The anniversary party

French titles dominate as Directors' Fortnight celebrates 40 years on the Croisette

The Directors' Fortnight will have a decidedly Gallic flavor as it celebrates its 40th anniversary in Cannes this year, with more than half its 22 titles produced or co-produced by France and just one title hailing from the U.S.

The sidebar will open with Jerzy Skolimowski's Franco-Polish co-production "Four Nights With Anna."

Bertrand Bonello's "De la Guerre" (On War) will bring Mathieu Amalric and Asia Argento back to the Croisette after a high-profile presence at last year's fest.

Claire Simon's "Les Bureaux de Dieu" explores women's sexual freedom at a family planning center and stars festival veteran Nathalie Baye alongside Nicole Garcia, Beatrice Dalle and Isabelle Carre.

Other all-French productions include Cannes newcomer Nicola Sornaga's "Monsieur Morimoto" and Croisette vets Jean-Marie and Arnaud Larrieu's "Le Voyage aux Pyrenees."

French-language films include Algerian director Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche's "Le Dernier Maquis" and a pair of France-Belgium co-productions from Belgian helmers: Bouli Lanners with "Eldorado" and Joachim Lafosse with "Eleve Libre."

"This simply demonstrates the strong presence of French producers all over the world. Does the fact that a film has a French producer take away its nationality? I don't think so," artistic director Olivier Pere said in an interview.

The U.S. is conspicuous by its absence in this year's Fortnight, with only Josh Safdie's whimsical first feature, closing night film "The Pleasure of Being Robbed," programmed in the main selection.

Among the special screenings and events scheduled to celebrate the parallel sidebar's 40th anniversary is the May 18 unspooling of director Olivier Jahan's "40x15," a history of the sidebar produced by Gaul's MK2. Also screening is Robert Kramer and John Douglas' "Milestones," a 1975 Directors' Fortnight title never released theatrically, which will play May 19.

"I'm not a big fan of birthdays in general," Pere said, adding that the selection wasn't influenced by the 40th anniversary festivities planned. "These films were chosen for the lineup just like any other year," he said.

Pere and his selection committee sorted through 2,049 entries to choose the final selection, which also boasts a strong Eastern European presence.

In addition to Skolimowski's opener, Radu Muntean will represent Romania with "Boogie," the story of two men reminiscing on the exploits of their youth.

Bakur Bakuradze of Russia will present his first film, "Shultes," and fellow first-time filmmaker Slovakian Juraj Lehotsky will screen "Blind Loves," a documentary focusing on the relationships between blind people.

While Lehotsky's film is the only documentary in the selection, "this year, there is a strong presence of films that highlight the relationship between documentary and fiction. The link between cinema and reality is a trend that really interests us," Pere said.

Argentina's Pablo Aguero, a 2007 Cinefondation Atelier veteran, will present his first film, "Salamandra," about a mother struggling to raise her son in Patagonia.

As with the official selection and Critics Week sidebar this year, Asian titles are noticeably lacking on the lineup list, with Chinese Yin Lichuan's "Knitting" the only film from that continent.

The Directors' Fortnight runs May 15-25. (partialdiff)