Cannes Film Festival 2012 - The Festival

Director-thesp Nanni Moretti, who presides over this year’s Cannes jury, is a cineaste with a strong personality, very sure of his tastes and not afraid to go out on a limb to fight for a movie he believes in, but always through dialectic, not despotic, confrontation.

“He is willing to discuss a movie endlessly and obsessively, and will try to convince you that his arguments are more solid than yours,” says Venice Film Festival topper Alberto Barbera. “But in the end he remains totally democratic.”

To back this contention, Barbera, himself a Cannes juror in 2010, recalls Moretti in action as Venice jury prexy in 2001 when, “after trying his best to push the movie he wanted” — Iranian helmer Babak Payami’s “Secret Ballot” against Austrian helmer Ulrich Seidl’s “Dog Days” — “Nanni relented.”

As a result, Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding” was Lionized in a compromise solution, which Moretti seems leery about ever repeating. “I will not seek a unanimous vote at all costs, because we risk picking a film that isn’t displeasing to anyone, and doesn’t disturb anyone, but that nobody is totally in love with,” Moretti recently told Agence France Presse, underlining he will not try to push for a unanimous vote for all prizes, including the Palme d’Or, with his multifarious crew of fellow Cannes jurors.

The jury this year comprises American director Alexander Payne; British actor Ewan McGregor; German actress Diane Kruger; Palestinian actress-turned-director Hiam Abbas; British auteur Andrea Arnold; French actress Emmanuelle Devos; fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier; and Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, a former topper of Gaul’s La Fermis film school.

Moretti is the first non-American Cannes jury prexy since 2009 in a decision by the fest to “celebrate its 65th edition with a European jury president,” said Cannes director-general Thierry Fremaux, whose selection is nonetheless strong on U.S. fare.

Moretti’s longstanding warm rapport with Cannes and, by extension, French auds, started in 1978, when his second feature, generational portrayal “Ecce bombo,” shot in Super 8, made the cut for competish because, as Cannes prexy Gilles Jacob put it, “I had a premonition that Nanni Moretti would soon become NANNI MORETTI.”

His highly personal “Caro diario” won director in 1994, while bereavement drama “The Son’s Room” took the 2001 Palme d’Or. “The Caiman,” his playful but quasi-prophetic, satire on Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi era screened on the Croisette in 2006.

“We Have a Pope,” screened in Cannes last year.

“You can recognize a Nanni Moretti movie from the first frame,” says Barbera. “But what makes him such a unique auteur is that he has evolved and grown so incredibly; going from making ‘generational’ cinema to being capable of increasingly large-canvas, metaphorical reflections on Italian society and its many transformations.”

Besides being a filmmaker and actor, Moretti runs a film distribution company and Rome movie theater. Interestingly, the most recent releases from his Sacher Film are fest-circuit faves: Italy’s Berlin Golden Bear winner “Caesar Must Die” and Iran’s “A Separation,” which took the foreign-language Oscar.

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