroke and was almost completely paralyzed, had the opposite affect.
As ever, much of the buzz in Cannes this year was generated outside the main competition.
Michael Moore brought his hard-hitting documentary "SiCKO" to town and Angelina Jolie starred in a moving adaptation of the story of Mariane Pearl, wife of reporter Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic militants in 2002.
Her partner Brad Pitt joined George Clooney and Matt Damon to publicize "Ocean's Thirteen," and U2 performed on the red carpet to publicize "U2 3D."