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PARIS — A dearth of major U.S. studio fare, a surfeit of Asian pics, plus many of the usual suspects and plenty of long, long movies are the principal markers of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, whose 53rd edition unspools May 10-21.
Gilles Jacob, the fest’s longtime programmer, said the paucity of U.S. films was due in part to American studios “not wanting to release the ones that were up to quality.” He also cited the increase in Hollywood’s split rights deals, which often results in disagreements with foreign partners over the merits of sending a film to Cannes.
Nonetheless, the fest is making a major gesture toward non-French- speaking festgoers this year by introducing electronic subtitles in English in the two main theaters, the Lumiere and Debussy, plus the new 300-seat Salle Luis Bunuel, to be used for the retro and special homage screenings. Anglophones will at least be relieved of listening to simultaneous translations over headsets.
In a first for any major or mid-range event, the fest did away with the traditional launch of its program at Paris’ ritzy Grand Hotel, instead simply publishing the full press dossier (only in French) on its Web site at 4:30 p.m. local time Tuesday. In the past two years, Jacob had already done away with Q&A sessions at the Grand Hotel, preferring just a “convivial” cocktail gathering. But this year there was no chance for the press at large to cross-examine his choices. Some 20 or so select reporters were personally briefed by Jacob and president Pierre Viot at fest headquarters two hours earlier.
Announcing the lineup there, Jacob deemed 2000 to be the second “satisfactory” year in a row, breaking with the frequent pattern at Cannes of alternate good and bad years. “That’s something that hasn’t happened in a long time,” he said.
The veteran programmer revealed that he had been viewing films right up until Monday night, and that the selection process was getting no easier. “Although the official deadline for films is March 15, we cannot refuse to see good films after that date, and we are seeing them later and later,” he complained. A total 1,397 titles were viewed, of which 681 were feature-length pics — an increase of 23% on last year, he said.
This year’s Competition rolls out 23 titles (up two on last year), with directors ranging from established Cannes figures like Ken Loach (L.A. union drama “Bread & Roses”), James Ivory (Henry James’ “The Golden Bowl,” starring Nick Nolte, Uma Thurman and Anjelica Huston), and Joel Coen (the musical “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” with George Clooney and John Turturro) to Swedish director Roy Andersson, whose “Songs From the Second Floor” is his first film in 25 years.
The lineup is heavy with veterans and Croisette favorites, such as Lars Von Trier (musical “Dancer in the Dark”), Liv Ullmann (the Ingmar Bergman-scripted “The Faithless”), Wong Kar-wai (’60s meller “In the Mood for Love”) and Nagisa Oshima (gay-themed samurai pic “Gohatto”), with very little new or unknown blood — yet again casting doubt on Jacob’s assertion that the selection features much in the way of “added value” to its auteurist bias.
Most notable is the Competition’s unprecedented Asian emphasis, with about one-third of the titles hailing from the Orient or Near East. In addition to Hong Kong’s Wong and Japan’s Oshima, Taiwan’s Edward Yang returns to the Riviera with the midlife crisis drama “A One and a Two…”; South Korean vet Im Kwon-taek makes his first Cannes appearance with costumer “Chunhyang”; and mainland Chinese actor-director Jiang Wen debuts on the Croisette with the WWII-set drama “During That War.”
The Near East is repped by 20-year-old Iranian helmer Samira Makhmalbaf’s sophomore outing “The Blackboard” (Makhmalbaf is the youngest helmer in competition) and “Kippur,” by Israeli director Amos Gitai, returning to Cannes after “Kadosh” last year.
Commenting that a dozen French films could have claimed a place in the lineup, Jacob named the four selected: “Les Destines Sentimentales” by Olivier Assayas, who is in competition for the first time; Arnaud Desplechin’s “Esther Kahn”; Austrian Michael Haneke’s “Code Inconnu,” starring Juliette Binoche; and “Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien,” by Dominik Moll. The most notable absentee is Benoit Jacquot’s “Sade,” which had been hotly tipped for selection.
Also featured are pics by two young U.S. indie directors — Neil LaBute, graduating from Un Certain Regard with “Nurse Betty,” featuring Morgan Freeman, Renee Zellweger, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear and Aaron Eckhart, and James Gray with “The Yards” with Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, James Caan, Charlize Theron and Faye Dunaway.
Completing the lineup are Russian filmmaker Pavel Lounguine’s “La Noce,” Brazilian Ruy Guerra’s “Estorvo” and U.S.-based Israeli filmmaker Amos Kollek’s “Fast Food Fast Women,” funded by Euro coin.
