Ramsay, Kawase, Maiwenn, Leigh to compete for Palme d'Or

Marking a banner year for female directors in competition after last year’s weak showing, Scotland’s Lynne Ramsay, Japan’s Naomi Kawase, France’s Maiwenn and Australia’s Julia Leigh will duke it out for the Palme d’Or alongside such Croisette faves as Pedro Almodovar, Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier and the Dardenne brothers at the 64th Cannes Film Festival.

Malick is the only American helmer in competition, though sidebar sections look to feature more Yanks. In Un Certain Regard, harrowing cult-themed drama “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which won first-time helmer Sean Durkin a directing prize at Sundance, will play alongside previously announced opener “Restless” from Gus Van Sant.

Thesps who could make their way to the Riviera include Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, Penelope Cruz, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Antonio Banderas, Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst.

Presiding over a Paris press conference on Thursday, fest topper Thierry Fremaux unveiled a forward-looking lineup notable not only for its gender diversity but for the wide range of genres represented.

The official selection is unusually strong on action-driven fare, with competition slots for Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” and Takashi Miike’s “Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai,” which will be the first 3D film to play in competition at Cannes.

In a further sign that the festival is attempting to move away from its image as a staid showcase for the usual tried-and-true auteurs, there are almost as many competition newcomers as there are veterans: This will be the first appearance in Cannes’ elite program for Israel’s Joseph Cedar, Romania’s Radu Mihaileanu and Austria’s Markus Schleinzer, as well as for Ramsay, Maiwenn, Leigh and Miike.

Finally set to bow nearly a year after it began stirring the Cannes rumor mill, Malick’s “The Tree of Life” marks the iconoclastic filmmaker’s first return to the festival since he won the director prize for 1978′s “Days of Heaven.”

Pic will also presumably treat festgoers to the sight of Pitt and Penn climbing the steps of the Palais des Festivals, a red-carpet draw likely to be rivaled only by Depp and Cruz in Rob Marshall’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which, as expected, will make its international premiere in a noncompeting berth (Daily Variety, April 13). Further bolstering the U.S. presence out of competition will be Jodie Foster’s Gibson starrer “The Beaver,” which had its world premiere at SXSW in March.

Apart from “Tree of Life,” the sole Yank title in competition is “Drive,” an independent production from Danish director Refn. Starring Gosling and Carey Mulligan, the Los Angeles-set thriller is adapted from James Sallis’ novel about a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a getaway driver for robberies.

Fremaux told Variety that while not many American films were submitted this year, he had been eyeing a third U.S. title for competition, but the producers pulled out after deciding a Cannes launch wouldn’t fit the film’s marketing strategy.

“Studios shouldn’t think that Cannes is a difficult place to launch a film, with Oscar season still so far off,” he said, noting that the festival has become an increasingly generous and welcoming environment for Hollywood fare.

Consistent with Fremaux’s fondness for programming bloody actioners in competition (notably from the likes of Park Chan-wook, Quentin Tarantino, Johnnie To and Takeshi Kitano), prolific Japanese gorehound Miike will make a rare trip to Cannes with his 3D “Hara-kiri.” Like his recent “13 Assassins,” the film is a remake of a classic samurai picture (Kobayashi Masaki’s 1962 “Harakiri”). Fremaux said that he and his selection committee had screened the film in 2D, which indicated that it had been selected for “its artistic merits, regardless of the fact that it will be shown in 3D.”

In sharp contrast to last year’s competition lineup, roundly criticized for its lack of female filmmakers, no fewer than four of the films slated to compete are directed by women; there are seven distaff helmers in the official selection overall. Ramsay, whose prior features “Ratcatcher” and “Morvern Callar” played the Croisette, will make her debut in competition with British-American co-production “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” starring Swinton (also a producer) and John C. Reilly. Pic was adapted from Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel about a school massacre.

Kawase, who won the Grand Prix for 2007′s “The Mourning Forest,” will compete again with her fifth feature, “Hanezu no tsuki,” a philosophically inclined entry that, together with Miike’s “Hara-kiri,” will give Japan a strong Cannes presence; it’s the sole Asian country repped in competition.

Leigh’s “Sleeping Beauty,” an erotic drama starring Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch”) that reps the first fully Australian-funded feature to compete at Cannes since 2001′s “Moulin Rouge,” is one of two debuts in competition. The other is “Michael,” an Austrian entry from thesp-helmer Markus Schleinzer, who has also worked as a casting director on films including 2009 Palme d’Or winner “The White Ribbon.”

