Until the 65th Festival de Cannes gets underway on May 16th with Wes Anderson's 1960s-set Moonrise Kingdom, we can only speculate as to whether 2012 will be a banner year or not. Festival director Thierry Frémaux says, "I didn't reveal last year's line-up in a triumphant tone of voice because we had no idea whether it would be a triumph. Turns out, it was. So I'll maintain an even-keeled delivery this year." For gloating and boasting, look elsewhere.
The selection committee received 1,779 submissions and Frémaux says every last one was watched and discussed and its merits weighed "no matter who made them or where they come from”. Somehow, 22 of those titles ended up in the Competition.
None of them were directed by women. Bummer. But all of them were made by individuals who qualify as card-carrying Film Directors. On paper – or its digital equivalent – every title sounds promising. Unless, that is, you hate movies by, say, David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis, based on Don DeLillo's 2003 novel about a day in the life of a 28-year-old multi-billionaire) or Walter Salles (On the Road, based on Jack Kerouac's trailblazing book).
While the post-announcement Twit-o-sphere hummed with the allegedly pulse-revving revelation that both Kristen Stewart (On the Road) and Robert Pattinson (Cosmpolis) will be attending, serious film buffs may see different stars in their constellation.
For example, Michael Haneke's Amour (Love) stars Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, as well as Isabelle Huppert. Riva (born 1927) was Alain Resnais' exquisite heroine in his 1959 masterwork, Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Trintignant (born 1930) regularly announces that he's not going to act in movies anymore, something he said back in, oh, 1994 when he co-starred with Mathieu Kassovitz in Jacques Audiard's feature debut, Cannes Critics Week entry, See How They Fall.
Audiard, whose A Prophet was a much-admired Cannes hit in 2009, is in Competition this year with Rust and Bone (right), a peculiar-sounding boxing tale starring Marion Cotillard and Bullhead's Antwerp-born Matthias Schoenaerts. Frémaux singled out Belgium as "a country that provides many talented people for French-language cinema”. In fact, if you start examining passports, you'd see that there are at least as many Belgians in French movies as there are Australians in American ones.
Resnais, now 89, is in Competition with Vous n'avez encore rien vu. The approved translation appears to be You Haven't Seen Anything Yet, although a nod to Al Jolson's famous intro-to-talkies pronouncement "You ain't heard nothin' yet!" has a, well, jazzier ring to it. This adaptation of French dramatist Jean Anouilh's 1941 play Eurydice (performed as both Point of Departure and Legend of Lovers on the English-language stage) concerns a deceased theatre maven who, posthumously, summons all the actors who ever appeared in his stagings of Eurydice to dissect their performances with an eye toward a new rendition of the material.
While Resnais is still very much still with us, Claude Miller, whose Thérèse Desqueroux will close the festival on May 27th, died on April 4th, immediately after putting finishing touches on the film. The aforementioned Riva starred as the title character in Georges Franju's 1962 film version of Thérèse Desqueyroux (below).
While perhaps not as tricky to pronounce as the name of 2010 Palme d'Or-winning director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (whose Mekong Hotel is part of the Special Screenings in Official Selection), the name Thérèse Desqueyroux takes some practice for most English-speakers; the prospect of Audrey Tautou as the title character, who fed her husband arsenic in the French countryside in the 1920s before being sequestered and forced to live on wine and cigarettes, is not unappealing. What's more, the character of Thérèse appears in three other François Mauriac novels. Could a franchise be far behind? (Uh, yes, it could, merchandising tie-in opportunities for arsenic being what they are.)
While pointing out that "American movies aren't necessarily made by American directors," Fremaux is excited about the possibility that "American cinema is back," the subtext being that American movies are getting made that beef up the viewer's brain cells rather than turning them to mush.
The second-longest film in Competition (at 2 hours and 15 minutes, it's 5 minutes shorter than On the Road) boasts the shortest title: Mud, by Jeff Nichols, the 33-year-old American writer-director behind the promising Shotgun Stories and the stunningly effective Take Shelter, a prize-winning highlight of last year's strong Critics Week line-up.
In addition to Audiard, Resnais and (out of Competition) Miller, France is represented by Leos Carax's Holy Motors, featuring his long-time collaborator Denis Lavant, Eva Mendes and, uh, Kylie Minogue. Why? Well, why not? However Kylie appeared on Carax's auteurist radar, the prospect is tantalising.
And lookie here, Edith Scob is also in Holy Motors. Scob (born 1937) began her film career in 1958 with (him again!) director Georges Franju, with whom she made four films, including the 1959 classic Eyes Without a Face. Scob is the third-billed cast member of Franju's aforementioned Thérèse Desqueyroux – she plays the love interest of two characters, one of them female.
Headline writers were pleased to learn that Brad Pitt is coming to Cannes. Film enthusiasts are happy about that, too, since Pitt has reteamed with Andrew Dominik for whom he starred as notorious bandit Jesse James in the splendid, underseen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Killing Them Softly is "an urban police thriller starring Pitt, who lights up the film with his talent and his flair for choosing projects," said Frémaux.
