Fremaux mends o'seas rift, Jacob gives team thumbs up

See complete list of Official Selections

Strong showings by the United States, Japan, France and Italy — plus a healthy sprinkling of favorite auteurs — dominate the Official Selection of the 54th Cannes Intl. Film Festival (May 9-20), which was announced Thursday.

Hollywood studios will have a significantly higher profile on the Croisette this year, as the competition lineup includes DreamWorks’ “Shrek,” the first animated movie to compete in Cannes in 48 years, and, as previously reported, Fox will open the fest with “Moulin Rouge,” directed by Baz Lurhmann, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.

However, a strict count of the Official Selection reveals that with 14 pics in total, there is actually only one more movie than last year that’s financed or directed by Americans.

The three other U.S. movies in competition are all by fest habitues: Joel Coen’s crime drama “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” with Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand; David Lynch’s mystery drama “Mulholland Drive”; and “The Pledge,” released in the U.S. by Warner Bros., by Sean Penn, whose directorial career received a tribute at last year’s festival.

One of the missions of new artistic director Thierry Fremaux was to repair relations with Hollywood, and his two Stateside trips earlier this year seem to have paid off. (He’s set to visit the U.S. again this fall.)

“I think my mark on the lineup can be seen in the American films,” Fremaux told Daily Variety.

At a packed press conference, new fest prexy Gilles Jacob, who this year clocks in with his 24th Cannes, commented on the selection picked for the first time by Fremaux.

“I have a personal opinion on the subject,” Jacob said. “I was expecting it to be the best possible (selection). But it’s better.”

Referring to the new ruling triumvirate of himself, Fremaux and managing director Veronique Cayla, he added, “I’m pleased to say that the graft has worked beyond all expectations. The new team is functioning well and happily.”

To those wondering just how much say Jacob had in a lineup that contains many Cannes regulars, the fest chief replied: “I gave my opinion, but I didn’t try to influence decisions.”

Defending the fest’s choices, Fremaux said, “We didn’t reserve special treatment for anyone. We could have chosen good films from another 10 established directors, but the ones selected are beautiful. The David Lynch film, for instance, is absolutely extraordinary. He’s in top form.”

He also dismissed the idea that the selection has Jacob’s stamp all over it. “I wasn’t going to make a selection that excluded a lot of fine films just to prove a point. It’s not surprising that filmmakers who have been at Cannes before come back again. It’s because they make good films.”

Fremaux is keen to give sidebar Un Certain Regard a higher profile, and it also boasts a strong American presence. It will be opened by Abel Ferrara’s “R-Xmas” and includes Hal Hartley’s Iceland-set fantasy drama “No Such Thing,” with Sarah Polley as a woman who falls in love with a monster; Todd Solondz’s “Storytelling,” a Fine Line release in the U.S.; and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming’s digital video-shot “The Anniversary Party.”

Fremaux said, “By including films by accomplished auteurs, we’re aiming to give Un Certain Regard as much importance as the competition. The films are just as good; they’re simply not competing.”

Out of competition, fest will screen the extended director’s cut of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”; his son Roman Coppola’s “C.Q.,” featuring French actress Elodie Bouchez, plus Gerard Depardieu in a small role; Wayne Wang’s erotic drama “The Center of the World,” an Artisan release Stateside, which like “C.Q.” will have a midnight screening; and Michel Gondry’s weird romantic quartet “Human Nature,” being distribbed by Fine Line.

Hollywood’s presence on the Croisette will be further boosted by Martin Scorsese, there for a special screening of his four-hour documentary on Italian cinema, and Melanie Griffith, whose acting career will receive a special tribute from the festival with a screening of her 1988 “Working Girl.”

Brits, Aussies absent

With the U.K. and Australia absent from the Croisette, English-language product is repped almost totally by American movies this year. Two other regions also are invisible in the selection: Africa and Scandinavia.

Commenting on the world’s strong areas of production from the fest’s point of view, Fremaux said, “Asian cinema has huge vitality at the moment, and Europe and America are very strong. Latin America is starting to return to the fore.”

Whereas last year Chinese-language movies led the East Asian charge, this year it’s Japan’s turn. Fremaux said, “Between January and April, a film arrived from Japan every fortnight, and they were all great.”

Japan has an unprecedented three movies in competition, all by established names: “Lukewarm Water Under the Bridge,” from two-time Palme d’Or winner Shohei Imamura (“The Eel”); “Distance,” by Hirokazu Kore-eda, director of the widely admired “After Life”; and “Desert Moon,” from last year’s discovery Shinji Aoyama (“Eureka”).

Japan also has three titles in Un Certain Regard: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s computer-virus thriller “Kairo,” Masahiro Kobayashi’s “The Man Who Walks on Snow” and Nobuhiro Suwa’s “H-Story.”

Out of competition in a midnight slot is “Avalon,” a live-action futuristic ghost story, shot in Polish, by Japan’s Mamoru Oshii (“Ghost in the Shell”). It’s a Miramax release in the U.S.

