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[cannes] Politics. Quirky rules of judging. The sheer volume of entries. Over the years, the quest to identify the finest advertising film in the world has been subject to the vagaries of an imperfect system. Thus has the Grand Prix sometimes been substantially less than grand.

This year it can be said with certainty: The best commercial in the world will not win the International Advertising Film Festival.

The best spot is from Delvico Bates, Barcelona, for Esencial hand cream. It opens with a woman riding her bicycle to the persistent squeak of its unlubricated chain. She dismounts, opens a jar of Esencial and rubs some of the cream onto the chain. Then she rides away-but the squeak is still there. Why? Because, as the voice-over points out, "Esencial moisturizes, but it has no grease."

What a pure advertising idea: a problem/resolution spot where the brand pointedly cannot solve the problem. It's a vivid demonstration of brand non-attributes. Inspired. Cunning. Brilliant. And, as it turns out, not entered in the competition. The agency missed the deadline.

So now we must once again turn to Leo Burnett Co.'s indefatigable Donald Gunn. Every year, Donald scours the world of TV and cinema commercials to handicap the festival. His reel of 50 presumed Lion favorites has become an institution, correctly including the ultimate Grand Prix winner in six of the past eight years.

That's because a) Donald is an unusually perspicacious evaluator of advertising quality, and b) about 95% of the other Cannes entries always really suck.

This time, at least eight of his picks have a reasonable shot at taking the whole shebang.

From the U.K. there is a very funny spot for Tango soft drink (Howell Henry Chaldecott, London), depicting a Tango PR exec's increasingly irritable response to a mildly critical consumer letter from a French exchange student, culminating at the white cliffs of Dover and the brink of war.

An even more hilarious spot from Lowe Kuiper & Schouten, Amsterdam, for Fruit Joy frozen treats, features an inattentive dad, stopped at a traffic light, who jams his car into gear at the wrong moment-because his kid shouts "Green!" while eating his multicolored Fruit Joy.

From Italy (Pirella Gottsche Lowe, Milan), a violent Cinderella story from Superga sneakers pits an animal-rights activist against her industrialist father, all by way of advertising a certain kind of fashion defiance.

And from the U.S., several very strong candidates: Snickers ( BBDO Worldwide, New York) and its very funny vignettes about sports figures getting in predicaments that will trap them someplace for a long while; Levi's Wide Leg Jeans (Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco), which use an elevator encounter and a hospital song-and-dance to express "It's wide open"; Jeep (Bozell, Southfield, Mich.), for a butte-to-butte Frisbee toss; and, of course, Nissan "Toys" ( TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.).

Snickers by far is the best of the U.S. lot, but has American football imagery that may elude an international audience. So if you put a Gunn to my head, I'd say the Grand Prix will go to DDB Needham Worldwide, Dallas, for E. McIlhenny Sons Corp.'s Tabasco sauce. It features a sweaty slob on his front porch eating pizza slathered with Tabasco. But then a mosquito bites him, and when it flies away suddenly it explodes. Simple. Visual. Clever. It has all the ingredients to win over the international jury.

If only the pizza and the actor were a little less greasy.

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