'Route Irish' to join competition lineup

In a rare last-minute addition, the Cannes Film Festival will announce today that Ken Loach’s Iraq war drama “Route Irish” will be added to this year’s 18-film competition.

Sources say that Loach initially declined a Cannes bid for his latest film, but changed his mind only recently and screened it for topper Thierry Fremaux and members of the selection committee. At the time of the April 15 lineup announcement, Fremaux had hinted that a few titles could join the fest late in the game, though speculation was concentrated on films like Olivier Assayas’ “Carlos,” now playing out of competition, or Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” which was not ready in time.

“Route Irish” was written by regular Loach scriber Paul Laverty, and tells the story of two ex-soldiers in love with the same woman who head to Iraq to work as private contractors. It’s set both in Liverpool and Iraq, where a contractor named Fergus (Mark Womack) returns following the death of his friend along the deadly road (from where pic’s title is taken) that links the Green Zone with the airport used by the coalition.

Collaborating for the first time in 20 years with dp Chris Menges, who lensed Loach’s 1970 classic, “Kes,” the film was shot both in the U.K. and in Jordan, and includes a number of action sequences employing stunts and pyrotechnics — a rare terrain for the British helmer.

Pic was produced by Loach regular Rebecca O’Brien for Sixteen Films, along with Gallic shingles Why Not Prods. and Wild Bunch, with the latter also handling international sales. It marks Loach’s third competish bid in five years: He nabbed the Palme d’Or in 2006 with “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” and joined last year’s competish with the Eric Cantona starrer, “Looking for Eric.”

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