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Culture

French filmmakers dominate Cannes competition slate

©

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2013-04-18

The main line-up for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival has a surprisingly strong French flavour, with six of the country’s directors - including François Ozon, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Arnaud Desplechin – figuring on a 19-movie list.

It’s been a bruising few months for French cinema: cherished actor Gérard Depardieu left his native land for less highly taxed pastures; a Parisian producer set off a scorching debate with his editorial accusing French stars of pocketing exorbitant salaries; France’s official Oscar entry, “The Intouchables”, failed to even get a nomination; and “Amour”’s legendary leading lady, Emmanuelle Riva, travelled all the way to Los Angeles to see her category’s Academy Award handed to 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence (on Riva’s birthday, no less).

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But Thursday morning’s press conference in Paris announcing the main competition slate for this year’s Cannes Film Festival (to take place in the sun-kissed French Riviera city from May 15 to 26) should be enough to lift Gallic spirits.

There are a whopping six French filmmakers present in the 19-movie line-up - the highest proportion in nearly 25 years – alongside widely predicted US directors like the Coen brothers, Steven Soderbergh, Alexander Payne, and James Gray.

French filmmakers out in force

Marine Vacth in François Ozon's "Jeune et jolie".

François Ozon, famous for erotically charged films like “Under the Sand” and “Swimming Pool”, will unveil “Jeune et jolie” (“Young and Pretty”), about a pleasure-seeking teenage prostitute. On the other end of the narrative spectrum, much lesser-known French filmmaker Arnaud des Pallières will compete for the coveted Palme d’Or prize with “Michael Kolhaas”, about a 16th century horse-merchant.

Actress-filmmaker Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi (sister of former French First Lady Carla Bruni) is the only female director on the central competition slate this year; her film, “Un chateau en Italie”, focuses on a family forced to sell its home and stars the director herself and French heartthrob Louis Garrel. The lack of women directors in the line-up drew ire from French feminists last year, and if the films by the two female heavyweights in the Un Certain Regard section (considered the second most prestigious selection) – Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and Claire Denis’s “Les Salauds” (“The Bastards”) – are warmly received, expect heated questions about why they were left off the main roster.

Tunisian-born French director Abdellatif Kechiche, whose films “L’Esquive” (“Games of Love & Chance”) and “La graine et le mulet” (“The Secret of the Grain”) were rich, naturalistic examinations of a vital multicultural France, will be at Cannes for the first time with a change of pace: “La vie d’Adèle” (“The Life of Adèle), a love story between two young women, one of whom played by rising French star Léa Seydoux. The movie has a three-hour-plus running time, but Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux noted (perhaps jokingly?) at the press conference that he was trying to convince Kechiche to trim the length before the festival.

Artistically admired but personally controversial French-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski will present his French-language adaptation of “Venus in Fur”, an intense two-character play about an actress (played by Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner) and a director she wants to work with (played by Mathieu Amalric).

And Arnaud Desplechin (who made the labyrinthine, brilliantly acted family sagas “Kings and Queen” and “A Christmas Tale”) will tackle English-language material in “Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)”, which reportedly revolves around a Native American and his therapist, played respectively by Benicio del Toro and Mathieu Amalric.

If Desplechin’s film seems to reflect the ever-emerging trend of a globalised cinema, so does another French-flavoured entry, “Le Passé” (“The Past”). Directed by Iranian Ashghar Farhadi, who rose to international acclaim with the excellent “A Separation”, the movie is set in Paris and headlined by French stars Bérénice Béjo (of “The Artist”) and Tahar Rahim (of “A Prophet”).

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Another hotly anticipated border-hopping entry is Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to his hit “Drive”: “Only God Forgives”, a Thailand-set crime thriller starring Ryan Gosling (again) and Kristin Scott Thomas and described by Frémaux as “essentially a Thai film”.

Sturdy, expected American contingent

The American titles read out at Thursday’s press conference had been largely tipped for selection by Cannes prognosticators: the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis’, about the New York City folk music scene in the 1960s and led by an attractive young cast including Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Garrett Hedlund; James Gray’s long-awaited and recently renamed period drama “The Immigrant”, starring Marion Cotillard as a Polish immigrant in New York and Joaquin Phoenix as the man who persuades her to become a prostitute; Alexander Payne’s black-and-white father-son road film “Nebraska”; and Steven Soderbergh’s “Beyond the Candelabra”, a romantic biopic featuring Michael Douglas as famously extravagant musician Liberace and Matt Damon as his much younger chauffeur and lover.

The presence of three Asian films in competition – new works from China’s Jia Zhangke (“Still Life”, “The World”) and Japan’s Takashi Miike (“Audition”, “13 Assassins”) and Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Nobody Knows”, “Still Walking”) – was no great surprise.

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Less expected was the news that Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun would be back in the running for the Palme d’Or with “Grigis”, after taking home the third-place Jury Prize in 2010 for “A Screaming Man”. Haroun’s new movie reportedly tells the story of an aspiring male dancer whose dreams are derailed by a life of petty crime.

No Arab or Israeli directors were selected for the main competition this year, despite many predicting that Israel’s Ari Folman (who made the devastating animated documentary “Waltz with Bashir”) would be at Cannes with an upcoming film, “The Congress”.

The 19 movies announced Thursday morning were meticulously selected from 1,858 entries submitted to a secrecy-cloaked committee led by Frémaux and longstanding Cannes president Gilles Jacob.

In other words, as always when it comes to the world’s most prestigious film festival, hopes couldn’t be higher.

Date created : 2013-04-18

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