One of the joys of attending Cannes during its final few days is the traditional back-to-back screening of all the official competition films on the closing Sunday. An opportunity to view all of the titles vying for the major prizes, whilst avoiding the mélée that accompanies trying to get tickets during the earlier part of the festival, is understandably popular – though I was denied this particular avenue of pleasure by a threatened general strike that forced an early return home.

The general view was that this year was a disappointing festival with very few outstanding titles. Critical highlights included Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool, Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions and, with some reservations, Samira Makhmalbaf’s At Five in the Afternoon. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (named in homage to an Alan Clarke film) carried off the Palme d’Or, but was a controversial and many felt undeserving winner. It was widely anticipated that the coveted golden palm would be awarded to Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, which similarly divided opinion, most notably for a perceived anti-American sentiment and its didactic allegorical approach. Only Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Distant (swiftly acquired by for the UK by Artificial Eye) and Shar Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s American Splendor (snapped up by Optimum) can be said to have generated almost universal acclaim. So what then of some of the titles I did manage to see in my shortened three-day stint?

An intriguing new film by the director of Murmur of Youth (1997) and Betelnut Beauty (2001) was screened in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section of the festival. Chen-Sheng Lin’s Robinson’s Crusoe was a languorous, assured tale of a wealthy man’s ennui and fear of settling down with his girlfriend. Surrounded by friends with ever deepening personal problems, Robinson – who secretly lives in a hotel – dreams of running away to an island and starting a new life. Engagingly performed, and shot through with a clearly existentialist sensibility, the film was diverting enough whilst on screen but does little to warrant much further attention.

Much more engaging, and undoubtedly one of the finest documentaries of the festival, Charlie: The Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin, directed by Clint Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, is a fascinating testimony to the comic genius and flawed personality of Charlie Chaplin. Aside from a few moments of opaque personal history (Chaplin’s South London birthplace, Elephant and Castle, is alluded to but never actually mentioned) the film is a comprehensive chronicle of Chaplin’s career as a writer, director, producer and composer. The film also made a fine primer for the restored screening of Modern Times (1936) later in the festival; perhaps a harbinger of a Chaplin revival, since The Great Dictator (1940) will be re-released in the UK later this year.

Schickel’s film, screened out of competition in an unfinished version, also captures in some detail Chaplin’s much publicised private life, including his love affairs and four marriages, the paternity suit which damaged his career and his subsequent persecution by the FBI. Featuring extensive archive material, and interviews with Chaplin’s biographer and members of his family (daughter Geraldine is especially revealing) it makes for compulsive and hugely entertaining viewing. Of similar interest is André Delvaux’s rarely-shown archive piece La Dolce Vita et Neo Realisme. One of two Fellini documentaries screening in Cannes this year, it features interviews with many of Fellini’s collaborators on La Dolce Vita – including a very well tailored Mastroianni.

Screened in competition, Cannes favourite Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River is a characteristically solid, well-crafted tale of violence and redemption amidst a small blue-collar Massachusetts community. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, Mystic River examines these themes from the perspective of three childhood friends whose relationship was forever scarred by an abduction incident in which one of them was the victim. Featuring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon in the leading roles (underwritten female support is provided by Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden), it’s admirably performed and carries an impressive note of ambiguity regarding misplaced intent and personal codes of justice. Sensitively scored by Eastwood himself, it’s an admittedly flawed picture that leans towards the ponderous and portentous, but nonetheless is the director’s most accomplished and satisfying work since the mighty Unforgiven (1992).

Following Russian Ark (2002), expectations were high for Alexander Sokurov’s Father and Son, and so perhaps inevitably the film generated a sense of disappointment. An examination of the relationship between a widowed father and his devoted son, both of whom are employed by the Russian military, Father And Son introduces a fascinating and provocative homo-eroticism to the relationship, due to what Sokurov sees as "a striking physical resemblance between the son and the dead mother, and the father’s inability to separate his son from his still persisting love: his unity with his beloved woman". A film of breathtaking cinematographic beauty (the sequence on the precipitous rooftop on which the father and son exercise is quite simply astounding), it certainly lingers long in the memory and confirms Sokurov (whose prolific output is born of failing health and a possible descent into blindness) as one of the great directors of world cinema. A mesmeric, transcendent work, the somewhat anti-climactic feeling Father and Son induces is largely attributable to the scale of the Russian director’s preceding single-take, digital feature.

In a festival in which decent comedies were rather thin on the ground, Jean-François Pouliot’s Nova Scotia set La Grande Seduction (The Seducing of Doctor Lewis) provided welcome relief. A rather old fashioned, Ealingesque comedy about small town values and the importance of community, it is unlikely to thrive out of the festival environment but nonetheless has an appealing charm, engaging performances (Raymond Bouchard is especially good) and a great running joke about the horrors of listening to jazz fusion.

Peter Greenaway has been dividing critics and public alike for a good twenty years, and looks set to continue the trend with the ambitious but frankly impenetrable The Tulse Luper Suitcases : The Moab Story. The first part of a projected multi-media trilogy that looks at the life of artist and prisoner Tulse Luper (JJ Field) through the contents of his 92 suitcases, Greenaway’s visual dexterity and ability to manipulate the technical possibilities of the medium remains gloriously intact. Beautiful to behold, it is however also cold, remote, detached and exhibits the same disdain for humanity that has become a defining characteristic of Greenaway’s recent work. A trying and not particularly edifying viewing experience.

Unanimously voted as the worst film in the festival – Roger Ebert called it the worse film in the history of Cannes – Vincent Gallo’s Brown Bunny certainly inspired universal acrimony. It must have been truly wretched to prise this most unwanted of titles from the hands of Bertrand Blier’s execrable Les Côtelettes. The film opens with a man knocking on the door of another and announcing that he has simply come to piss him off – a great starting point if ever there was one – but soon degnerates into a flaccid sex comedy about bourgeois values and contemporary attitudes to immigrants in France. The film’s final sequence, which features a swimming pool whose waters have run red with blood, would seem to suggest that the once-great Blier’s best days are all too far behind him.

And so finally to Lars Von Trier’s Dogville. Two years ago the director’s equally controversial Dancer in the Dark was given a similar critical mauling, and again the Danish director seems to have fallen foul of the critics, most notably those from the other side of the Atlantic. Part of a new trilogy entitled U S and A, that was inspired by the criticism that the director was making films about a country he had never visited, Dogville is an unconventional allegory that uses a bare stage with no walls to tell a tale of cruelty and revenge in a remote Rocky mountain community. Into this community one dark night comes Grace (Nicole Kidman), a woman on the run from gangsters. Encouraged by the philosophical Tom (Paul Bettany), the insular townsfolk agree to hide her on the stipulation that she carries out chores on their behalf. However, when the search for Grace intensifies, the townsfolk start to take advantage of their agreement with a torrent of physical, sexual and mental abuse. Featuring another of Von Trier’s martyred women at its core (Kidman follows Emily Watson and Bjork in giving a towering performance in the central role), Dogville has been rather lazily labelled anti-American and didactic. True, the film is not without its problems (the end photo-montage credit sequence set to Bowie’s Young Americans is somewhat crude and clumsy) but it is still an aesthetically and thematically bold, complex and questioning work that makes the very most of a uniformly first-rate cast that alongside Kidman and Bettany includes Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, Chloë Sevigny and the ever-impressive Patricia Clarkson.