CANNES, France (Reuters) - Several critics are tipping a hard-hitting Romanian picture to walk away with the coveted Palme d'Or at Sunday's Cannes Film Festival awards although most say this year's race is tough to call.
Reviewers have praised the overall quality of the 22 movies in the main competition, calling it one of the best in recent years as the world's biggest film festival marks its 60th birthday.
The movie which has moved many has been ``4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,'' a tale set in a grey and uncaring Romania, towards the end of the communist era, which underlines the lengths to which friends go to save each other.
Directed by Cristian Mungiu, it tells the story of student friends Otilia and Gabita who are ruthlessly exploited when one goes to have an illegal abortion.
For 12 days the sun-drenched Riviera resort has seen superstars posing for cameras, producers and distributors inking deals, journalists scurrying from screenings to news conferences and everybody partying as hard as possible.
As the movie marathon draws to a close, the focus has turned to Sunday night's winners.
Film critic and author Mark Cousins complained that the view of the world portrayed during the first half of Cannes was persistently dark but said the competition was lifted later by several ``masterpieces'' that showed great humanity.
He highlighted ``Alexandra,'' by Russia's Alexander Sokurov, ''The Edge of Heaven'' by Turkish-German Fatih Akin and ``The Mourning Forest'' by Naomi Kawase of Japan.
``The first half (of the competition) was mainly about what divides people -- money, greed, sex,'' he told Reuters.
``What was so moving about Sokurov, Akin and Kawase is that they are about people's capability for generosity,'' he said, adding that ``4 Months'' also fell into this category.
Also in the running in critics' eyes is the Coen brothers' ''No Country For Old Men,'' in which Tommy Lee Jones plays a retiring sheriff who struggles to comprehend the seemingly mindless violence around him.
``Zodiac,'' a serial killer story directed by David Fincher, was warmly received despite faring poorly at the U.S. box office, while a third U.S. entry, Gus Van Sant's ``Paranoid Park,'' is also among the favorites.
Two Asian films stood out -- ``Secret Sunshine'' by Lee Chang-dong of South Korea and ``The Mourning Forest'' by Kawase.
Akin's cross-border story of love and reconciliation, by the director of the acclaimed ``Head On,'' is a contender, as is ''Alexandra,'' Sokurov's study of Russia's war in Chechnya and its impact on young men and old women.
``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,'' about French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffered a stroke and was almost completely paralyzed, had the reverse effect.
As ever, it was the out-of-competition films that grabbed as much limelight as the main lineup.
Angelina Jolie starred in ``A Mighty Heart,'' about the kidnapping and beheading of reporter Daniel Pearl by Islamic militants in 2002, and Michael Moore, winner of the Palme d'Or in 2004, brought his provocative documentary ``SiCKO'' to town.
George Clooney and Brad Pitt were on the red carpet to promote blockbuster ``Ocean's 13,'' Irish rockers U2 performed for a large crowd and Kylie Minogue, Elton John, Sharon Stone and Naomi Campell worked the party circuit.