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Cannes: Films Jockeying for Position in Ultra-Competitive Lineup

Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” and Bruno Dumont’s “Slack Bay” are in, Bertrand Bonello’s “Paris Is Happening” is out, and a few other key titles remain too close to call as the Cannes Film Festival prepares to announce its biggest and most tightly packed official selection lineup in recent memory.

While many of the titles reported in Variety’s recent in-depth festival overview remain on the docket as expected, one can expect any number of surprise last-minute decisions and switcheroos as the selection process goes down to the wire. Although the buzzy likes of Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster” and Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG” were locked in for out-of-competition slots weeks ago, the fate of Oliver Stone’s “Snowden,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, remains up in the air.

The competition is said to be maxed out, and will likely exceed its usual volume of 20 titles or fewer. As a result, many movies that could have expected primo placement in a less busy year will instead spill over into the festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar, or wind up in out-of-competition or special screening slots. All these sections will be announced by festival delegate general Thierry Fremaux, along with the competition, at Thursday morning’s press conference in Paris.

Among the most recent developments, Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” a low-key slice-of-life starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani, has just been confirmed for a competition slot alongside two already reported titles from American directors: “Loving,” Jeff Nichols’ portrait of a controversial biracial marriage, and “The Last Face,” Sean Penn’s Liberia-set drama starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem.

Other high-profile titles that look to be sure things for competition include Pedro Almodovar’s Alice Munro adaptation “Julieta,” which opened recently in Spain; Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” starring Isabelle Huppert; “The Unknown Girl,” the latest from Belgium’s two-time Palme d’Or-winning Dardenne brothers; the Marion Cotillard-starring “It’s Only the End of the World,” from Canada’s Xavier Dolan; the Berenice Bejo-starring “Sweet Dreams,” directed by Italy’s Marco Bellocchio; and “American Honey,” the first U.S.-produced feature from the British helmer Andrea Arnold. Also likely to compete, though still unconfirmed, are Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon,” a Los Angeles-set horror film starring Elle Fanning; and an untitled new drama from the Iranian master Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation,” “The Past”).

“The Woman in the Silver Plate,” a French-language film from the prolific Japanese genre maven Kiyoshi Kurosawa, has secured a competition berth after having originally been tipped for Un Certain Regard. (Kurosawa’s countryman Hirokazu Kore-eda will be in Un Certain Regard with his latest work, “After the Storm.”) Kurosawa will be one of at least three Asian directors vying for the Palme, including “The Handmaiden,” the latest from the Korean gore-meister Park Chan-wook, and “Apprentice,” a prison drama from the Singaporean director Boo Junfeng (who landed in the Critics’ Week sidebar with his 2010 debut, “Sandcastle”).

By all accounts, one of the most formidable contenders for the Palme will be “Sierra-Nevada,” a family drama from the Romanian auteur Cristi Puiu, who was previously in Un Certain Regard with “Aurora” (2010) and “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005). Less certain is the fate of another Romanian heavyweight, Cristian Mungiu (a Palme winner for 2007’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”); his latest feature, “Family Photos,” could wind up in either the competition or Un Certain Regard. (And those are just two of the many Romanian titles in play throughout the festival, the others being Bogdan Mirica’s “Dogs,” Catalin Mitulescu’s “By the Rails,” Calin Peter Netzer’s “Ana, mon amour” and Radu Jude’s “Scarred Hearts.”)

The Cambodia-born French director Tran Anh Hung’s “Eternity” looks to be headed for the festival’s closing-night slot, bookending the already announced opening-night film, Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.” Both films will play out of competition.

As always, the biggest question mark concerns what festival delegate general Thierry Fremaux and his selection committee plan to do with the plethora of worthy French contenders this year — the sheer volume of which tops even last year’s bumper crop, in which five Gallic titles (including Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan,” the eventual Palme d’Or winner) wound up in competition. While this year’s game of musical chairs will likely keep playing out until the last minute, sources close to the festival have noted that, after weeks of tussling, Dumont’s period comedy “Slack Bay” has secured a competition berth — a major coup for this two-time Grand Prix winner, as it had been assumed the film would go to Directors’ Fortnight.

The three other French titles that look like solid competition players at this stage are Olivier Assayas’ Kristen Stewart-starring “Personal Shopper,” which will screen the first weekend (barely 48 hours after Stewart’s appearance in “Cafe Society”); “Orpheline,” a Gemma Arterton-starring drama from Arnaud des Pallieres, who was previously in competition with “Michael Kohlhaas”; and Rebecca Zlotowski’s 1930-set supernatural drama “Planetarium,” with Natalie Portman.

Other French titles in the running for slots in the official selection (and possibly competition) include “Staying Vertical,” from Alain Guiraudie (who scored a major critical hit in Un Certain Regard with 2013’s “Stranger by the Lake”); “Heart,” directed by Katell Quillevere (who has had films play in Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight); and the Cotillard-starring “From the Land of the Moon,” from Nicole Garcia. One film that can be decisively ruled out of the official selection and Directors’ Fortnight is Bonello’s “Paris Is Happening”; while the director has a strong competition track record with “Saint Laurent” (2014), “House of Pleasures” (2011) and “Tiresia” (2003), his latest work would seem to have fallen victim to its edgy, terrorist-themed subject matter as well as plain bad timing.

The Cannes Film Festival runs May 11-22.

(Elsa Keslassy and Peter Debruge in Paris contributed to this report.)

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