Croisette crowd craves its faves

Vets Polanski, Leigh, Loach, Cronenberg chosen

See lineupPARIS — Films from Croisette favorites such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach dominate the Competition lineup of the 55th Cannes Film Festival, which runs May 15 to 26.

U.S. directors in the Competition, announced Wednesday in Paris, are “Magnolia” helmer Paul Thomas Anderson with “Punch-Drunk Love,” starring Adam Sandler, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson; Alexander Payne (“Election”); and documentarian Michael Moore. Payne’s Jack Nicholson starrer “About Schmidt,” dealing with the emotional travails of a man in his 60s, reps a surprise selection, one made at the eleventh hour.

New pictures by directors including Italy’s Marco Bellocchio (“The Religion Hour”), Portugal’s Manoel de Oliveira (“The Principle of Indecision”), Canada’s David Cronenberg (“Spider”), the U.K.’s Leigh (“All or Nothing”) and Loach (“Sweet Sixteen”) and Russia’s Alexander Sokurov (“Russian Ark”) loom large in the Competition’s international selection.

Local favorites Nicole Garcia (“The Adversary”), Olivier Assayas (English-lingo cyber-thriller “Demonlover”), Robert Guediguian (“Marie-Jo and Her 2 Loves”) and maverick Gaspar Noe (“Irreversible”) lead the Gallic charge for the Palme d’Or.

Other high points of the Official Selection:

  • U.S. participation about on a par with last year’s, including the opening-night film (Woody Allen’s non-competing “Hollywood Ending”), an animated feature (DreamWorks’ “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” though in a non-competing slot, unlike last year’s “Shrek”) and the three titles in Competition.

  • Major presence of U.K. pics (an unprecedented six movies, including two co-productions), plus a wealth of titles from the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries.

  • Fourteen of the 22 competing directors have been in Competition before.

  • Roman Polanski returns to the Croisette with World War II Holocaust drama “The Pianist,” 26 years after the Competition jury snubbed his “The Tenant” (1976).

  • Twenty minutes of Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” will receive a special screening.

  • Thin presence of Scandinavian, Latin American and (compared to last year) Japanese productions, plus (as usual) almost zero representation for Germany.

  • For the first time in decades, a documentary (Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” about the high school massacre and the international arms trade) is in Competition. Also, a pair of docus about Hollywood — “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and “Searching for Debra Winger” — are invited for special screenings.

  • Coincidentally, both Palestinian helmer Elia Suleimen (“Divine Intervention”) and Israeli director Amos Gitai (“Kedma”) have Competition entries.

15 nations repped

In all, 22 features from 15 countries will take part in the Competition, which was announced by president Gilles Jacob, artistic director Thierry Fremaux and managing director Veronique Cayla. Festival sources said 939 features from 89 countries were submitted to the Official Selection, marking the seventh year in a row that the number of films viewed has increased.

No films figure in the Competition this year from Japan, which had three in 2001, but two African films, Yasmina Bachir’s “Rachida” from Algeria and Adberrahmane Sissako’s “Heremakono” (Waiting for Happiness) from Mauritania, made the Un Certain Regard list. Conspicuously missing on the French side are the new films from high-profile femme directors Claire Denis, Catherine Breillat and Tonie Marshall.

Though many titles in Competition, such as Leigh’s “All or Nothing,” Polanski’s “The Pianist” and Bellocchio’s “The Religion Hour,” had been widely bruited in advance, other choices came from left field.

Moore’s docu “Bowling for Columbine” wasn’t on anyone’s guess list, although Moore was previously in Un Certain Regard with his feature “Canadian Bacon.” The last time anyone can recall documentaries having been part of the Cannes Competition was in 1956, when Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle’s “The Silent World” won the Palme d’Or and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “The Mystery of Picasso” copped the Special Jury Prize.

“The only thing we care about is the quality of the film,” Fremaux told Daily Variety when asked whether the competition isn’t meant to be a venue for narrative features. “Last year we had ‘Shrek,’ when for years Cannes didn’t welcome animated films. Moore’s film is a good film. It deserves to be in.”

No word on ‘Clones’

Fremaux used Yoda-like crypticness in reponse to queries about “Star Wars: Episode II –Attack of the Clones” receiving a “surprise” screening. “There are more rumors than surprises — and fewer surprises than rumors,” he said.

Though the Competition lineup of directors is filled with Cannes favorites, Fremaux insists the Competition and Un Certain Regard sidebar must be taken as a whole.

“If you pay attention to all the films we selected, including the special screenings or out-of-competition films, you can’t say they are always the same directors,” Fremaux said. “Yes, this year there are former Palme d’Or winners like Kiarostami and Leigh, but there are also three U.S. directors who are new to Competition and three new French ones.”

