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Cannes Film Festival names Iran, Russia dissidents in Palme d’Or race

Georges Pierre, Flore Maquin, Cannes Film Festival | The festival's official poster this year features an image from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film “Pierrot le Fou”.

The Cannes Film Festival has urged Tehran and Moscow to let outspoken directors Jafar Panahi and Kirill Serebrennikov visit the French Riviera next month as it unveiled the line-up for the 71st edition of the world’s top film gathering.


The directors’ latest works are among 18 films that will be competing for cinema’s most coveted prize at the glamorous festival, which runs May 8-19 in southern France.

Unveiling the line-up on Thursday, festival director Thierry Frémaux said French authorities were supporting a plea to Iran to allow Panahi to present his new film "Three Faces", and then "let him return home". The director of "Taxi", which won the Golden Bear at Berlin three years ago, is banned from leaving his country.

Frémaux said a similar request would be made regarding Serebrennikov’s “Leto” (“Summer”), about the underground rock scene in the Soviet Union. The Russian filmmaker faces up to 10 years in prison on fraud charges that critics say are Kremlin payback for his political views.

Panahi and Serebrennikov will be up against the likes of Matteo Garrone ("Dogman"), Jia Zhang-Ke ("Ash is Purest White") and Spike Lee, who makes his long-awaited return to the Riviera. One of the most politically-charged entries, Lee's "BlacKkKlansman" will tell the story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer in Colorado who went undercover in 1978 to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.

Fifty years after he helped stage a mutiny at the 1968 Cannes festival, film legend Jean-Luc Godard is also back in the race with his latest experimental movie “Le Livre d’image” (“The Image Book”), described as a “revolutionary song in five chapters”. A picture from another Godard classic, “Pierrot le Fou”, has been chosen for this year’s poster.

Critics hoping to see more women directors selected in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns will be disappointed that only three made the cut: Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki (“Capharnaüm”), Italy’s Alice Rohrwacher (“Lazzaro Felice”) and France’s Eva Husson with “Les Filles du soleil” (“Girls of the Sun”), a portrayal of Kurdish female fighters battling the Islamic State (IS) group.

Adding to the (relatively small) French contingent is Stéphane Brizé, who reunites with Cannes best actor laureate Vincent Lindon in “En guerre” (“At War”), and Christophe Honoré with “Plaire, aimer et courir vite” (“Sorry Angel”).

Also in the running for the Palme d'Or are Cannes habitués Kore-Eda Hirokazu ("Shoplifters"), Lee Chang-Dong ("Burning") and Asghar Farhadi, whose Spanish-language debut effort "Everybody Knows", starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, will provide the festival's glitzy curtain-raiser.

Although Hollywood stars are fewer than usual, Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield will be among the big names strolling the famed red carpet. And the latest Star Wars spin-off, "Solo: A Star Wars Story", will also land on the Croisette, out of competition.

The line-up, which includes a first-time competition slot for Egypt's A.B. Shawky ("Yomeddine"), gives this year's event an especially global outlook. It also features a number of suprising omissions, including "The House That Jack Built", the serial killer drama that was expected to bring banished director Lars von Trier back to Cannes seven years after he infamously said he "understood" Hitler.

When quizzed on the subject, Frémaux did add, however, that he would be giving more news about von Trier's film "in a few days".

Netflix no-show

Thursday's press conference had been overshadowed by the latest twist in the festival's festering dispute with Netflix, coming just hours after the streaming behemoth said it was pulling all of its films from Cannes.

Netflix's pullout – which appeared timed to spoil Frémaux's line-up announcement – came in retaliation for a new festival rule banning movies that are not given a full theatrical release in France from the Palme d’Or race.

>> Read more: Netflix movie overcomes jeers and glitches in Cannes

In a scathing interview with industry magazine “Variety” on Wednesday, Netflix Chief Operating Officer Ted Sarandos made no secret of his irritation with the prestigious film festival, which he said needed to “modernise”.

"It is not a coincidence that Thierry also banned selfies this year," Sarandos quipped, referring to Frémaux’s much-debated decision to ban "ridiculous" and time-consuming selfies from the red carpet. He added: "I don't know what other advances in media Thierry would like to address."

Netflix productions that were believed to be in the running for Cannes included Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" and Paul Greengrass's eagerly awaited "Norway", about the 2011 Utoya massacre carried out by white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik.

But the biggest blow to the festival’s cinephile director will almost certainly be the loss of a Netflix-funded restoration of Orson Welles’ final unfinished film, “The Other Side of the Wind”, touted as the highlight of the Cannes Classics sidebar.

In yet another twist, Welles' daughter Beatrice stepped into the feud on Thursday, begging Sarandos to reconsider. In an email to the Netflix executive, that was made available to "Vanity Fair", she detailed the support Cannes had afforded her father over the years, and the studio strife that crippled his career.

“I saw how the big production companies destroyed his life, his work, and in so doing a little bit of the man I loved so much,” she wrote. “I would so hate to see Netflix be yet another one of these companies.”

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