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Palme piloting

Topper punches up his first Cannes lineup

LONDON — With only six days to go until the Cannes Film Festival unveils its lineup, one thing’s for sure: The lights are going to burn even deeper than usual into the night up until the announcement at fest HQ on the Rue Amelie in Paris.

Artistic director Thierry Fremaux, in his third year in the job and his first in full charge of the selection — former topper Gilles Jacob now takes a purely presidential stance — is under the gun like never before.

Following last year’s unparalleled (if, in retrospect, rather unfair) criticism of the Official Selection, Fremaux has to prove Cannes still deserves to be called the world’s premier film fest on an increasingly level playing field.

While there is an unusual degree of last-minute juggling this time around, a number of titles have bubbled to the surface for the fest, which runs May 12-23.

With some 20 slots to fill in Competition, the following look certain to go head-to-head for this year’s Palme d’Or: Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education,” which opens the fest; Walter Salles’ Sundance discovery “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which unspools May 17; the Coen brothers’ “The Ladykillers” from Disney, on May 18; Emir Kusturica’s “Life Is a Miracle”; “Woman Is the Future of Man,” by South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo; “La nina santa,” second feature by Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel, a drama centered on a girl who sets out to save an old man’s soul; and “Comme une image,” the sophomore outing by France’s Agnes Jaoui.

Definite for special screenings in the Official Selection are Wolfgang Petersen’s epic “Troy” from Warner Bros., on May 13, a day before its Stateside release; DreamWorks’ “Shrek 2” on May 15; and fest closer “De-lovely” from MGM and director Irwin Winkler, all out of competition. Terry Zwigoff’s “Bad Santa” also will be shown in a noncompeting slot.

Antonioni casts an ‘Eye’

Italian vet Michelangelo Antonioni, 91, will be repped by a short, “Michelangelo’s Eye,” about the artist’s marble statue of Moses, and Iranian fave Abbas Kiarostami by “Five,” the second part of a diptych begun with “10” in 2002.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Bosnian war-set opus, “Our Music,” will get a special noncompetitive screening, as will the South Korean psycho-chiller “Old Boy” by Park Chan-wook, in a midnight slot.

Potential last-minute Competition slots are being held open for Wong Kar Wai’s much-delayed opus “2046,” with Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li; Michael Moore’s doc “Fahrenheit 9/11”; and latest pic by South Korean veteran Im Kwon-taek, a 1970s-set gangland yarn tentatively titled “Lower Class Life.”

All have yet to be viewed by the selection committee.

Still undecided late Thursday were the Competition fates of Zhang Yimou’s kung-fu spectacular “House of Flying Daggers,” with Andy Lau and Zhang Ziyi, shot in Ukraine and China and picked up by Columbia for the U.S.; Mike Leigh’s dark 1950s story of a female abortionist, “Vera Drake,” starring Imelda Staunton; and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Japanese-funded “Coffee Time” (aka “Cafe Lumiere”), recently resubmitted in re-edited form.

Also still awaiting news were Spanish vet Carlos Saura, with his rural drama “The Seventh Day,” starring Victoria Abril, and Portuguese helmer Joao Canijo, with noirish thriller “Dark Night,” about the Russian mafia in Iberia.

Two other French titles still seen as frontrunners are Olivier Assayas’ “Clean,” with Jeanne Balibar CQ, Maggie Cheung and Beatrice Dalle, shot half in English; and Christophe Honore’s “My Mother,” starring Isabelle Huppert.

Other directors still in the mix are Icelandic vet Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, with “Niceland”; U.K. director Amma Asante, with Brenda Blethyn starrer “A Way of Life”; Iranian helmer Bahman Ghobadi (“A Time for Drunken Horses”) with a new feature; and Stephen Hopkins with HBO drama “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” starring Geoffrey Rush. Last title may screen as a special event.

In that Regard

Firmed for Un Certain Regard section are actor-director Sergio Castellitto’s Italian hit “Don’t Move,” with Penelope Cruz playing a glammed-down Albanian; a film by Japanese cult fave Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Hungarian Nimrod Antal’s striking debut, “Control,” a subway thriller; Uruguayan helming duo Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s “Whisky”; from Australia, Cate Shortland’s coming-of-ager “Somersault,” centered on an adolescent girl in a ski resort; and from Germany, Angela Schanelec’s “Marseille.”

Among notable pics nixed by the Official Selection are Wim Wenders’ “Land of Plenty”; Shane Meadows’ “Dead Men’s Shoes”; Marek Kanievska’s “A Different Loyalty,” with Sharon Stone and Rupert Everett; Shona Auerbach’s Glaswegian heartwarmer “Dear Frankie” (a Miramax pickup); Brad McGann’s “In My Father’s Den,” a U.K.-New Zealand co-prod starring Matthew MacFadyen and Miranda Otto; Paul Pawlikowksi’s “My Summer of Love”; and Damien O’Donnell’s “The Whole World.”

These titles could still, however, turn up in other sections of the fest.

The Directors Fortnight, under new head Olivier Pere, is likely to skew toward arty fare.

Titles tipped to show up in the list, to be announced April 27, include “Spider Forest,” by South Korea’s Song Il-geon; Katsuhito Ishii’s “The Taste of Tea”; Sebastian Cordero’s thriller “Cronicas,” starring John Leguizamo and Leonor Watling; Daniele Gaglianone’s Italian youth drama “No Help From Fate”; Jonathan Caouette’s Sundance hit “Tarnation”; and another Sundance find, Jacob Aaron Estes’ “Mean Creek.”

(Adam Dawtrey in London, Alison James in Paris, John Hopewell in Madrid, Anna Marie de la Fuente in Los Angeles, Don Groves in Sydney, Gunnar Rehlin in Stockholm, Nick Vivarelli in Rome and Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.)

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