Cannes: Directors Dominate Competition Jury

Spielberg heads up the most star-studded Cannes jury in recent memory.
Spielberg heads up the most star-studded Cannes jury in recent memory.
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For the first time since 2005, a majority of the members of the Cannes Film Festival jury are directors. Led by president Steven Spielberg, the group includes Ang Lee (the man who beat him to the best director Oscar this year); former Palme d'Or winner Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days); Scottish helmer Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin); and Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase -- like Ramsay and Mungiu, she is a festival regular who won Cannes' Grand Prix for The Mourning Forest in 2007.

It is a rare Cannes jury where the directors have the deciding vote. The last time it happened, under jury president Emir Kusturica seven years ago, the Palme d'Or went to that pair of directors' directors, the Dardenne brothers, for their raw, minimalist social drama The Child. It will be interesting to see whether this year's jury favors Competition titles that clearly bear the mark of their maker, as opposed to those that stand out for screen performances.

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Not to say that actors won't have their say. The remaining four jury members are Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz, French star Daniel Auteuil and Bollywood blockbuster actress Vidya Balan. Aside from Balan, whose appointment could be read as a nod to Cannes' special tribute to Indian cinema this year, all are Cannes regulars. Waltz and Auteuil have won the best actor honor at the French festival, and Kidman has been center stage on several of the most memorable Cannes films of the past few years, from Moulin Rouge! to Dogville to last year's The Paperboy.

The jury lineup follows what by now has become standard practice for Cannes: appointing big-name talent to the famed group of nine who choose the Palme d'Or. What is missing this year is the surprise choice -- a juror similar to designer Jean Paul Gaultier from last year or Norwegian writer Linn Ullmann in 2011 -- who could provide an outside voice to the proceedings.

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What Cannes definitely has got right, however, is the balance between mainstream cinema and international art house. While Spielberg, Waltz, Kidman and Lee could be said to represent the former, the remaining jurors fit solidly into the auteur tradition. Interestingly, all four actors in the group are of that rarest of breeds: the critical darling who also is an audience favorite.

What also is clear is that Cannes 2013 is shaping up to be a blockbuster year. A lineup that includes the latest from Steven Soderbergh, Roman Polanski, Alexander Payne and the Coen brothers as well as wild cards such as Denmark's Nicolas Winding Refn and Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, combined with the most star-studded jury in recent years, sets the bar very high indeed.

In a few weeks, we'll if see whether the 66th festival turns out to be a true vintage or a spoilt promise. 

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