Cannes Film Festival 2012 - The Festival

Revered international auteurs and rising Hollywood talents have always been fixtures of the Cannes Film Festival, but rarely have both strains been so present — to the near-exclusion of all else — as they are in this year’s 65th anniversary competition lineup.

Roughly three-quarters of the program reads like a roll call of Croisette loyalists: Jacques Audiard, Leos Carax, David Cronenberg, Matteo Garrone, Michael Haneke, Hong Sang-soo, Im Sang-soo, Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach, Sergei Loznitsa, Cristian Mungiu, Alain Resnais, Carlos Reygadas, Walter Salles, Ulrich Seidl and Thomas Vinterberg. All 16 of these world-cinema faves have previously been in competition, and four of them — Haneke, Kiarostami, Loach and Mungiu — have already won the Palme d’Or.

The lesson proffered by fest delegate general Thierry Fremaux and his selection committee would seem to be that admission to Cannes’ elite club is predicated on prior membership, with the notable exceptions of six filmmakers cracking the competition for the first time. One of these is Egypt’s Yousry Nasrallah, bringing his post-Arab Spring drama “After the Battle.” Tellingly, the other five competition newcomers are all behind star-studded U.S. productions: American helmers Wes Anderson, Lee Daniels and Jeff Nichols, and Australian directors Andrew Dominik and John Hillcoat.

The last time the U.S. had five pictures up for the Palme was 2007, the year of the Coen brothers, David Fincher, James Gray, Quentin Tarantino and Gus Van Sant. (It was also the fest’s 60th anniversary; clearly, Cannes likes to save an extra dose of glitz for its big birthdays.)

Aside from Anderson’s opening-night entry, “Moonrise Kingdom,” which appears to transplant the helmer’s stylistic quirks to a 1965 New England setting, the American entries would seem to have a number of elements in common: a tangy Southern setting, a story with criminal underpinnings, a strong actors’ showcase.

Nicole Kidman stars with Zac Efron and John Cusack in Daniels’ “The Paperboy,” an erotic thriller concerning a death-row case in 1960s Florida. Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf play bootlegging brothers in Prohibition-era Virginia in Hillcoat’s gangland drama “Lawless.” Crooked doings are similarly at the core of Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly,” a dark comedy toplining Brad Pitt as a New Orleans mob enforcer. And Nichols’ “Mud” features Matthew McConaughey as a guy on the run from the law in Mississippi.

Daniels and Nichols have been to Cannes in the past (the former with “Precious” in Un Certain Regard in 2009, the latter with “Take Shelter” in Critics’ Week last year), and the decision to bump up both directors to competition signals a major vote of confidence. Factor in Cannes newbies Anderson, Dominik and Hillcoat, and it almost takes on the weight of a statement: These Hollywood young guns herald a vital future for American cinema.

It’s easy, of course, to overanalyze programming decisions that are governed as much by the luck of the draw as by an artistic director’s vision, and the Yank lineup would surely have looked different if Terrence Malick’s “The Funeral,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” had been ready on time. Still, more than any other festival, Cannes is in a position to choose, and the films it’s chosen to compete this year seem to reflect a curious mandate: to celebrate the new in American movies, and to applaud the respectable and familiar just about everywhere else.

The U.S. titles promise not only maximum star wattage but also a sense of discovery. Their international counterparts, by contrast, suggest a Cannes greatest-hits collection, full of tantalizing possibilities but seemingly selected in a less adventurous state of mind.

Certainly Fremaux’s long-ago stated objective to not automatically give auteurs a free competition pass (a mission that led to such mystifying decisions as the rejection of Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake” in 2004) seems to have fallen by the wayside over his past decade at the helm. No less than it did during the Gilles Jacob years, Cannes maintains its tradition as an auteurs’ festival; given the esteem they command on the world-cinema stage, it would have seemed odd indeed if Haneke (“Amour”), Audiard (“Rust and Bone”), Cronenberg (“Cosmopolis”), Kiarostami (“Like Someone in Love”) and Resnais (“You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet,” reportedly the 89-year-old New Wave vet’s final film) were not at Cannes.

Fremaux can be credited with having welcomed a number of bold, edgy new talents into competition during his tenure, such as returning contenders Mungiu (“Beyond the Hills”), Garrone (“Reality”), Reygadas (“Post tenebras lux”) and Seidl (“Paradise: Love”). Two directors, Carax (“Holy Motors”) and Vinterberg (“The Hunt”), offer the hope of not discovery but rediscovery; both helmers were last in competition in the late 1990s (with “Pola X” and “The Celebration,” respectively) and have since been erratic in their output, raising festgoers’ expectations for a possible comeback story.

Overall, however, the sense of audacity and risk that shaped the 2011 program is largely absent. Last year, an impressive four women (Lynne Ramsay, Naomi Kawase, Maiwenn and Julia Leigh) were in competition, partly in response to the prior year’s all-male lineup; the number of distaff directors is right back to zero. Last year, there were two first-time filmmakers in competition (Markus Schleinzer and Julia Leigh); this year, zilch.

Cannes, of course, professes to be a meritocracy, beholden to quality rather than quotas, and governed by patterns of flux and inadequacies of representation that are endemic to the global filmmaking community at large. And gender and filmmaking experience are scarcely the only two measures of diversity.

