Cannes 2014 diary: Art and Grace rule, but Harvey Weinstein goes missing

The red carpet runs up the steps of the Palais, bathed in sunlight, patrolled by goons, and overlooked by the milling crowds down on the Croisette. It is the perfect place to pose and wave, but not today. The delegates detest the carpet; it's as though it scalds their feet. As soon as the gates are open they dash full-tilt across it, jostling and wheezing in their desperation to reach the safety of the cinema. It's like watching a mass, middle-class jailbreak.

Inside the auditorium, they see Mr Turner, Mike Leigh's portrait of the artist as a grumpy, growling dog. Timothy Spall plays seascape painter JMW Turner, who spits on his canvases, doctors the work of his rivals and tethers himself to a mast, like a dilapidated Ulysses, so as to view the wind and waves up close. Mr Turner has been a long-cherished passion project for Leigh, though he keeps his film nimble and gritty, with a keen eye for the everyday details and gouache beneath its fingernails. Great art, Leigh reminds us, is produced by flawed, stumbling human beings, constantly distracted by the world around them. Tellingly, his characters break off from admiring the masterpieces in order to knock dead bluebottles out of the canopy overhead.

Cannes 2014 diary: Art and Grace rule, but Harvey Weinstein goes missing- Top Financial
Fighting radicals ... Timbuktu

Elsewhere, in a parallel Cannes, the delegates visit Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako's heart-piercing lament for his homeland of Mali, which is overrun by Islamic extremists. Ibrahim Ahmed gives a fine performance as a martyred herdsman, while Sissako rustles up a rich and nuanced overview of a nation in crisis, swinging gracefully from gentle satire to righteous rage. Timbuktu and Mr Turner are both nominated for this year's Palme d'Or. Together, they get the competition off to a rousing start.

Outside the Palais, a vast hoarding shows the image of Marcello Mastroianni from 8&1/2, peering over the top of his sunglasses like the eyes of Dr Eckleburg. He sees the crowds start to gather and the yachts pull into shore. He'll see us in and he'll see us out. Already his constant, god-like presence has come to seem a little creepy.

Wednesday night, the red carpet played host to the opening ceremony. The stars of Grace of Monaco beamed and waved for the cameras. They rose blissfully above the backstage tensions and excoriating reviews, producing an acting masterclass that surpassed anything they actually achieved in the film. MC Lambert Wilson invited Nicole Kidman to dance and then sang happy birthday to Sofia Coppola, who is sitting on the jury. It all went smoothly; it was a night of grace. And yet Harvey Weinstein was conspicuous by his absence; the ghost at the feast. The bullish producer fell out with director Olivier Dahan over the final cut of Grace of Monaco and the issue is ongoing. He chose to skip the premiere in favour of visiting a Syrian refugee camp instead.

"I'm wishing Olivier, Nicole … and the Grace of Monaco team all the best for the screening in Cannes," Weinstein explained in a statement. For some reason, I picture him spluttering those words through gales of laughter, with one arm hooked around the shoulders of a bemused refugee and the latest issue of Variety folded open on his lap. "Monaco craps out," reads the front page headline.

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