On the eve of the Cannes Film Festival’s official selection announcement, a major competition prospect has emerged in Tommy Lee Jones’ frontier drama “The Homesman,” starring Jones and Hilary Swank as a claim jumper and a pioneer woman undertaking a perilous journey across the Midwest. Also featuring Meryl Streep, William Fichtner and Hailee Steinfeld, the film marks Jones’ first directorial outing since his 2005 Western, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” which walked away from the Croisette with two major prizes. Like “Three Burials,” “The Homesman” was financed and produced by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, which is also handling international sales on the film.
Also set to make its world premiere in Cannes is 20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which will receive an out-of-competition screening, in keeping with the festival’s tradition of bowing a U.S. studio blockbuster the first weekend. The sequel, directed by Dean DeBlois, is the latest of several DreamWorks toons that have filled the bill at Cannes over more than a decade, starting with 2001’s “Shrek” and 2004’s “Shrek 2” (both of which landed in competition), and continuing with 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda” and 2012’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.”
The selections of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “The Homesman” are among a handful of details to have emerged from under the usual veil of secrecy surrounding festival topper Thierry Fremaux’s down-to-the-wire selection process. Still, as previously reported, it’s a safe bet that Bennett Miller’s true-crime saga “Foxcatcher,” a Sony Classics pickup (it’s being sold internationally by Panorama Media) starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, will snag another of the 20 or so competition slots in play.
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The festival’s 67th edition is looking like a particularly strong one for Canadian auteurs: Competition veterans David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan will be back with “Maps to the Stars” and “The Captive,” respectively, and they’ll be joined by Quebecois enfant terrible Xavier Dolan, cracking the festival’s top program for the first time with his mother-and-child drama “Mommy” (he was previously at Cannes with “I Killed My Mother,” “Heartbeats” and “Laurence Anyways”). All three Canuck titles are being sold by eOne.
British masters will also be well represented, with Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall” (Wild Bunch) and Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” (Focus Features Intl.), a Sony Classics release Stateside, almost certain to make the competition cut. Also widely expected to compete is German helmer and Berlinale regular Christian Petzold with “Phoenix,” his latest collaboration with star Nina Hoss.
Likely to clock in with the competition’s most imposing running time will be Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s nearly three-and-a-half-hour drama “Winter Sleep.” It’s the longest entry to date from the Turkish auteur, who has one of the strongest Cannes track records of any current filmmaker; his “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” won the 2011 Grand Prix, shared with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “The Kid With a Bike.” Speaking of the Dardennes, the Belgian brothers will be back in competition this year as well, this time with their Marion Cotillard starrer “Two Days, One Night” (Wild Bunch), which IFC’s Sundance Selects is distributing Stateside.
The French-directed films in competition are always selected last, often at the 11th hour before the press conference. At this point, the titles still seriously in play include Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” (MK2), a German-French-Swiss co-production starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz; “Saint Laurent” (EuropaCorp), Bertrand Bonello’s biopic of the Gallic fashion designer; “The Blue Room” (Alfama), Mathieu Amalric’s adaptation of a 1964 Georges Simenon novel; “Bird People” (Films Distribution), Pascale Ferran’s relationship drama starring Josh Charles (“The Good Wife”) and Anais Demoustier; and “Eden” (Kinology), Mia Hansen-Love’s drama about the “French touch” electronic music movement.
Michel Hazanavicius, whose “The Artist” began its road to Oscar glory at Cannes in 2011, will be back at the festival with “The Search” (Wild Bunch), his latest collaboration with his star/wife, Berenice Bejo. It’s unclear where in the official selection the film will screen; it’s worth noting that “The Artist” was originally programmed out of competition before being upgraded to the main program, where it won Jean Dujardin the actor prize. Two French titles previously tipped for Cannes but not likely to be ready in time are Benoit Jacquot’s “Three Hearts” and Xavier Beauvois’ “La Rancon de la gloire.”
In a selection that’s looking somewhat slim on Asian titles, one of the stronger prospects would appear to be Japanese genre maestro Takashi Miike’s “Over My Dead Body” (Celluloid Dreams/Uconnect), a drama about a Kabuki actor and actress performing a play that begins to bleed into their daily lives. If programmed in competition, it would rep Miike’s second stab at the Palme in as many years, following last year’s ill-received “Shield of Straw.”
Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou’s “Coming Home” (Wild Bunch), his 12th collaboration with star Gong Li and a Sony Classics release in North America, is likely headed for an out-of-competition berth. Never far from the Croisette, prolific South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo (previously in competition with 2012’s “In Another Country”) will be back with “Hill of Freedom,” which seems a strong possibility for Un Certain Regard. Another Korean picture set for a berth in the official selection is Yoon Hong-seung’s thriller “The Target” (Gaumont/CJ Entertainment), a remake of Fred Cavaye’s “Point Blank.”
Two films set for the official selection are “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” (Coproduction Office), Swedish helmer Roy Andersson’s long-awaited follow-up to “You, the Living,” and “Welcome to New York” (Wild Bunch), Abel Ferrara’s drama about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair. Greek helmer Panos H. Koutras’ “Xenia” (Pyramide), a tale of two brothers searching for the father who abandoned them, will premiere in Un Certain Regard.
The Directors’ Fortnight sidebar, which announces its lineup April 22, could find a home for Chilean director Sebastian Silva’s English-language “Nasty Baby” (Versatile), starring Kristen Wiig. Also possibly Croisette-bound are “When Animals Dream” (Gaumont), a horror-thriller from Danish helmer Jonas Alexander Arnby, and “Respire” (Gaumont), the sophomore directing effort from French actress-helmer Melanie Laurent (“The Adopted”), both of which could surface in the official selection, Directors’ Fortnight or Critics’ Week. A French title sure to pop up in either the official selection or Directors’ Fortnight is “Bande de filles” (Films Distribution), the latest from Celine Sciamma (“Water Lilies,” “Tomboy”).
The Cannes Film Festival runs May 14-25. As previously reported, the festival will open with Olivier Dahan’s “Grace of Monaco,” starring Nicole Kidman, while “Party Girl,” the directorial debut of Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis, will kick off Un Certain Regard.
(Scott Foundas in New York and Peter Debruge in Paris contributed to this report.)