Maiwenn will make her Cannes debut with her third feature, “Polisse,” a social satire that also stars the monomonikered actress-helmer (the sister of thesp Isild Le Besco). Other French helmers in competition are Bonello, who will bring “L’apollonide,” a drama set in a Parisian brothel in the early 20th century; and Cavalier with “Pater,” an intimate two-hander starring the director and Vincent Lindon. It’s Cavalier’s first competition entry since 1993′s “Libera me.”

One of the most surprising competition entries is “Footnote,” Israeli helmer Cedar’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated war film “Beaufort” (2007). Pic concerns two rival professors who are also father and son, played by Israeli vet Shlomo Bar-Aba and Lior Ashkenazi, respectively.

Belgium’s Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne will have a shot at an unprecedented third Palme d’Or with Cecile de France starrer “The Kid With a Bike.” Other Palme laureates back in competition are Denmark’s Lars von Trier with “Melancholia,” an English-language sci-fier starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg; and Italy’s Nanni Moretti, whose “We Have a Pope” stars Michel Piccoli as the titular clergyman.

While there are only three Gallic directors in competition, several top entries were partly funded by French coin. In addition to “The Kid With a Bike,” “Melancholia” and “Pope,” these include Finnish helmer Aki Kaurismaki’s French-language “Le Havre”; Mihaileanu’s village comedy “La Sources des femmes”; and Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s English-language drama “This Must Be the Place,” which stars Penn (appearing in two competition titles this year).

As expected (Daily Variety, April 11), Almodovar’s Antonio Banderas starrer “The Skin That I Inhabit,” whose inclusion had been doubted by some fest-watchers, will screen at Cannes after all, as have almost all the Spanish auteur’s pics since 1999′s “All About My Mother.” This marks the first time, however, that an Almodovar film will world premiere on the Croisette before its domestic release.

Ceylan will return with “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” about a doctor living in the eponymous region. The Turkish helmer won the Grand Prix for 2003′s “Distant” and the director prize for 2008′s “Three Monkeys.”

Two French films will join “Pirates” and “Beaver” out of competition: Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist,” the “OSS 117″ helmer’s latest collaboration with popular star Jean Dujardin; and Xavier Durringer’s biopic “The Conquest,” a about the rise to power of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. At the press conference, Fremaux denied local newspaper reports that outside pressure had been brought to bear on the film’s selection. In any event, pic could provide festgoers an interesting Sarkozy-themed double bill with Woody Allen’s previously announced opener, “Midnight in Paris,” which features a role for France’s first lady, singer Carla Bruni.

In addition to Van Sant’s teen-oriented drama “Restless,” which reflects Fremaux’s stated intention of using the sidebar to showcase auteurs with Cannes track records as well as new talents, other competition vets whose latest works will screen in Un Certain Regard include Bruno Dumont, returning with “Hors Satan,” an exploration of human evil set in northern France; Singapore’s Eric Khoo, making a foray into animation with “Tatsumi”; and South Korea’s Kim Ki-duk, back with “Arirang.”

Korea is well repped elsewhere in the sidebar: Hong Sang-soo, winner of last year’s Un Certain Regard prize for “Hahaha,” will make a second consecutive appearance with “The Day He Arrives,” and killer-thriller specialist Na Hong-jin will bring his local B.O. hit “The Yellow Sea.” Na was previously at Cannes with 2008 midnight-screening entry “The Chaser,” and his upgrade to Un Certain Regard further bears out the fest’s high esteem for action cinema.

Curiously absent from competition, Latin America is better represented in Un Certain Regard, which includes “Bonsai,” from Chile’s Cristian Jimenez, and “Trabalhar cansa,” a Brazilian feature directed by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra. Mexican helmer Gerardo Naranjo, whose “Drama/Mex” played Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2006, will return with “Miss Bala,” his follow-up to his 2008 fest hit “I’m Gonna Explode.”

Rounding out the Un Certain Regard lineup are “Halt auf freier Strecke,” from Germany’s Andreas Dresen (“Cloud 9″); “Where Do We Go Now?,” from Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki (“Caramel”); “The Hunter,” from Georgia-born helmer Bakur Bakuradze; “Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro,” from France’s Robert Guediguian; “L’exercice de l’Etat,” from France’s Pierre Schoeller; “Loverboy,” from Romania’s Catalin Mitulescu (“The Way I Spent the End of the World”); “Oslo, August 31st,” from Norway’s Joachim Trier (“Reprise”); “Skoonheid,” from South Africa’s Oliver Hermanus; and “Toomelah,” from Australia’s Ivan Sen.