In a timely piece of programming, Israeli Gitai’s “Kedma,” about the arrival in Palestine of a group of Nazi death-camp survivors eight days before the creation of Israel in 1948, dukes it out in Competition with Palestinian Suleiman’s “Divine Intervention.” Pics are described by the fest as “two manifestos of peace.” Former is understood to have been a last-minute selection.

“You have no idea how many films were late this year,” Fremaux said. “We were making decisions up until last night.”

Four films in competition were shot on video: Abbas Kiarostami’s “10,” Michael Winterbottom’s “24 Hour Party People,” Sokurov’s “Russian Ark” (which is a single 96-minute take) and Jia Zhangke’s “Unknown Pleasures.” For the first time, the Palais will be equipped with digital projection equipment, with filmmakers able to choose the format they prefer.

Longest film in Competition is “The Pianist,” which clocks in at 148 minutes, beaten only by Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 165-minute “Devdas,” from India, in the Out-of-Competition section. Most pics in the Official Selection are comfortably under two hours.

Woody Allen’s opener will be preceded by a 26-minute montage of festivals past, “Histoires de Festival” (Festival Stories), put together by fest prez Gilles Jacob, who celebrates 25 years at the event this May. Claude Lelouch’s “And Now … Ladies and Gentlemen,” with Jeremy Irons, will shutter the fest.

Other films screening out of competition include Barbet Schroeder’s “Murder by Numbers,” Atom Egoyan’s Armenian Holocaust drama “Ararat,” DreamWorks’ new animated feature “Spirit,” with live musical accompaniment by Bryan Adams and voiceover by Matt Damon, Jean-Luc Godard’s 46-minute video “The Old Place” and a presentation by Martin Scorsese and cast members of part of “Gangs of New York.”

Scorsese heads the short film competition jury, which includes thesps Judith Godreche and Tilda Swinton and helmers Kiarostami and Jan Schutte.

Docu unspoolings

Other special screenings include Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein’s docu about veteran Hollywood exec Robert Evans, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” and Rosanna Arquette’s docu on over-40 actresses, “Searching for Debra Winger.”

The sidebar Un Certain Regard will present 21 films from 17 countries, with a heavy showing of Middle Eastern films. There are pics from Algeria, Turkey, Lebanon and, for the first time, an official selection from Syria.

Though the fest tried to brand the sidebar last year by choosing films by edgy name directors such as Todd Solondz, Abel Ferrara and Hal Hartley, this year, few of the directors’ names are recognizable and eight are frosh helmers.

“Often, once a director has been in Competition, he doesn’t want to be in Un Certain Regard,” Fremaux said. “But the films speak for themselves. They are wonderful films.”

This year, the festival is extending itself to the public by organizing a series of events, including public weekend outdoor screenings on the “Salle des Sables” of films by Jacques Tati and Billy Wilder and Croisette concerts by film composers such as Ennio Morricone and Francis Lai.

As a mini-fest within the fest, Cannes also will be showing seven of the 12 features originally announced for what was meant to have been the first Cannes Film Festival, in 1939; event was canceled at the last minute in September when Hitler invaded Poland. Titles include “The Wizard of Oz,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Union Pacific,” “Four Feathers” and Mikhail Romm’s “Lenin in 1918.” Six-member jury includes Berlin fest chief Dieter Kosslick and former Venice director Alberto Barbera.

Cannes also is launching what it calls “a new tradition” by screening 14 newly remastered and restored films, spotlighting the work of archives, cinematheques, studios and producers around the world in creating brilliant new prints. Among these will be Blake Edwards’ “The Days of Wine and Roses,” Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha,” Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter,” Jean-Pierre Melville’s “The Red Circle,” John Boulting’s “The Magic Box” and King Hu’s “Come Drink with Me.”

Two more sidebars offer retrospective screenings of three Paul Morrissey-Andy Warhol-Joe Dallesandro features, “Flesh,” “Trash” and “Heat,” and an homage to Raj Kapoor, “Prince of Bollywood,” in which the actor-producer-director’s late ’40s and early ’50s films “Aag,” “Barsaat” and “Awaara the Vagabond” will be presented.

(Lisa Nesselson in Paris contributed to this report.)


