Leigh, who won Cannes's coveted Palme d'Or in 1996 with "Secrets and Lies," was acclaimed and applauded after a screening of "All or Nothing," a bleak drama about a family seeking redemption. It is in competition for the 2002 award.
Plaudits flowed from critics after the screening, with Leigh telling them at a press conference: "This is a very emotional film for me personally. It comes from very deep feelings about love and relationships."
And it was not just the critics who heaped praised on Leigh, who also won the top director award at Cannes in 1993 for "Naked."
His actors, given the luxury of six months in rehearsal before shooting started, said his unique style made acting a joy.
Timothy Spall, the star of "All or Nothing," said of Leigh's "softy softly" approach: "You create a huge lagoon of experience. You are in safe hands with Mike."
But Leigh himself only feels in safe hands when working in Europe. Asked if he would ever go to Hollywood to make a movie, he quickly and decisively answered: "No."
What clearly angers him is the way that Hollywood as an industry dominates cinema screens around the globe.
"Every cinema in the world ought to be a level playing field for all the films in the world," he told reporters. "You ought to be able to go into any cinema anywhere in the world, including Los Angeles, and see a whole variety of films from all over the place."
His own country was as much to blame as any other, he said. "British screens are entirely dominated by Hollywood product. Sadly, folks in the UK tend to think of a movie as being a Hollywood movie."
But he wanted to make it clear he wasn't offering a sweeping condemnation of all Hollywood movies. "A great amount of what has come out of Hollywood over the last century is as important to me in my film culture as anybody else. But we are talking here about Hollywood the industry."
That is when he tipped his hat in appreciation to this French Riviera resort's annual cinematic celebration: "Cannes respects and embraces world cinema," he said.
He was certainly greeted with a reception bordering on reverential. The press conference began with critics, fresh from the morning screening of "All or Nothing," applauding Leigh and shouting "Bravo" before he even sat down.
The film tells the tale of a taxi-driver, played by Spall, who leads a life of unmitigated gloom until a family crisis suddenly brings them all salvation.
And Leigh is determined to keep people thinking long after the lights go up in the cinema: "You, the audience must take away work to do and things to consider."
Written Paul Majendie