Chopper director Dominik has made two oustanding films in a row – maybe Killing Me Softly will be the third. We can be certain it's the only film at Cannes adapted from a novel (Cogan's Trade, 1974) by an author (George V. Higgins) who, in his capacity as a lawyer, represented American revolutionary Eldridge Cleaver.
Speaking of talented Australians, Nicole Kidman will be in Cannes in connection with two films. Kidman has the female lead (opposite Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron as journalist brothers and John Cusack as a convicted murderer) in The Paperboy, directed by Lee Daniels, whose Precious made a much-debated splash. And in Hemingway & Gellhorn (right), opposite Clive Owen, Kidman plays Martha Gellhorn, the beyond-plucky war reporter who left her spouse and fellow writer Ernest Hemingway. Directed by festival honouree Phillip Kaufman, the film has an out of competition slot. Kaufman, whose U.S. space program classic The Right Stuff is right up there with his Milan Kundera adapatation, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and whose Henry and June made absolutely perfect use of Maria de Medeiros and Uma Thurman, will give the festival's annual master class, the 'Leçon de cinéma'.
Another certified master, Bernardo Bertolucci has a special slot with Me and You, the director's first Italian-language film in three decades and his first feature since The Dreamers in 2003.
It's been two paragraphs since I mentioned Australia. John Hillcoat (The Road), working from a screenplay by Nick Cave, tells a tale set in the U.S. during Prohibition in Lawless, starring Jessica Chastain, Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy. "The themes are similar to those dear to Clint Eastwood," says Frémaux.
Palme d'Or winner Ken Loach is back with the Scottish whisky comedy The Angels' Share and Palme d'Or winner Cristian Mungiu is back with Beyond the Hills which, according to Frémaux, "is about exorcism and redemption." Palme d'Or winner Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love was shot in Japan.
Youri Nasrallah's After the Battle portrays the people who deposed Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. For the first time since 1998's Festen helped launch the Dogme95 movement, Thomas Vinterberg of Denmark returns to Competition with Jagten (The Hunt).
With Post Tenebras Lux, Carlos Reygadas of Mexico is likely to fill jury president Nanni Moretti's request, per Frémaux, that he "see films that he hasn't seen five times before”. This one dwells "on the edge of experimentation," says Fremaux. "People believe in this kind of art cinema and distributors buy it." So there.
Ukranian director Sergei Loznitsa follows My Joy with In the Fog, set in German-occupied Belorussia in 1942.
For what it's worth, both Austrian films include 'love' in their titles. Ulrich Seidl competes alongside countryman and Palme d'Or winner Haneke with Paradies: Liebe.
Frémaux is obviously proud of the Special Screenings line-up, which includes a doc about Roman Polanski (a restored version of Tess will also be shown); Sébastien Lifshitz's Les Invisibles, a look at early 20th century gay life in France when the very concept of "coming out" was as fanciful as landing on the moon; and Germany's Fatih Akin with a film about how garbage (the odoriferous kind) is dealt with in a Turkish village.
In Un Certain Regard, the non-competitive companion to the main line-up, one finds David Cronenberg's son, Brandon, making his directing debut with Antiviral; another sit-up-and-take-notice Canadian, Xavier Dolan, with Laurence Anyways (right), which clocks in at 2 hours and 41 minutes during which Melvil Poupaud embraces his feminine side; and Koji Wakamatsu's 11.25 The Day He Chose His Own Fate about prolific author Yukio Mishima's ritual suicide in 1970.
Frémaux described first-time Indian director Ashim Ahluwalia's Miss Lovely as being "Mean Streets meets Boogie Nights" insofar as it concerns an Indian pornographer. (Next year, India's film industry will celebrate its centenary in Cannes. Pornographic material goes back even further, if ancient friezes are taken into account.)
Nabil Ayouch's Les Chevaux de Dieux examines how children are turned into terrorists with Marrakech their target.
The film least likely to spark a bidding war for American remake rights is almost certainly the multi-director omnibus 7 Days in Havana, in which Benecio Del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Elia Suleiman, Juan Carlos Tabio, Gaspar Noe and Laurent Cantet each recount a foreigner's experience in Cuba.
For those always on the lookout for 'new' trends and categories, how about 'Incredibly talented strawberry blonde non-Asian actresses working with Asian directors'? Tilda Swinton stars in Weerasethakul's Mekong Hotel and Isabelle Huppert stars in Hong Sang-soo's Competition entry In Another Country. (Fellow Korean, Im Sang-soo competes with Taste of Money.)
Which films might court controversy this year? Italy's Matteo Garrone, whose Gomorrah was a stunning indictment of how relentlessly 'organised' organised crime really is, is back with Reality (pictured, top), about the less-than-admirable influence of reality TV. Chinese director Lou Ye, who was banned from filmmaking for five years after displeasing the authorities with the unauthorised presence in Cannes of his Summer Palace – set in part during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 – is due back with Mystery, which Frémaux characterises as a look at contemporary China.
And then there's Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted in 3-D. Frémaux specified: "It takes place, in part, not so far from Cannes because the animals in their travels go through Monte Carlo."
Monaco is famous for gambling and so is the Cannes Film Festival. You can bet on it.