There's a distinct pattern beginning to emerge in the subject matter explored in the Official Competition at Cannes.
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14 May 2011 - 6:08 PM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 12:52 PM

Maybe it's because mother's day's just been and gone, or maybe the Cannes selectors are just working through some issues, for the subject of neglectful parents is looming large over this year's competition program.

The biggest example is Tilda Swinton's turn as a gaunt mother plagued by guilt about her own role in the rearing of a mass murderer in Lynne Ramsey's exquisite We Need To Talk About Kevin, but she's not alone; French actor/director Maïwenn Le Besco offers up a revolving parade of incestuous paedophiles and deadbeat mums and dads through the Parisian child protection unit offices in Polisse. The film is a fly-on-the-wall-style feature about the working and personal lives of the CPU officers in the Paris arrondisement of Belleville.

Yesterday, the term 'Parental deficit' showed up in the least likely of places – Nanni Moretti's ironic melodrama about a reluctant pope with performance anxiety and social phobia, Habemus Papem (We Have A Pope). When the new Pope runs crying from his inauguration, the Holy See calls in the services of a shrink (Moretti) to get to the bottom of the problem. Discretion forbids any mention of the usual hot-button mental health triggers such as sex, but a subsequent second opinion from an impartial observer raises the idea of parental deficit as the root cause of the new pontiff's depression.

Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In is yet to screen here at Cannes but the plot cites the pivotal involvement of a maternal figure in aiding its plastic surgeon protagonist, (Antonio Banderas) work through the grief of losing his lover, by cultivating a prototype for a new form of skin that is resistant to all forms of assault.

And it's not just the mamas under the micrpscope: Terence Malick's Tree of Life is set to explore the complicated relationship between a father and his son; ditto Joseph Cedar's Hearat Shulayim (on the immense rivalry between two brilliant father/son professors); ditto the Dardenne brothers' The Kid With a Bike (a 12 year-old tries to late the father who abandoned him); and ditto again, Paolo Sorrentino's This Must Be the Place (a rock star returns to New York after the death of his estranged father).

The cumulative effect of the festival's 10 days of introspection could make the closing ceremony of Cannes more akin to a group therapy session for jury president Robert De Niro and his charges.