The Cannes plan comes together

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NEW YORK -- The official lineup for the Festival de Cannes won't be announced until next month, and the fest itself doesn't kick off until May 14. But already the slate is starting to take shape -- and continuing a trend of recent years, it appears to be a particularly polyglot prospectus.

Where Cannes once spotlighted films with distinctively national characteristics, truly international productions are now in vogue.

A large number of the titles likely to appear on the Croisette this year have overlapping U.S. and international roots. U.S. distributors will bring films from foreign directors, foreign-language helmers will showcase films featuring Hollywood stars, and U.S. directors will unveil movies they shot in a foreign country or language.

Two years ago, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel," with its intersecting, globe-trotting story lines, captured that spirit. Last year, Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" -- a French-language movie from a U.S. director and U.S.- and France-based producers -- was among the buzz titles of the festival, at which Wong Kar Wai's English-language, Norah Jones-starring "My Blueberry Nights" provided the curtain-raiser.

A number of films with similarly diverse pedigrees are said to be strong Cannes candidates this year as Thierry Fremaux -- who was upped in August from artistic director to delegate director -- and his staff make their final selections.

Steven Soderbergh's twin Che Guevara movies, "The Argentine" and "Guerrilla" -- both primarily in Spanish -- are expected to debut at the 2008 edition. Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," a Weinstein Co. release and the New York director's first foray in a non-English-speaking country, also is a candidate.

Another English-language director who has explored international themes, frequent Cannes attendee Michael Winterbottom, is expected to bring a movie with a global setting to the fest: The director's "Genova," about a British widower and his two daughters who relocate to Italy, is seen as a strong Cannes bet.



Almost as common on the Croisette as English-language directors with globally oriented movies is the trend's opposite: foreign directors with English-language films and U.S. stars.

Bertrand Tavernier is close to completing "In the Electric Mist," his New Orleans-set detective story starring Tommy Lee Jones. Vietnamese filmmaker Anh Hung Tran is on the radar with his English-language debut, the Josh Hartnett thriller "I Come With the Rain." Fernando Meirelles could bring his sophomore English-language film "Blindness," a parable about a blindness plague that stars such U.S. actors as Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Danny Glover and that will be distributed by Miramax. (Brazilian filmmaking could be well represented at the festival if Walter Salles' "Linha de Passe" also gains entry, as some in the industry say it will.)

Wim Wenders, perhaps the paragon of mixing cultures and countries, also could crash the party with his "The Palermo Shooting." The movie, about an intergenerational love affair, is marked by an Italian setting and financing, a German character and such U.S. stars as Dennis Hopper and Milla Jovovich.

Italy, meanwhile, could have strong representation of its own on the Croisette. Two-time Palme d'Or nominee Paolo Sorrentino, whose "Il Divo" centers on controversial political powerbroker Giulio Andreotti, is expected to be a selection. Matteo Garrone's "Gomorra," another potential contender, takes on contemporary organized crime in Italy -- the author of the book on which it's based is under police protection -- and if the movie debuts in Cannes, it could be one of the most logistically delicate premieres in years. Other Italian entrants could include "Sangue Pazzo" from Cannes veteran and multiple prize winner Marco Tullio Giordana.

Potential controversy won't be limited to Italy, however. Enfant terrible Michel Houellebe, who in the past has made politically provocative statements about Islam, is likely to bring "La Possibilite d'un Ile," a sci-fi film he adapted and directed from his own novel.

Elsewhere in France, Souad el Bouhati's "Francaise," which stars Hafsia Herzi and revolves around themes of immigration and identity, is a strong contender. And if Cannes decides to counter last year's so-called "American invasion" by upping the quota of homegrown films, there's also Arnaud Desplechin's "Un conte de Noel," starring French screen royalty Catherine Deneuve; Francois Dupeyron's "Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera"; and Bertrand Bonello's "De la guerre," with familiar Cannes faces Asia Argento and Mathieu Amalric.

Across the Channel, with British Cannes regulars Mike Leigh and Ken Loach out of production synch this year, it might be up to the new guard to represent the U.K. on the Croisette. Among the titles tipped are two Keira Knightley films: Saul Dibb's period drama "The Duchess" and John Maybury's "The Edge of Love," a romantic biopic about Dylan Thomas.

Other British titles with Cannes buzz are Gerald McMorrow's directorial debut "Franklyn," a dystopian look at a futuristic London under religious sway, and, if the selection committee also is interested in a more proper English setting, Julian Jarrold's new adaptation of "Brideshead Revisited," which is in postproduction.

Meanwhile, from Asia, Wong could be back with "The Ashes of Time Redux," his reworking of his own 1994 martial arts film.



As in recent years, international co-productions are almost as popular as other global crossbreeds. Ari Folman's animated wartime documentary "Waltz With Bashir" is seen as a favorite for Cannes; the movie, from an Israeli director, has Israeli, French and German production companies behind it. Ditto for the Danish-German-Czech co-production "Flame & Citron," a World War II thriller from Danish director Ole Christian Madsen. And French director Barbet Schroeder shot his latest film, "Inju," in Tokyo with a largely Japanese cast.

At least one title with strong international and U.S. overlap, Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut "The Burning Plain" -- shot in the U.S. and featuring, among others, Kim Basinger -- might not be ready in time. A cut of the 2929 Prods. film was completed several weeks ago, but word is that the film might not make a Cannes premiere.

Among other titles drawing attention as Cannes prospects but that might not be ready for the festival include Clint Eastwood's period crime drama "Changeling" and James Gray's romantic drama "Two Lovers." Gray was attached to the mega-sale of last year's fest, "We Own the Night."

If many of the titles in competition are expected to have a distinctly global flair, a number of out-of-competition slots could be filled with large Hollywood tentpoles.

Chief among them of course is "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which has been rumored as an opening-night film, a closing-night film and everything in between.

New Line's "Sex and the City," which opens in many territories shortly after Cannes at the end of May, is seen as a strong candidate to debut at the festival. The HBO show from which it springs is immensely popular in France, and the series' last season was partly set in Paris.

And DreamWorks Animation, which has displayed a knack for capturing the attention of the captive media, is expected to stage another publicity extravaganza for its June tentpole "Kung Fu Panda," a move that would mirror its push last year for "Bee Movie."

Gregg Goldstein, Stuart Kemp in London, Eric J. Lyman in Rome, Rebecca Leffler in Paris and Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, contributed to this report.
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