Few U.S. pics set for Cannes festival

'New York' only American film competing

It’s down to the wire for the Cannes Film Festival. With just five days left before fest topper Thierry Fremaux is due to announce the lineup for the May 14-28 event, much uncertainly surrounds the competition titles, as the availability of some films and the completion status of others remains in question.

One certainty is that the Hollywood presence will be significantly reduced from 2007, when “No Country for Old Men,” “Zodiac,” “Paranoid Park” and “Death Proof” flew the American flag in a banner year. At the moment, the only firm Yank competition entry is Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, “Synecdoche, New York,” in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theater director.

Joining the previously announced “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in a special noncompeting premiere slot will be DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda,” starring Jack Black and directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson. FIlm bows May 15. Jeffrey Katzenberg has often unveiled his most prestigious animation titles in Cannes.

Unlike last year, when so many top directors had films in Cannes, the timing of the production cycle seems not to be working entirely to the festival’s benefit, at least where major American filmmakers are concerned. Very few Hollywood films due to be released over the next four months would seem remotely appropriate for a major artistic fest, and there are always further issues concerning European release dates.

Thinned Yank ranks notwithstanding, the greatest publicity of the fest will be generated by Americans when Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen and Aussie co-star Cate Blanchett hit the red carpet at the long-anticipated world preem of the “Indiana Jones” sequel on May 18.

Hollywood will also be repped on closing night with Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened,” an industry insider tale starring Robert De Niro that preemed at Sundance and has now been trimmed by eight minutes. Final night viewers will have the unusual sensation of sitting in the Palais du Festival and watching the picture’s climactic scene, which is set during a film’s premiere at the Palais but was shot, with reasonable verisimilitude, in a school auditorium in Northridge, Calif.

It was long hoped that Cannes vet Steven Soderbergh’s Che Guevara double bill, “The Argentine” and “Guerrilla,” would premiere on the Croisette, but it seems that the director, who has wanted either both or neither of the films to play the fest, won’t be able to finish the four-hour-plus opus by deadline. Evidently, Soderbergh has essentially finished the second film but, despite non-stop work in recent weeks, hasn’t quite gotten the first half of the Benicio Del Toro starrer where he wants it.

Given that Fremaux is reducing the number of competition slots from 23 last year to about 18 this time, he may have the flexibility to keep the door open to Soderbergh if, at the last minute, the director decides he’s ready to present his films to the public. A double translating job — Spanish-language pics will require both English and French subtitles — could prove a further complication.

Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was also widely expected to make its international splash in Cannes, but evidently, ties between the film’s Spanish financiers and the San Sebastian Film Festival dictate that the preem will be held at the Spanish fest in the fall.

On the other hand, numerous familiar names will be on hand with new works. The Dardenne brothers from Belgium will try for an unprecedented third Palme d’Or with “The Silence of Lorna.” Another previous Palme winner, Wim Wenders, will be back with the meller “The Palermo Shooting,” which stars Milla Jovovich, Dennis Hopper and Giovanna Mezzogiorno. Brazilian helmer Fernando Meirelles looks like a lock with the drama “Blindness,” toplining Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Alice Braga.

Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns with “Daydreams,” and Italy will be repped in the competition by Matteo Garrone’s crime drama “Gomorra.” An unusual entry is Ari Folman’s “Waltz With Bashir,” an animated feature from Israel. Hungary’s Kornel Mundruczo will weigh in with the family drama “Delta.” The French competition titles are always the last to be decided, but two to be counted on are Arnaud Desplechin’s “Un Conte de Noel” with Mathieu Amalric, Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni, and Philippe Garrel’s “La Frontiere de l’aube.”

The field from Asia looks very thin this year. One of the very few contenders will be Cambodian helmer Rithy Panh’s “Un Barrage contre le Pacifique” (The Sea Wall), a part-French-financed family drama starring Isabelle Huppert and based on Marguerite Duras’ novel, previously filmed in 1958 by Rene Clement as “This Angry Age.”

The status of the films of several other big-name directors is uncertain going into the final weekend before the lineup’s announcement. The fest selection committee has yet to see Theo Angelopoulos’ “The Dust of Time,” with Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel and Alexandra Maria Lara; Jia Zhangke’s “Ciqing Shidai” (The Age of Tattoo); and South Korean helmer Kim Jee-woon’s “The Good, the Bad, the Weird.” The status of Walter Salles’ “Linha de Passe” is also unclear.

There are certain other films that look to end up on the Croisette but in as-yet-undetermined berths — possibly in competition, Un Certain Regard or special screenings: Abbas Kiarostami’s experimental “Shirin,” which consists of shots of women watching a movie; Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung’s “I Come With the Rain,” with Josh Hartnett as an American private investigator in Hong Kong; two films from Italy, Marco Tullio Giordana’s “Sangue Pazzo” (Crazy Blood) and Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo”; Mexican director Amat Escalante’s U.S.-lensed “Los Bastardos”; Lisandro Alonso’s “Liverpool” from Argentina; Atom Egoyan’s latest, “Adoration,” toplining Scott Speedman and Rachel Blanchard; Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Tokyo Sonata”; Singaporean helmer Eric Khoo’s “My Magic”; Icelandic auteur Baltasar Kormakur’s “White Night Wedding”; and a new Polish film from vet Jerzy Skolimowski, his first feature since 1991.

Set for special screenings in the Official Selection are James Toback’s “Tyson,” an up-close “encounter” with the boxer; Emir Kusturica’s docu about soccer star Diego Maradona; and Marina Zenovich’s Sundance docu fave “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” in its European preem.

Also on the way is “Tokyo!,” a trio of tales set in the Japanese capital and directed by Bong Joon-ho (“The Host”), Michel Gondry and Leos Carax.

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