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Tim Burton to bring a gothic twist to the Cannes jury presidency

US filmmaker Tim Burton will step outside his quirky, macabre comfort zone to preside over the most prestigious of all international film festivals. But what will strike his fancy among the often arty, dense and sombre competition offerings?


He’s crafted films around a vulgar exorcist (Beetlejuice), a wide-winged, pointy-eared superhero (Batman and Batman Returns), a gentle man with bladed fingers (Edward Scissorhands), an eccentric candy maker (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and – most recently – an adolescent girl with a freakishly fertile dream life (Alice in Wonderland).

Now he will step outside his quirky, macabre comfort zone to preside over the most prestigious of all the international film festivals. As head of the jury at Cannes this year, Tim Burton will be responsible for judging a set of painstakingly selected movies of varying languages, styles and subjects – and for overseeing the closed-door process by which winners are picked.

“Alice in Wonderland” (2010)

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007)

“Corpse Bride” (2005)

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005)

“Big Fish” (2003)

“Planet of the Apes” (2001)

“Sleepy Hollow” (1999)

“Mars Attacks” (1996)

“Ed Wood” (1994)

“Batman Returns” (1992)

“Edward Scissorhands” (1990)

“Batman” (1989)

“Beetlejuice” (1988)

“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (1985)

The choice of Burton as Cannes jury president is not a huge surprise. The US filmmaker served on the festival’s jury in 1997, and his lavish tales of outcasts are almost universally adored in France, even when critics Stateside sometimes gripe about his lackluster storytelling. Accepting France’s esteemed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres title in March, Burton noted that he felt more at home in France than in his native country.

Now cinephiles are left to wonder what kind of jury president Burton will be. The director has a singular visual imagination – his work blends gothic horror, childlike fantasy and perverse humour – and counts Japanese Godzilla flicks and the campy classics of “King of the B-movies” Roger Corman among his favourite films. But Cannes is short on that kind of fare, and the question lingers of what will strike Burton’s fancy among the often arty, dense and sombre competition offerings.

Predicting a jury president's preference

When the director served on French actress Isabelle Adjani’s jury in 1997, the Palme d’Or was shared between two films: Taste of Cherry, a meditative drama from Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami, and The Eel, a dark tale of murder and redemption from Japanese auteur Shohei Imamura. But neither of the winners necessarily reflected Burton’s penchant for playfully warped fairy tales and fantasia.

The past few years at Cannes show no consistent pattern in terms of the jury presidents’ personal tastes or the winning films, although some choices, in retrospect, seem to have been inevitable. Last year, French actress Isabelle Huppert’s jury gave the top prize to The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke, the very man who directed Huppert to her own Cannes glory (an acting prize for La Pianiste in 2001). The year before, US actor Sean Penn chaired a jury that awarded the prize to the socially conscious French drama The Class (Entre les murs), a film that likely appealed to his well-documented political awareness.

But in 2006, a jury headed by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, known for his lush, highly stylised romances, bestowed the highest honour upon Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a straightforward, rather dry historical drama about the Irish War of Independence. And rumour has it that 2004 jury president Quentin Tarantino wanted to give the Palme d’Or to the ultra-violent Korean revenge thriller Old Boy, but had to settle for a compromise that suited his fellow jurors: Michael Moore’s anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 – which, incidentally, ended up being one of the more contested winners in recent Cannes history.

At a recent press conference in Paris, Burton seemed eager to show that he is approaching his Cannes gig with no preconceived notions, and perhaps even a determination to part with his usual artistic universe. “I don’t have anything that I’m looking to see,” he said. “If you don’t go into something with a hardcore expectation, you’re more likely to be surprised and open to new things.”

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