Inside Move: Warm front blows in to Cannes

Fest organizers cozy up to H'wood with '04 picks

HOLLYWOOD — Hollywood has a new cultural ambassador to France — Shrek.

DreamWorks’ popular animated ogre is jetting to Cannes to compete for the Palme d’Or at a black-tie screening at the Palais du Film, part of a festival lineup shot through with Hollywood product.

Marking a distinct turnabout from recent years, this year’s Cannes seemingly went out of its way to mend fences with the major studios.

Fest prexy Gilles Jacob, speaking last week at a press briefing, suggested he wants the fest to be more hospitable to the cultural mainstream.

“These days, people are not prepared to sit through long, boring arthouse films,” he mused. “Films have to hold the audience’s interest from beginning to end.”

He may or may not have been alluding to “Elephant,” the hallucinatory, no-budget documentary-style drama about an American high school massacre that won last year’s Palme d’Or.

Indeed, the only U.S. films in competition last year were dark and cynical. Vincent Gallo‘s “The Brown Bunny” drew derisive hoots from at least one Cannes audience, and became an emblem of the Mandarin tastes of the festival jury.

Warner Bros. did give last year’s event a jolt of Hollywood glitz, staging the European premiere of “The Matrix: Reloaded,” punctuated by a resounding fireworks display. But that pic was not in competition.

This year, expect more aud-friendly fare. Expected to join Shrek on the Croisette are Tom Hanks, star of Disney’s competition title “The Ladykillers,” and Brad Pitt, star of Warner Bros.’ “Troy,” which is screening out of competition.

Jury prexy Quentin Tarantino‘s “Kill Bill Vol. 2” has an out-of-competition screening, as do Dimension’s “Bad Santa” and U’s “Dawn of the Dead.”

At pains to put last year’s strained relations behind him — the few U.S. or U.S.-related films screened at Cannes were attacked in some quarters as anti-American — artistic director Thierry Fremaux has fostered close relations with U.S. studios, helmers and critics.

Last week, he talked up the fest’s friendly rapport with Hollywood.

“The more I go to the U.S., the more I’ve the feeling that things are getting better and better,” he said. “We have established a relationship of confidence.”

Not that this means the Franco-American cultural rift has mended entirely. Also in competition is “Farenheit 911,” a full-frontal attack on the Bush administration by Hollywood gadfly Michael Moore.

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