The fest will present midnight screenings of “Days of Grace,” a thriller in three parts from Mexico’s Everardo Valerio Gout, and “Wu Xia,” a martial-arts entry from popular Chinese helmer Peter Chan.

Special screenings include “Labrador,” from Denmark’s Frederikke Aspock; “Le Maitres des forges de l’enfer,” from Cambodia’s Rithy Panh; “Michel Petrucciani,” from the U.K.’s Michael Radford; and “Tous au Larzac,” from France’s Christian Rouaud.

While Robert De Niro was confirmed as president of the Cannes jury months ago, the announcement of his fellow jurors will not be made until later this month.

Though they had been tipped for official-selection berths, Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Alps,” Andrei Zvyagintsev’s “Elena,” Christophe Honore’s “The Beloved,” Brillante Mendoza’s “Prey,” Lou Ye’s “Love and Bruises,” and Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s “Chicken With Plums” were absent from Thursday’s announcement.

Still, with only 19 films in the competition (which can easily balloon to 20 or more) and no closing-night film yet announced, there’s room for Fremaux to fiddle with the lineup before the start of the festival, which runs May 11-22.

(Boyd van Hoeij in Paris contributed to this report.)

OPENER
“Midnight in Paris,” Spain-U.S., Woody Allen

COMPETITION
“Drive,” U.S., Nicolas Winding Refn
“Footnote,” Israel, Joseph Cedar
“Hanezu no Tsuki,” Japan, Naomi Kawase
“Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai,” Japan, Takashi Miike
“The Kid With a Bike,” Belgium-France-Italy, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
“L’apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close),” FranceBertrand Bonello
“Le Havre,” Finland-France-Germany, Aki Kaurismaki
“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
“Melancholia,” Denmark-Sweden-France-Germany-Italy, Lars von Trier
“Michael,” Austria, Markus Schleinzer
“Pater,” France, Alain Cavalier
“Polisse,” France, Maiwenn
“The Skin I Live In,” Spain, Pedro Almodovar
“Sleeping Beauty,” Australia, Julia Leigh
“La Source des femmes,” France-Belgium-Italy, Radu Mihaileanu
“This Must Be the Place,” Italy-France-Ireland, Paolo Sorrentino
“The Tree of Life,” U.S., Terrence Malick
“We Have a Pope,” Italy-France, Nanni Moretti
“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” U.K.-U.S., Lynne Ramsay

UN CERTAIN REGARD
“Arirang,” South Korea, Kim Ki-duk
“Bonsai,” Chile, Cristian Jimenez
“The Day He Arrives,” South Korea, Hong Sang-soo
“Halt auf freier Strecke,” Germany, Andreas Dresen
“Hors Satan,” France, Bruno Dumont
“The Hunter,” France-Russia, Bakur Bakuradze
“Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro,” France, Robert Guediguian
“L’exercice de l’Etat,” France, Pierre Schoeller
“Loverboy,” Romania-France-Serbia-Sweden, Catalin Mitulescu
“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” U.S., Sean Durkin
“Miss Bala,” Mexico, Gerardo Naranjo
“Restless,” U.S., Gus Van Sant (opener)
“Oslo, August 31st,” Norway, Joachim Trier
“Skoonheid,” South Africa-France-Germany, Oliver Hermanus
“Tatsumi,” Singapore, Eric Khoo
“Trabalhar cansa,” Brazil, Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra
“Toomelah,” Australia, Ivan Sen
“Where Do We Go Now?,” France-Lebanon, Nadine Labaki
“The Yellow Sea,” South Korea, Na Hong-jin

OUT OF COMPETITION
“The Artist,” France, Michel Hazanavicius
“The Beaver,” U.S., Jodie Foster
“The Conquest,” France, Xavier Durringer
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” U.S., Rob Marshall

MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS
“Wu Xia,” China, Peter Chan Ho-sun
“Days of Grace,” Mexico, Everardo Gout

SPECIAL SCREENINGS
“Labrador,” Denmark, Frederikke Aspock
“Le Maitre des forges de l’enfer,” Cambodia-France, Rithy Panh
“Michel Petrucciani,” France-Germany-Italy, Michael Radford
“Tous au Larzac,” France, Christian Rouaud

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