Hollywood Ending (non-competing) /U.S./Woody Allen

And Now…Ladies and Gentlemen (non-competing) /France-U.K./Claude Lelouch

The Son /Belgium/Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Spider /Canada-U.K./David Cronenberg
Unknown Pleasures /China-Japan-S. Korea/Jia Zhangke
Man without a Past /Finland/Aki Kaurismaki
The Adversary /France/Nicole Garcia
Demonlover /France/Olivier Assayas
Marie-Jo and Her 2 Loves /France/Robert Guediguian
Irreversible /France/Gaspar Noe
The Pianist /France-Poland-Germany-U.K./Roman Polanski
Divine Intervention /France/Elia Suleiman
10 /Iran/Abbas Kiarostami
Kedma /Israel-France-Italy/Amos Gitai
The Religion Hour (My Mother’s Smile) /Italy/Marco Bellocchio
Strokes of Fire /S. Korea/Im Kwon-taek
The Principle of Indecision /Portugal-France/Manoel de Oliveira
Russian Ark /Russia/Alexander Sokurov
All or Nothing /U.K.-France/Mike Leigh
Sweet Sixteen /U.K.-Germany-Spain/Ken Loach
24 Hour Party People /U.K.-U.S./Michael Winterbottom
About Schmidt /U.S./Alexander Payne
Bowling for Columbine (docu) /U.S./Michael Moore
Punch-Drunk Love /U.S./Paul Thomas Anderson

Ararat /Canada/Atom Egoyan
City of God* /Brazil/Fernando Meirelles
Devdas /India/Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Murder by Numbers /U.S./Barbet Schroeder
Spirit* /U.S./Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook

The Other Side /Belgium/Chantal Akerman
The Last Letter /France/Frederick Wiseman
To Be and To Have (docu) /France/Nicolas Philibert
Carlo Giuliani, Boy /Italy/Francesca Comencini
Women in the Mirror /Japan/Kiju Yoshida
The Old Place (short feature) /Switzerland/Jean-Luc Godard
The Kid Stays in the Picture (docu) /U.S./Brett Morgen, Nanette Burstein
Searching for Debra Winger (docu) /U.S./Rosanna Arquette

Rachida* /Algeria/Yamina Bachir
El Bonaerense /Argentina/Pablo Trapero
One Part of the Sky * /Belgium/Benedicte Lienard
Madame Sata* /Brazil/Karim Ainouz
Cry Woman /China/Liu Bingjian
Carnage* /France/Delphine Gleize
The Cat with Two Heads /France/Jacques Nolot
The Little Chinese Seamstress /France-China/Dai Sijie
Seventeen Times Cecile Cassard* /France/Christophe Honore
Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet /Germany-U.K./Victor Erice, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Chen Kaige, Aki Kaurismaki, Spike Lee, Wim Wenders
Double Vision /H.K.-Taiwan/Chen Kuo-fu
Bemani (To Stay Alive) /Iran/Dariush Mehrjui
Songs from My Mother’s Land /Iran/Bahman Ghobadi
Terra Incognita /Lebanon/Ghassan Salhab
Heremakono (Waiting for Happiness) /Mauretania-France/Abderrahmane Sissako
Sacrifices /Syria/Oussama Mouhamad
The Angel of the Right Shoulder* /Tajikistan/Djamshed Usmanov
Blissfully Yours /Thailand/Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Confession /Turkey/Zeki Demirkubuz
Fate/Turkey/Zeki Demirkubuz
Tomorrow La Scala!* /U.K./Francesca Joseph
Long Way Home* /U.S./Peter Sollett

Tango de Olvido /Argentina/Alexis Mital Toledo
Holding Your Breath /Australia/Anthony Lucas
Yoake, A Chewing Gum Story /Austria/Roland Zumbuhl
The Stone of Folly /Canada/Jesse Rosensweet
Mavrosoufitsa /Cyprus/Yannis Yapanis
Tai Tai /Hong Kong/Nicholas Chin
Eso Utan /Hungary/Peter Meszaros
A Very Very Silent Film /India/Manish Sha
Speel Met Me /Netherlands/Esther Rots
Daughter /U.S./Eduardo Rodrigues
Flying /U.S.Bruce Terris

*First feature

Days of Wine and Roses
/U.S./Blake Edwards
The Lady without Camelias /Italy/Michelangelo Antonioni
Kagemusha /Japan/Akira Kurosawa
The Night of the Hunter /U.S./Charles Laughton
The Red Circle /France/Jean-Pierre Melville
Fail-Safe /U.S./Sidney Lumet
The Magic Box /U.K./John Boulting
Il Posto /Italy/Ermanno Olmi
The Red Inn /France/Clauide Autant-Lara
Come Drink with Me /Hong Kong/King Hu
The Best Years of Our Lives /U.S./William Wyler
Pepe le Moko /France/Julien Duvivier
Max et les ferrailleurs /France/Claude Sautet
Singin’ in the Rain /U.S./Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

La loi du nord
/France/Jacques Feyder
The Wizard of Oz /U.S./Victor Fleming
Goodbye Mr. Chips /U.S./Sam Wood
Union Pacific /U.S./Cecil Be DeMille
The Four Feathers /U.K./Zoltan Korda
Boefje /Holland/Detlef Sierck
Lenin in 1918 /Russia/Mikhail Romm