Newbies, Latin pix on Croisette calendar

Competition mixes fest favorites with new names

Beyond the usual U.S. tentpoles and French pics, the rest of Cannes’ Official Selection dances to a Latin beat.

Around a fifth of the 59 features that make up the Official Selection’s three sections — Competition, Out of Competition, Un Certain Regard — come from Spanish-, Portuguese- or Italian-speaking countries.

Two Italian directors (regulars Nanni Moretti and Paolo Sorrentino) are repped in Competition, alongside two Mexican helmers (Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Inarritu) both new to the Official Selection. Inarritu’s “Babel,” with Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt and Gael Garcia Bernal, released by Paramount Stateside, is even a U.S. production (Anonymous Content).

Competition, at a trim 19 titles, artfully mixes Croisette favorites such as Pedro Almodovar, Ken Loach and Aki Kaurismaki alongside known or established names new to the section.

Among the newcomers are Sofia Coppola (costumer “Marie-Antoinette”), who began her Cannes career in Directors Fortnight with “The Virgin Suicides” (1999), and Inarritu, who was discovered by Critics Week six years ago with “Amores perros.”

Other Competition newcomers were nurtured by fests like Toronto and Venice, including Richard Linklater (“Fast Food Nation”), Belgium’s Lucas Belvaux (“The Weakest Is Always Right”) and Portuguese minimalist Pedro Costa (“Youth on the March”).

As such, artistic director Thierry Fremaux maintains Cannes’ Competition as a platform to be aspired to, rather than one of discovery. Only one Competition feature is a first work: Scottish-set experimental drama “Red Road” by the U.K.’s Andrea Arnold, who won an Oscar for her short “Wasp.”

Fremaux has bundled seven of the debut features into sidebar Un Certain Regard, which is the usual mix of international titles peppered with some more familiar names (Italo vet Marco Bellocchio, Australia’s Rolf de Heer).

France is heavily repped throughout the Official Selection: A third of the titles have Gallic production coin. However, few of this year’s French helmers are household names, with only Nicole Garcia and Bruno Dumont meaning much, even in fest circles.

Big loser this year is Asia, with no films from Japan and only one drama from South Korea, “The Unforgiven” (in Un Certain Regard).

In a year when the main jury has an unprecedented two Chinese members (prez Wong Kar Wai and actress Zhang Ziyi), Chinese cinema is more substantially repped. There are two works from the Mainland (Wang Chao’s “Luxury Car” and Lou Ye’s “Summer Palace”), two from Hong Kong (Johnnie To’s “Election 2” and Oxide Pang’s “Re-Cycle”) and one from Taiwan (swordplay spectacle “Silk”).