'Big Bad Love,' 'Chelsea' among U.S. offerings

PARIS — Cannes Film Festival sidebar Directors Fortnight is focusing on new talent, with 11 feature debuts accounting for more than half the 21 films in the lineup that will be announced today.

Fortnight boss Marie-Pierre Macia told Daily Variety, “We want to get back to the original purpose of Directors Fortnight. Our mission is to be a headhunter for talent and to take risks that the main festival can’t.”

The four pics by Americans in the lineup include two debuts by actors directing their wives — Arliss Howard’s “Big Bad Love,” starring spouse Debra Winger and Rosanna Arquette; and Ethan Hawke’s “Chelsea Walls,” an ensembler set in Gotham’s famed Chelsea Hotel with a cast including wife Uma Thurman, Kevin Corrigan, Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio, Marisa Tomei and Kris Kristofferson.

The two other Yank-helmed movies are Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s Sundance-screened “The Deep End,” an updated version of a short story filmed by Max Ophuls in 1949 as “The Reckless Moment,” and Gallic fave Amos Kollek’s Franco-American “Queenie in Love,” about a young woman’s search for love in New York, starring Valerie Geffner. Kollek’s pic, which closes the Fortnight, is French TV production company Marathon’s first foray into feature films.

First time’s charm

“We saw a lot of American films,” Macia said, “and I turned down films by some well-known directors. When it came to choosing between theirs and first films of equal quality, I wanted to take the first-time features.”

As always, French pics enjoy a prominent place in the lineup. Opening the sidebar event will be Fortnight veteran Sandrine Veysset’s “Martha … Martha,” an intimate pic about family relationships.

The other French offerings are Rodolphe Marconi’s first film, “This Is My Body,” about a young man searching for his identity; Sebastien Lifshitz’s “The Crossing,” a docu about French film critic Stephane Bouquet’s search for his G.I. father; and “Gilded Youth,” by Zaida Ghorab-Volta, in which two girls from the Paris suburbs tour France. Both Lifshitz and Ghorab-Volta have been featured in previous Directors Fortnight lineups.

Co-productions this year include Khaled Ghorbal’s Franco-Tunisian “Fatma,” about a young girl’s emancipation; Solveig Anspach and Cindy Babski’s Franco-Belgian docu “Made in the USA,” about the trial and execution in Texas last year of Odell Barnes; and “Pauline & Paulette,” a Belgian-French-Dutch film by Lieven Debrauwer on the theme of old age.

Last year there were 11 debut pics out of 24 features.

Submissions up

The number of films seen by the sidebar’s selectors was up massively this year, with some 1,500 titles (150 more than last year), including 800 features.

Macia said, “It was an enormous job this year, and what made it difficult was that more than half of them came to us between March 15 and April 15, right at the end.”

Mirroring the Official Selection and Critics Week, the Fortnight found nothing it liked from the U.K., Australia, Scandinavia or sub-Saharan Africa. Latin American and Spanish-language cinema also are absent from Macia’s lineup.

However, repping southern Europe is Italy with two films, both with a sociopolitical slant. Daniele Gaglianone’s first feature, “The Years of Our Lives,” centers on former World War II partisans who meet up in old age with a fascist enemy; “Workers, Peasants” is the latest production by veteran highbrow helmers Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub.

This year’s East Asian contingent includes debuts from all three Chinese-language territories, with Carole Lai’s meller “Glass Tears” from Hong Kong, Wang Chao’s “The Orphan of Anyang” from mainland China and the stylized “Mirror Image” from Taiwan’s Hsiao Ya-chuan.

“Hush!” by Japan’s Ryosuke Hashiguchi (known for the gay-themed “Like Grains of Sand”) completes the Asian quartet.

From even farther afield comes the New Zealand film “Rain,” a literary adaptation by Christine Jeffs, who bowed at Cannes in the early ’90s with a short.

Central Europe has a bigger presence this year. A first for Cannes is a movie from Albania, Gjergj Xhuvani’s Franco-Albanian “Slogans,” the only true comedy in the sidebar this year, about a teacher in a remote mountain village. From Romania comes “Stuff & Dough,” by Cristi Puiu, recounting a day in the life of a young man whose world is overrun with corruption and petty crime. Russia weighs in with Artur Aristakisyan’s poetic “A Place on Earth,” focusing on the hard life of Moscow’s underclass.

Breakouts unlikely

Macia said the lineup is unlikely to produce a breakout film like last year’s “Billy Elliot.” “Queenie in Love” and “Big Bad Love” are among the more commercial offerings, she added.

“The tone this year is more austere, more severe, more intimate than last year,” she said, reflecting the opinion of selectors in Cannes’ other sidebar, Critics Week.

As well as the main feature lineup, the Fortnight will be screening 12 medium-length or short films, including a 50-minute French offering, Alain Giraudie’s “Ce vieux reve qui bouge,” which just won the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo, and Mirjam Kubescha’s German docu “Ecce Homo.”

Doing its bit to break down the barriers between film and the art world, the Fortnight is continuing with its sub-section dubbed En Avant! (Forward!), screening two shorts, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s “Central” and “Riyo,” and a feature-length item, Louis Jammes’ “The Trace of Moloktchon,” which normally would be shown only in art galleries.

(Derek Elley contributed to this report.)

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