A grim Brazilian drama about society’s descent into anarchy launched the Cannes film festival on Wednesday, and politics dominated the opening news conference held by jury president Sean Penn.

Blindness, starring Julianne Moore, marked a somber start to 12 days of movies, publicity stunts and late-night revelry in the Riviera town, which prides itself on embracing weighty cinema as well as rolling out the red carpet for Hollywood royalty.

Directed by Brazil’s Fernando Meirelles, of City of God renown, Blindness is an English-language adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning writer Jose Saramago’s novel of the same name, and tells the story of a plague of blindness sweeping the world.

Moore plays a doctor’s wife, who, like the film’s audience, sees death, cruelty, degradation as well as dignity around her.

“We consider ourselves so strong and sophisticated and solid, and then one thing goes and everything collapses,” Meirelles told reporters. “We are skating on thin ice. Anything can happen, and everything does.”

The movie had its premiere in the evening, with Dennis Hopper, Eva Longoria Parker and Cate Blanchett among the stars joining cast and jury in front of hundreds of fans.

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