Sean Penn Charlize Theron
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It’s shaping up to be a strong year for American filmmakers at the Cannes Film Festival, with Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society” and Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” set to make their world premieres on the Croisette.

While festival delegate general Thierry Fremaux and his selection committee still have many titles to screen and many decisions to make before nailing down their lineup in mid April, the film slate is starting to come into focus with a marked emphasis on starry English-language fare, as already signaled by the announcement earlier this week that Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster,” with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, is Cannes-bound.

A slot in official selection likely awaits “Loving,” Nichols’ civil rights drama starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as an interracial couple in 1958 Virginia. Set to open theatrically Nov. 4 through Focus Features, the film would mark a return to Cannes for Nichols after “Take Shelter” (2011, Critics’ Week) and “Mud” (2012, competition). It would also put him in the rare company of directors who have had different films play Berlin and Cannes in the same year, having recently competed for the Golden Bear with the just-released “Midnight Special.”

Meanwhile, a competition slot has just been locked for “The Last Face,” Penn’s drama starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as aid workers who fall in love against the backdrop of war-torn Liberia. Already stirring gossip as it will put Penn and Theron on the red carpet after they broke off their engagement last year, the film marks a return to Cannes for the actor-turned-director after his helming debut, “The Indian Runner” (1991, Directors’ Fortnight) and “The Pledge” (2001, competition). Penn served as president of the official Cannes jury in 2008.

Also set to bow in Cannes is Woody Allen’s until-recently-untitled 1930s romance “Cafe Society,” starring Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. Set to be released by Amazon Studios (rather than the director’s usual distributor, Sony Pictures Classics), Allen’s film will screen, per his usual preference, in an out-of-competition slot. The director was at Cannes just last year with “Irrational Man.”

While an opening-night film has yet to be decided, “Cafe Society” is said to be one of a few films in the running. Allen previously opened the festival in 2011 with “Midnight in Paris.”

The 69th Cannes Film Festival runs May 11-22.

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