Cannes picks stir spat

Fremaux denies Branco's claims

PARIS — The day after unveiling its official selection the Cannes Film Festival has come under fire for nixing “Ma mere” (My Mother), a sexually explicit incest-themed pic starring Isabelle Huppert.

Artistic director Thierry Fremaux vehemently denied producer Paolo Branco’s claims Thursday that the festival had promised to give the pic a midnight screening May 15, but backed out at the last minute because of the film’s steamy, hard-core content.

The spat is unusual because, however bitchy the selection process may get behind the scenes, in France industryites usually keep a respectful silence afterward if they didn’t make the cut.

“We selected ‘The Brown Bunny’ and ‘Irreversible,’ which shows we are not afraid of programming explicit films,” said Fremaux. “It is preposterous to suggest that we refused ‘My Mother’ on these grounds. We never said it would get a midnight screening because we never wanted the film.”

Helmed by Chrisophe Honoré, the pic is based on a short story about mother-son incest by the cult 20th-century erotic writer Georges Bataille. Huppert plays the libidinous mom.

Honoré’s first film “Dix-sept fois Cecile Cassard” was screened in Un Certain Regard in 2002.

Too much complaining?

Veteran arthouse producer Branco, a regular at Cannes with the films of Raul Ruiz, Manoel de Oliveira and other auteurs, broke the unwritten rule about Cannes complaints in an interview with journalists in which he also moaned about the U.S. presence this year.

“The argument was that there were too many French films. But that is absurd because there are eight American films,” he said. “Maybe Georges Bataille is still the victim of a kind of censorship.”

Huppert had also lobbied heavily for the film to get into Cannes. Huppert won actress honor at the fest in 2001 for her performance in another sexually raw pic, “The Piano Teacher,” which nabbed the Grand Prix and landed her co-star Benoit Magimel actor kudo.

Branco also had a dig at supposed tensions between Fremaux and his predecessor and current prexy, Gilles Jacob.

“I don’t want to be the victim of an internal conflict between the president of the festival and the artistic director in a power game,” Branco pronounced.

Fremaux knocked that rumor on the head Thursday. “There is absolutely no conflict between myself and Gilles as anyone who has seen us together knows,” he told Variety.

This is the first year that Fremaux has had full control of the selections, as Jacob stepped back for the first time since Fremaux’s arrival at the fest three years ago. Indeed Jacob is said not to have viewed any of the films submitted this year.

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