Croisette cranks up

Vets eye crop of 1st-time bowers for Cannes fest

CANNES — The stars began to arrive, most of the luggage didn’t and the Croisette put on its festival finery May 12, as Cannes prepared itself for today’s opening of the 51st film extravaganza (through May 24).

With a good number of the fest pics being seen for the first time at Cannes, fest vets say they are looking forward to a lineup that might have been welcomed last year for the 50th bash.

On the biz side, the general consensus was that Polygram execs will spend the next 10 days fielding questions about their future rather than their projects, while Gallic major Gaumont will continue talks with a short list of four U.S. majors to find a U.S. distrib outlet for Luc Besson’s “Joan of Arc.”

Among the films that come to Cannes virtually unseen are French-financed “Claire Dolan,” from U.S. director Lodge Kerrigan, which is appearing in competition; Ken Loach’s “My Name Is Joe”; John Turturro’s “Illuminata”; and Lars Von Trier’s “The Idiots.”

Word on the Croisette is that Von Trier, who suffers from a severe fear of traveling, is driving down with fellow Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, who has “The Celebration” in competition. Von Trier was a noticeable absentee when Cannes honored previous Palme d’Or winners last year.

Buzzed about

Early buzz, both critical and from the acquisition execs, is hovering around John Boorman’s “The General,” Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine,” Paul Auster’s “Lulu on the Bridge,” along with a good deal of interest centering on the fest’s closing pic “Godzilla” — not the least because it features hot Gallic thesp Jean Reno.

Once again Col/TriStar has shied away from actually showing any part of the monster on the Croisette, coyly adorning the roof of the Carlton Hotel with a wall-to- wall measure and the announcement that “he’s larger than the Carlton Hotel.” Euros laughed at the latest building to get the Godzilla marketing makeover, while Americans say they are beginning to find the campaign irksome.

Making their presence clearly felt on the hoardings front were Michael Bay’s Bruce Willis starrer “Armageddon” and “The Mask of Zorro,” which featured a raft of ads. John Frankenheimer’s “Ronin” guaranteed itself plenty of photo ops by taking the coveted entry arch into the Carlton.

Trying to get ahead

Many of the 1,762 acquisition execs down on the Cote d’Azur have spent the past few weeks trying to get ahead of the Cannes curve with pre-fest screenings of hot titles such as Kate Winslet starrer “Hideous Kinky” and 35 minutes of the Ralph Fiennes pic “Onegin.” A short list of pics to be unveiled include “American Cuisine,” “Bedrooms and Hallways” and Gallic black comedy “Sitcom.”

Early Cannes stats point to an increasing number of people attending the market, with more than 4,000 execs signed up on day one and the figures set to rise to 5,000 by the time the Marche Intl. du Film closes May 24. U.S. fare leads the way in the MIF with 152 pics screening, followed by 87 from France and 48 from Britain.