Critics' Week, Latin beat at Cannes

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PARIS -- The 46th Festival de Cannes International Critics' Week will offer a taste of Latin America with a French twist, judging from today's unveiling of the sidebar's lineup.

With 13 first films competing for the Camera d'Or, and 14 directorial debuts among the 16 total features selected, "we're really fulfilling our mission to discover tomorrow's cinema," Critics' Week artistic director Jean-Christophe Berjon said. "We're here to promote research, new forms and new talents. We want to show good films from promising filmmakers. It's OK if a film isn't perfect."

The sidebar kicks off May 17 with France's "Heros" (Heroes), Bruno Merle's debut film starring Gallic comedian Michael Youn in an atypically serious role as a man responsible for warming up the audience on the set of a TV show who ends up kidnapping a famous singer.

Mexican actor-turned-helmer Gael Garcia Bernal, the sidebar's ambassador, will present his first turn in the director's chair, "Deficit," a drama centering on a family gathering where different social classes clash.

"Gael was an obvious choice," Berjon said. "He's a young actor who has worked on almost every continent, an actor who has surpassed his role as an actor because he produces, he distributes, he really works hard to promote cinema education in Mexico, he invests himself in film, he experiments.

"The idea is that a director who starts his career at Critics' Week will come back once he or she has made it and support younger filmmakers who are just starting out. This allots a large amount of exchange for the young directors -- with the guest of honor, with each other, and with the public. It's not just coming with a film, trying to sell it and leaving."

Lina Chamie will represent Brazil with her second feature, "A via lactea" (The Milky Way), about a couple who have a violent phone conversation and agree to meet -- except that the city of Sao Paulo comes between them.

From Mexico, Ernesto Contreras will present his first film, "Parpados Azules" (Blue Eyelids), about the romance that develops between two lonely strangers.

The Official Selection also will be welcoming the Critics' Week sidebar for an unprecedented special screening of Mexican Simon Bross' "Malos Habitos."

Other Spanish-language special screenings include Pablo Fendrik's "El Asaltante" from Argentina, Juan Antonio Bayona's "El Orfanato" from Spain and the FIPRESCI's Revelation of the Year, Rafa Cortes' "Yo," also from Spain.

"This year, our favorite films were very, very Latin," Berjon said. "They have a certain freshness to them, a liveliness. When we all got together, everyone had about one or two Latin films they loved, sometimes the same titles, sometimes not. It was rather exceptional."

In addition to the opener, Le French touch is on display with David Oelhoffen's "Nos Retrouvailles," starring Jacques Gamblin and Nicolas Giraud as a long-separated father and son reunited.

France also is a co-producer of three other films In Competition, though Berjon finds it increasingly difficult to determine a film's nationality. "We could fill our selection of world programming with only French co-productions, since France is so present," he said.

Micha Wald's "Voleurs de chevaux," a Belgian-French co-production starring Gregoire Colin and Adrien Jolivet, tells the story of two horse-stealing brothers who set out to rob a young Cossack and kill his brother.

Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen's Franco-Israeli film "Meduzot" (Jellyfish) follows three women living in Tel Aviv.

And "XXY," a Franco-Spanish-Argentinian coming-of-age story about a girl with a physical deformity and the challenges she and her family face, marks Argentinian Lucia Puenzo's directorial debut.

"There is a huge discrepancy in French cinema today, between an auteur cinema that's very, very 'auteuristic' and doesn't speak to a general public and more commercial films," Berjon said. "We want to defend both the smaller, more experimental films as well as a cinema more audience-oriented but that doesn't forget the art of cinema."

The sidebar showed just a little love for Asia, selecting Daihachi Yoshida's family dysfunction film, "Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!" from Japan In Competition.

With a U.S.-saturated Official Competition category at the festival, Critics' Week has stayed away from American fare but will close with Cecilia Miniucchi's "Expired," starring Samantha Morton and Jason Patric as a meter maid and traffic officer who embark on a tumultuous love affair. Berjon attributes the scarcity of U.S. films to the fact that many titles the sidebar was considering had already screened in January at the Sundance Film Festival.

Bulgarian documentary "The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories" by Andrey Paounov and a French-Austrian-Nigerian co-production, Newton Aduaka's "Ezra," round out the out-of-competition programming.

Meanwhile, three films were named to round out the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's "The Red Balloon," rumored to be an official selection front-runner from the start, will be the prestigious section's opening film May 17. The French production starring Juliette Binoche follows a boy and his baby-sitter through an imaginary world.

Argentinean film "La Novia Errante" by Ana Katz and "You, the Living" by Sweden's Roy Andersson complete the selection.

Jean-Pierre Limosin's "Young Yakusa" will be shown as a special screening, and Mehdi Charef will present his new film, "Cartouches Gauloises," during an evening devoted to Algeria on May 25.

The Cannes Classics program will be announced Wednesday.
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