CANNES, France (Reuters) - French and Brazilian films are the leading contenders for top prize at the Cannes festival but movie industry watchers say that with cult director Quentin Tarantino presiding over the jury, anything is possible.

They lead the race for the Palme d'Or top film prize at a 2004 festival which has, by common consent, far surpassed last year's lacklustre effort, bringing big stars, edgy themes and powerful politics to the Riviera.

French director Agnes Jaoui's "Look at Me" and "The Motorcycle Diaries" by Brazilian Walter Selles both deal with themes of awakening, but there the similarity ends.

Jaoui tells the story of a tortured 20-year-old desperate for the attention of her self-centred father and longing for the figure of a fashion model.

"The Motorcycle Diaries," starring Mexican "Sex Mex" screen idol Gael Garcia Bernal, traces the political awakening of a young Che Guevara on a Latin American odyssey.

"The general sense of the festival is that the adrenalin is flowing. Cannes got a facelift at the age of 57," said Tim Gray, executive editor of the trade paper Variety.

"Last year was sleepy with nothing to talk about," he told Reuters as the festival headed into the home straight and Saturday night's prize-giving.

"Cannes is traditionally the most apolitical of festivals. This year it is very political. That's exciting. It is reflecting what is happening in the world."

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