Ooh, ahh: Cantona romps home again at Cannes


June 18, 2010 Updated May 18, 2009 at 9:11 AM EDT

Temperamental football legend Eric Cantona scored a new triumph Monday, this time as star of a potential Cannes festival award-winner, British director Ken Loach's "Looking for Eric."

Hilariously funny but with a quintessential Loach undertone of social and human drama, the movie won warm acclaim from critics, becoming one of the front-runners for the festival's top award, the Palme d'Or.

The 12-day festival winds up May 24 with the nomination of the winner of the 20 films in the running for the trophy.

In Loach's film, the former Manchester United star, who quit football 12 years ago, plays the role of psychological mentor to a depressed postman struggling to cope with life and two unruly teenage stepsons.

The talented French former footballer, who has acted in a handful of films, plays himself in the movie, appearing like a vision to help a Manchester postman also named Eric whose life is spiralling out of control.

"I am not a man. I am Cantona!" the larger-than-life former striker tells his namesake.

To help restore the postman's confidence, Loach and writer Paul Laverty have the Frenchman deliver a stream of the odd comic proverbs he is known for -- often in French -- such as "he who sows thistles shall reap prickles."

Cantona's best-known such quote from 1995, after his infamous kung-fu kick at a fan, closes the film -- "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."

In a hymn to soccer, Loach throughout the two-hour comedy draws heavily from matches and the world of fans to bring a message about team play.

"These are wonderful people with wonderful solidarity," he said at a Cannes news conference.

"Matches bring people together," he added. "They're one of the only moments when you can be nationalistic, and they're also a time when people can let their feelings out. A lot of people, specially men, have trouble expressing their feelings."

Postman Eric's own difficulties in expressing his feelings are at the root of the plot, and the wildly funny film with a host of unexpected twists and turns could well have had a tragic end, Loach said.

"A comedy after all is a tragedy with a happy end."

A self-confessed film buff, Cantona said he had seen most of Loach's socially-relevant movies and liked them, but was also fond of the "completely different style" of the late Italian auteur director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

"I loved the work," he said of "Looking for Eric." Acting "is a real passion."

"I'll continue acting. The day I no longer have the passion I'll do something else, like play jazz," added Cantona, who in the film plays the trumpet.

With his trademark turned-up collar on his jersey and his willingness to defy referees and football authorities, Cantona was always different.

Known as "Eric the King" to United fans, when he chose to walk away at his peak in 1997, he won fresh respect by depriving any other club of his services.

As Ivan Ponting, the author of a handful of books on Manchester United, put it, Cantona was "an uncontrollable free spirit, a capricious bird of passage who would never linger."

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