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Cannes: Pedro Almodovar, Terrence Malick, Bong Joon-ho Appear Headed for Competition (EXCLUSIVE)

Films from a number of big-name returning auteurs – including Xavier Dolan, Pedro Almodovar, Terrence Malick, Bong Joon-ho and Ken Loach – appear to have a lock on competing at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, making for a stronger and starrier lineup than last year’s slate, sources tell Variety.

Dolan’s “Matthias & Maxime” (in which he stars), Almodovar’s self-reflective “Pain & Glory” and two-time Palme d’Or winner Loach’s “Sorry We Missed You” are set to join Jim Jarmusch’s previously announced opening film, “The Dead Don’t Die,” in competition, sources say. Other high-profile Cannes alumni who appear poised to return in competition include Malick, with his World War II drama “A Hidden Life” (previously titled “Radegund”); Bong, with “Parasite”; Marco Bellocchio, with his Mafia thriller “Traitor”; Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, with “Ahmed,” a look at religious fundamentalism in Europe; and Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, with “Nighthawk.”

The lineup is scheduled to be unveiled in Paris on Thursday by Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux. The list is still being finalized, but many titles are fairly sure bets.

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Two titles from competition first-timers appear pretty much set: “Frankie,” from Sundance-winning U.S. helmer Ira Sachs, starring Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”), and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” an 18th century-set female-driven drama from French director Celine Sciamma.

Quentin Tarantino’s 1969-set film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, is still in post-production and might not be announced at Thursday’s news conference, though it is expected to screen at the festival. The director is eager to compete, numerous insiders close to the project told Variety, so a late entry to the selection could be possible. A May 21 berth for the film would seem fitting, as that would be the 25th anniversary of “Pulp Fiction’s” world premiere on the Croisette.

Sony’s “Little Women,” a star-studded ensemble directed by Greta Gerwig which is due in theaters Dec. 25, will not be among the films bowing at this  year’s Cannes Festival.

Besides Sciamma’s period drama, the selection of French movies – which is usually decided on last before the presser – is still up in the air. The few French films still in the mix for the competition are “Blue Is the Warmest Color” winner Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Mektoub, My Love: Canto Due”; Arnaud Desplechin’s “Oh Mercy,” a crime drama with Lea Seydoux; Alice Winocour’s “Proxima,” starring Eva Green as an astronaut; first-time helmer Ladj Ly’s “Les Miserables,” which is inspired by the 2005 riots in Paris; and potential Cannes newcomers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s “The Specials,” about two social workers (Reda Kateb and Vincent Cassel) helping children with autism. Nakache and Toledano were behind huge French hit “Intouchables.”

Also still in the running for competition are Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s “Ema,” Palestinian helmer Elia Suleiman’s “It Must Be Heaven,” Russian director Kantemir Balagov’s “Beanpole,” Austrian director Jessica Hausner’s English-language science-fiction film “Little Joe,” and Singaporean director Anthony Chen’s “Wet Season.”

Clarification: This story was updated to reflect that “Little Women” will not be screened at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival

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