A Cannes circle of friends

On festival circuit, jurors and helmers often have a history

CANNES -- Imagine that Bruce Willis has a film In Competition and Demi Moore is on the Cannes jury. Would this spell an unfair advantage? No doubt professional objectivity would prevail.

A comparable situation crops up this year with the inclusion on the main jury of French actress Jeanne Balibar, ex-partner of Mathieu Amalric, who stars in Arnaud Desplechin's Competition title "Un Conte de Noel" (A Christmas Tale). Balibar, who has two children with Amalric, starred in Desplechin's 1996 film "Comment Je Me Suis Dispute ... Ma Vie Sexuelle," which unspooled In Competition here.

"Christmas Tale," an ensemble piece about a family dealing with a child's terminal illness, also stars Chiara Mastroianni, who was the lead voice cast in 2007 Competition title "Persepolis," directed by another member of this year's jury, Marjane Satrapi.

With some already heralding Desplechin's film as a strong contender for top honors, the whisper on the Croisette is that the jury may have been packed to improve the chances for the first French winner of the Palme d'Or since 1987, when Maurice Pialat won with "Under Satan's Sun."

"The jury's made to measure," one veteran industry insider muttered.

But others might cite the potential for favoritism on the part of jury president Sean Penn toward the Clint Eastwood entry "Changeling." Penn won an Oscar for his role in Eastwood-helmed "Mystic River," which played In Competition here in 2003.

"Of course it's a concern," said Marie-Pierre Hauville, festival director of communications. "Jury members must not have any strong links to a film in competition. This certainly would have been raised with Thierry Fremaux to assure that they can remain artistically objective.

"The jury is the alchemy of a group of people and to prevail with an argument you must convince the other eight."

Six other jury members -- Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, Israeli/American actress Natalie Portman, French director Rachid Bouchareb, German actress Alexandra Maria Lara, Italian actor-director Sergio Castellitto and Thai helmer Apichatpong Weerasethakul -- will be on hand to alleviate any whiff of partisan voting once it comes to judging the 22 competing pictures.

The panel members will be able to declare their interests at a news conference in the Palais today at 2:30 p.m.