Hollywood star Angelina Jolie and director Michael Moore have made most of the headlines at the halfway stage, although both presented films outside the main competition.
Music has played its part, with Irish rockers U2 performing on the red carpet for hundreds of fans and ''Control'', about the tragic life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, wowing critics.
And comedian Jerry Seinfeld lightened the mood with a high-wire descent from the top of a hotel building dressed as a bumble bee to publicise an upcoming animation picture.
Among those contesting the Palme d'Or is a hard-hitting Romanian film set in the dying days of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's rule, and a bloody, yet funny tale by the Coen brothers from the United States.
David Fincher's ''Zodiac'', already out in US cinemas, is another of the country's five competition entries that impressed critics, while Chinese director Wong Kar Wai's English-language debut ''My Blueberry Nights'' won only muted applause.
Two French entries are in the running.
''Love Songs'', a musical by Christophe Honore, was panned in many reviews, but its upbeat tempo stood out from a selection of films that generally painted a bleak picture of the world.
And ''The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'' had journalists in tears with its portrayal of the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and communicated only by blinking.
''There's a problem with the festival this year, as with some other years -- I don't think I've seen the whole range of life on the screen,'' said film critic and writer Mark Cousins.
''It is a tragic, even funereal view of life.'' He added that the standard of the competition so far had been good, and that Quentin Tarantino's ''Death Proof'' and Emir Kusturica's ''Promise Me This'' may lighten the gloomy mood.
Both screen in the second half of the festival.
JOLIE IN HARROWING FILM Jolie has won plaudits for her performance as Mariane Pearl, the wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic militants in 2002.
The harrowing story, with a gut-wrenching finale, is directed by Britain's Michael Winterbottom, and unites Jolie with her partner Brad Pitt, who is a producer.
Moore, who won the Palme d'Or in 2004 for anti-Bush polemic ''Fahrenheit 9/11'', trained his sites on the U.S. health care system in ''SiCKO'', another provocative but entertaining film that portrayed the United States as greedy and uncaring.
Threatened with fines, or possibly even jail as a result of a US investigation into a trip to Cuba he makes for the film, Moore pulled no punches when explaining what the movie really said about his country.
''Our attitude is, if you are falling through the cracks, 'See you! Good luck!','' he told Reuters. ''I don't want to live in a country like that, and I'm not leaving the country I'm in so the country has to change and that's what the movie's about.'' In competition, the favourite at the halfway stage is ''4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,'' a Romanian tale of courage in the face of a colourless, brutal world.
The Coen brothers' ''No Country For Old Men'' is also among the frontrunners, combining ruthless violence with quick-witted humour and philosophical reflection.
''Zodiac'', a US entry from David Fincher, was generally popular, while ''Breath'', from South Korea's Kim Ki Duk, appears to be the Asia's best chance of victory so far.
REUTERS SS BD1639