Cannes flexes ‘X’

Fox actioner, 'Fountain' fly to France

How do you say “Wolverine” in French?

The 59th annual Cannes Film Festival will have a strong Hollywood presence thanks to Fox’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” and Warner Bros.’ “The Fountain,” both starring Hugh Jackman, plus a 20-minute preview of Paramount’s Oliver Stone pic “World Trade Center” and a slew of other U.S. pics, including toons and docs.

Stone will also be honored as part of a 20th anniversary tribute to “Platoon.”

Until the official selection lineup is unveiled April 20, nothing is written in stone. But, with a reported 12 of the 20-plus competition titles now in place, the mix is dominated by English-language and European pics, while light on Asian titles.

As previously announced, the fest gets off to an American-international start on May 17 with Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code,” helmed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks.

Only other title officially announced by the fest is the multi-director “Paris, I Love You,” which opens official selection sidebar Un Certain Regard on May 18.

Fest artistic director Thierry Fremaux, as usual, is opting for an eclectic mix.

After a fallow last year, DreamWorks returns to the fest with its latest toon, “Over the Hedge,” about a raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) and a turtle battling encroaching suburbia. Pic is targeted for a noncompeting slot, as is “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which opens worldwide during the fest’s second week.

Among documentaries showing in noncompeting slots, there’s “Al Gore: An Inconvenient Truth” and “John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend,” directed by Sam Pollard and produced and written by Kenneth Bowser, which will be linked to a screening of a restored version of “The Searchers.”

Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain,” in which Jackman stars with Rachel Weisz, will be showing “somewhere” in the official selection, per fest insiders, as will actor-director John Cameron Mitchell’s heavily sexual New York ensembler “Shortbus,” Rolf de Heer’s Aussie Aboriginal drama “Ten Canoes” and Rachid Bouchareb’s “Days of Glory,” a big-budgeter about North Africans who fought alongside the French in WWII.

Films very likely to find slots, based on final jigsaw puzzling of the program, are two Mexican features, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Babel,” featuring Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt and Gael Garcia Bernal in a trio of stories set around the world, and “The Violin,” by Cannes Cinefondation alum Francisco Vargas, based on his own short, as well as Richard Linklater’s ensembler “Fast Food Nation,” with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, from Fox Searchlight, and Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-lingo horror movie “Pan’s Labyrinth,” set in northern Spain.

Definitely set for the competition is “Marie Antoinette,” Sofia Coppola’s costumer with a pop tune score based on Antonia Fraser’s biography and starring Kirsten Dunst, Rip Torn, Judy Davis and Jason Schwartzmann. The Columbia/American Zoetrope production screens May 24 and goes out Stateside in October.

On the other hand, a film that previously looked like a sure bet, “The Good German,” Steven Soderbergh’s B&W post-WWII Berlin murder mystery, with Blanchett, George Clooney and Beau Bridges, is still in post-production and will very possibly not be completed in time. WB releases pic in the fall, but one can be sure a fest slot will be made available at the last minute should it be ready.

Five longtime Cannes favorites — Pedro Almodovar, Ken Loach, Aki Kaurismaki, Nanni Moretti and Marco Bellochio — will be returning in May with their latest films. Almodovar will bring “Volver,” starring Penelope Cruz and already one of his biggest hits in Spain, for a May 19 Croisette bow; Loach will offer “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” a portrait of Republicans in early 20th-century Ireland, a French-Irish-U.K. co-production scripted by Loach regular Paul Laverty and starring Cillian Murphy; Kaurismaki will be back with “Lights at the Edge of the City,” the final leg in his “unemployment trilogy,” centered on a night watchman and a sexy femme in the suburbs of Helsinki; Moretti has his anti-Berlusconi comedy-drama “The Cayman,” also a local hit and Bellochio will present “The Wedding Director,” a Sicily-set drama, with Sergio Castellito.

Also certain for the competition are “Climates,” by Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan (whose “Distant” won two prizes at Cannes in 2003); and “Selon Charlie,” French thesp Nicole Garcia’s fifth directorial outing, with Jean-Pierre Bacri and Vincent Lindon. At least two more French features will be added to the lineup late in the selection process.

On the cusp is “The Weakest Is Always Right,” Lucas Belvaux’s comedy, with Natacha Regnier, Eric Caravaca and Belvaux himself. Belgian actor-director, who drew attention with his 2002 “Trilogy,” makes his first appearance on the Croisette.

The word around Paris is that the competition is taking a more mainstream turn this year. “It’s a clear strategy that, if a film is too arid, it won’t get a competition slot, regardless of whom the director is,” one sales agent told Daily Variety. However, that message doesn’t seem strongly reflected in the selections so far, which are sending out mixed signals very typical of artistic director Thierry Fremaux’s reign.

Ironically, in a year when one of Asia’s most celebrated directors, Wong Kar Wai, is jury prez, the 2006 official selection looks to be Asia-light compared with recent years. “Hana,” Hirokazu Kore-eda’s drama centered on a samurai plotting revenge on his father’s killer, is the sole Asian title that looks likely to be headed for the competition.

That’s partly due to bad timing, with many major titles not yet ready; fall fests, especially Venice, look to reap Asia’s harvest this year. Still to be seen by Cannes selectors are “Still Life,” by China’s Jia Zhangke (“The World”), “Summer Palace” by Lou Ye (“Suzhou River”), South Korean f/x-heavy monster drama “The Host” by Bong Jun-ho (“Memories of Murder”) and Johnnie To’s “Election 2.”

Traditionally, a considerable amount of juggling between sections takes place in the final weeks, and many films have still to be seen by the program committee. Fremaux also may have some real discoveries up his sleeve, though so far his selections seem to tilt toward established names and Cannes regulars.

Strong candidates for Un Certain Regard, which Fremaux has so far tried to reinvent as the official selections’ more challenging sidebar, include South Korea indie drama “The Unforgiven,” by first-timer Yoon Jong-bin; Italian thesp Kim Rossi Stewart’s directorial debut, “Anche libero va bene”; and Kaze Shindo’s “Korogare! Tamako,” a manga-esque story about an eccentric young woman suffering from agoraphobia.

Several titles are not ready for Cannes, including the Steven Shainberg-helmed “Fur,” a biopic of ’60s photog Diane Arbus, starring Nicole Kidman; Brian De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia,” with Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson; and “Inland Empire,” David Lynch’s California-set mystery, with Laura Dern, Harry Dean Stanton and Jeremy Irons. A Studio Canal production.

Directors Fortnight topper Olivier Pere said his section may also see a drift away from Asia and toward Europe. Already confirmed among the 20-odd titles are Sundance entry “The Hawk Is Dying”; Catalan pic “The Honor of the Knights,” a Don Quixote riff by first-timer Albert Serra; and “We Shouldn’t Exist” by France’s Herve-Pierre Gustave, an autobiographical pic about an adult-movie thesp’s attempts to cross over to the mainstream.

Pere says he’s taking advantage of the extra selection time this year. With the fest a week later this year, he still has over three weeks to nail titles for his May 2 press conference.

(Adam Dawtrey in London, Patrick Frater in Hong Kong, John Hopewell in Madrid, Alison James in Paris, Nicole LaPorte in Hollywood, Ian Mohr in New York and Mark Schilling in Tokyo, Nick Vivarelli in Rome contributed to this story.)