Another is the fest’s robust lineup of Latin American filmmakers, including but not limited to Brazil’s Salles and Mexico’s Reygadas in competition. Un Certain Regard will host Argentina’s Pablo Trapero (“White Elephant”), Mexico’s Michel Franco (“Despues de Lucia”), Colombia’s Juan Andres Arango (“La playa”), and “7 Days in Havana,” a Cuba-set omnibus film featuring multiple directors. Brazil’s Nelson Pereiro dos Santos (“A musica segundo Tom Jobim”) and Argentina’s Gonzalo Tobal (“Villegas”) will receive special screenings, and Argentina’s Alejandro Fadel (“The Wild Ones”) is in Critics’ Week.

The Directors’ Fortnight is screening Colombian helmer William Vega’s “La Sirga,” as well as two Chilean-helmed entries likely to draw some press attention away from the official selection: “No,” from Pablo Larrain, and “La noche de enfrente,” from the late Raul Ruiz.

Indian cinema, consistently underrepresented at Cannes, has a stronger showing than usual with Ashim Ahluwalia’s “Miss Lovely” (Un Certain Regard), Anurag Kashyap’s “Gangs of Wasseypur” (Directors’ Fortnight) and Vasan Bala’s “Peddlers” (Critics’ Week).

Offering a corrective of sorts to the competition, Un Certain Regard features two female helmers, Sylvie Verheyde (“Confession of a Child of the Century”) and Catherine Corsini (“Trois mondes”), as well as a smattering of first features from Brandon Cronenberg (“Antichrist”), son of David; Ahluwalia (“Miss Lovely”); Arango (“La playa”); Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and Adam Leon (“Gimme the Loot”), which copped the top narrative jury prizes at Sundance and SXSW, respectively. Here is where festgoers will also find helmers from Morocco (Nabil Ayouch, “God’s Horses”), Senegal (Moussa Toure, “La Pirogue”), Colombia (Arango) and Kazakhstan (Darezhan Omirbayev, “Student”).

Kicking off with Chinese helmer Lou Ye’s “Mystery,” Un Certain Regard will include a number of other well-regarded helmers once expected to compete, from Trapero and Koji Wakamatsu (“11.25 the Day He Chose His Own Fate”) to younger helmers Xavier Dolan (“Laurence Anyways”) and Joachim Lafosse (“Loving Without Reason”).

Takashi Miike (“The Legend of Love & Sincerity”) and Dario Argento (“Dracula 3D“) are standout names in the midnight screenings, while the latest efforts from Philip Kaufman (HBO drama “Hemingway & Gellhorn”), Bernardo Bertolucci (“Me and You”), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Mekong Hotel”) and Fatih Akin (“Polluting Paradise”) have all been slotted out of competition. A good year for auteurs, indeed.

A look at the competition

Sixteen of the filmmakers in competition have been up for the Palme d’Or before, many in the same year. Four of the directors have already won the top prize, one of whom, Ken Loach, leads the pack with 10 prior films in competition.

1959
Alain Resnais (“Hiroshima mon amour”)

1974
Alain Resnais (“Stavisky …”)
Prize: Actor

1980
Alain Resnais (“Mon oncle d’Amerique”)
Prize: Grand Prix

1981
Ken Loach (“Looks and Smiles”)

1990
Ken Loach (“Hidden Agenda”)
Prize: Jury Prize

1993
Ken Loach (“Raining Stones”)
Prize: Jury Prize

1994
Abbas Kiarostami (“Through the Olive Trees”)

1995
Ken Loach (“Land and Freedom”)

1996
Jacques Audiard (“A Self-Made Hero”)
Prize: Screenplay
David Cronenberg (“Crash”)
Prize: Special Jury Prize

1997
Michael Haneke (“Funny Games”)
Abbas Kiarostami (“Taste of Cherry”)
Prize: Palme d’Or

1998
Ken Loach (“My Name Is Joe”)
Prize: Actor
Thomas Vinterberg (“The Celebration”)
Prize: Jury Prize

1999
Leos Carax (“Pola X”)

2000
Michael Haneke (“Code Unknown”)
Ken Loach (“Bread and Roses”)

2001
Michael Haneke (“The Piano Teacher”)
Prizes: Grand Prix, Actor, Actress

2002
David Cronenberg (“Spider”)
Abbas Kiarostami (“Ten”)
Ken Loach (“Sweet Sixteen”)
Prize: Screenplay

2004
Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”)
Prize: Prix Vulcaine
Hong Sang-soo (“Woman Is the Future of Man”)

2005
David Cronenberg (“A History of Violence”)
Michael Haneke (“Cache”)
Prize: Director
Carlos Reygadas (“Battle in Heaven”)
Hong Sang-soo (“Tale of Cinema”)

2006
Ken Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”)
Prize: Palme d’Or

2007
Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”)
Prize: Palme d’Or
Carlos Reygadas (“Silent Light”)
Prize: Jury Prize
Ulrich Seidl (“Import/Export”)

2008
Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah”)
Prize: Grand Prix
Walter Salles (“Linha de passe”)
Prize: Actress

2009
Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”)
Prize: Grand Prix
Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon”)
Prize: Palme d’Or
Ken Loach (“Looking for Eric”)
Alain Resnais (“Wild Grass”)
Lifetime Achievement Award

2010
Im Sang-soo (“The Housemaid”)
Abbas Kiarostami (“Certified Copy”)
Prize: Actress
Ken Loach “(Route Irish”)
Sergei Loznitsa (“My Joy”)

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