The familiar sound of vacated seats clicking up mid-screening may be more evident than ever this year, what with the preponderance of competition films with outsized running times. Champ in this regard is Japanese helmer Aoyama Shinji’s “Eureka,” which clocks in at 217 minutes. Other marathoners include “Les Destines Sentimentales” (180 minutes), “A One and a Two” (173), “During That War” (164), “The Faithless” (155), “Esther Kahn” (150), “The Golden Bowl” (140) and “Dancer in the Dark” (139).
The thesp-heavy competition jury, lead by president Luc Besson, features British actors Jeremy Irons and Kristin Scott Thomas, Spanish actress Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Gallic thesp-director Nicole Garcia and German actress Barbara Sukowa. Others on the panel are U.S. director Jonathan Demme, Italian helmer Mario Martone, Indian scribe Arundhati Roy and French writer Patrick Modiano.
Limits for kudos
Jury will be operating under a new rule stipulating that a given film may be awarded a maximum of two prizes and receive that many only when one of the nods is for acting.
American actress Mira Sorvino is among those on the short film jury, which also includes helmers Francesca Comencini (Italy), Claire Denis (France) and Abdherramane Sissako (Mauretania). Belgian director Luc Dardenne, whose “Rosetta” took last year’s Palme d’Or, heads the five-member team.
Fest’s noncompeting section, with eight titles (up two on last year), is heavy with crowd-pleasers, such as Eurythmic Dave Stewart’s directing debut “Honest,” starring three members of the Brit girl band All Saints as gun-toting bandits; Stephen Hopkins’ “Under Suspicion,” a remake of Claude Miller’s atmospheric 1981 policier “Garde a vue,” with Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman; John Waters’ Hollywood spoof “Cecil B. Demented,” with Stephen Dorff, Melanie Griffith and Alicia Witt; Brian De Palma’s sci-fier “Mission to Mars,” with Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins; “Pi” director Darren Aronofsky’s second feature, “Requiem for a Dream,” with Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, Ellen Burstyn and Jennifer Connelly; and Ang Lee’s martial arts costumer “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” with Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh.
While the opening night pic, Roland Joffe’s French-financed, English-lingo “Vatel,” a costume drama starring Gerard Depardieu and Uma Thurman, will offer plenty of period pomp, the closer, Canuck Denys Arcand’s “Stardom,” is a more modest offering. Jacob, however, defended his choice as an enjoyable picture. “It’s a film about celebrity, a satire,” he opined.
He told Daily Variety that the selection was “in no way” influenced by a desire to find a movie whose producer’s pockets are deep enough to share the cost of the closing party, currently about 400,000 francs ($58,000). Producer of the Arcand pic is successful Canadian entrepreneur Robert Lantos.
Un Certain Regard opens this year with “Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her,” the Sundance-preemed first film of Rodrigo Garcia, the son of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The multipart drama features Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter, Glenn Close and Calista Flockhart. Closer is Hugh Hudson’s “I Dreamed of Africa,” centered on a famous ecologist played by Kim Basinger.
As usual, the rest of the Certain Regard selection is largely a mixture of the completely unknown and slowly maturing talents. Latter include Italy’s Mimmo Calopresti (“I Prefer the Sound of the Sea”), South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo (existential drama “Oh! Soojung”), and American actor Griffin Dunne’s latest helming effort, “Famous.” Among the many countries, large and small, that are repped this year, Sub-Saharan Africa is notably absent.
Bresson, Peck tribs
Outside the official selection, film fans will be able to see “Lancelot du Lac,” a tribute to director Robert Bresson, who died last year, and Luis Bunuel’s “Viridiana,” winner of the Palme d’Or in 1961. Tributes will also be paid to guests of honor Gregory Peck, with the screening of Barbara Kopple’s docu “A Conversation With Gregory Peck”; Philippe Noiret, with the screening of Bertrand Tavernier’s “Life and Nothing But”; and Sean Penn, with “The Indian Runner.”
The traditional Lecon de Cinema talk will be given by French director Agnes Varda.
Among A-list stars already firmed for the Palais’ red carpet are George Clooney, Calista Flockhart, Melanie Griffith, Holly Hunter, Anjelica Huston, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Nolte, John Turturro, Tim Roth and Icelandic thrush Bjork.
(Lisa Nesselson in Paris contributed to this story.)