Chinese-lingo fare is represented by two Taiwanese directors, Cannes favorite Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Millennium Mambo” and Tsai Ming-liang’s “What Time Is It There?”

French foursome

The French lineup, always the last to be decided, includes four wholly Gallic films in competition: Jacques Rivette’s “Va Savoir!”; Francois Dupeyron’s post-WWI drama “La chambre des officiers”; Cedric Khan’s “Roberto Succo,” about a real-life mass murderer; and Catherine Corsini’s “The Rehearsal.”

Making a surprise appearance in competition is Swiss veteran Jean-Luc Godard, with the experimental “Eloge de l’amour,” a French co-production.

Neatly balancing English-lingo fest opener “Moulin Rouge” is a French-language closer, “Savage Souls,” by arthouse favorite Raoul Ruiz.

Flying the flag for France in Un Certain Regard will be Jacques Doillon’s “Due West” and Yves Caumon’s “Amour d’enfance,” while Claire Denis’ “Trouble Every Day” will screen out of competition. There will be a special screening of Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust docu “Sobibor, 14 October 1943, 4 p.m.”

Notable French absentees are Eric Rohmer’s DV-shot costumer “L’Anglaise et le duc,” which Fremaux said the festival selection committee did not get to see, and “Loin” by Croisette fave Andre Techine.

An even more prominent absence is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s highly touted “Amelie of Montmartre,” over which local critics have gone wild. Fremaux said the fest would have liked to show the film but was not prepared to give the producers a firm answer back in January. As a result, pic was slotted for theatrical release this upcoming Wednesday in France.

“It was too soon for us to take a decision,” Fremaux simply said.

Thinly repped last year, Italy weighs in with two heavyweights in competition, Nanni Moretti’s powerful family drama “The Son’s Room” and Ermanno Olmi’s medieval war drama “The Profession of Arms,” and Francesca Archibugi’s drama “Tomorrow” in Un Certain Regard.

Missing, however, is Ettore Scola’s “Unfair Competition,” a drama about the rise of anti-Semitism in the late ’30s that was widely expected to show up in a noncompeting slot.

“We could have been indulgent,” said Fremaux. “But if we’d included it, there would have been three films by important Italian directors, and that would have fueled complaints that we always go for the same established directors. We had to make a choice.”

Austria flies the German-speaking flag this year, with two movies — Michael Haneke’s competing “The Piano Teacher,” a French co-production starring Isabelle Huppert, and “Lovely Rita,” first feature by promising short filmmaker Jessica Hausner — in Un Certain Regard.

Portugal also is represented by two titles — Manuel de Oliveira’s “Je rentre a la maison,” a French co-production, in competition, and Joao Canijo’s “To Win Life.” Catalan helmer Marc Recha’s existential drama “Pau and His Brother” competes for Spain, while Lisandro Alonso’s “Freedom” reps Argentina.

Bosnia bows

First-timers at Cannes include Bosnia, with Danis Tanovic’s “No Man’s Land” in competition, and Thailand, with Wisit Sasanatieng’s “Tears of the Black Tiger” in Un Certain Regard. Latter won a prize at the Vancouver fest in the fall.

From Russia comes Alexander Sokurov’s “Taurus,” in competition, while the Certain Regard sidebar includes offerings from the former Soviet republics of Kazakstan and Kirgizstan, Darezhan Omirbaev’s “The Road” and Aktan Abdykalykov’s “The Monkey,” respectively.

Commenting on the experience of his first year as selector, Fremaux, whose other job is director of the Institut Lumiere in Lyons, said, “It is thrilling work. In Lyons I’m focused on the history of cinema, but at the festival I’m immersed in the cinema of tomorrow, in all its freshness. Just because a filmmaker is established, it doesn’t mean that his next film isn’t as fresh as a newcomer’s.”

He added, “I naturally have some regrets, because when you’ve seen 500 films and you’ve said no to 450 of them, that’s bound to be the case. But if we’ve made any mistakes, we’re ready to bear full responsibility for them.”

A total 1,798 films were seen by the festival’s selection committee — 854 features, 944 shorts — compared with 1,397 last year. Since 1997, the number of films viewed has jumped 50%.

Special events will include the annual “cinema lesson” talk, given this year by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, and a day marking the 10th anniversary of the event, which will be attended by past speakers including Wim Wenders and Agnes Varda.

This year’s retrospective is “The Golden Age of American Comedy,” featuring such movies as Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” and Charlie Chaplin’s “Monsieur Verdoux,” plus pics by veteran masters such as Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges.

Along with Griffith, another special guest will be Gerard Oury, who will receive a festival trophy after a screening of his 1973 comedy “The Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.”

Also skedded are tributes to Vittorio De Sica, Claude Sautet and Robert Enrico, and celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Les Cahiers du Cinema.

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