As Berlinale wraps, eyes turn to Cannes

Jockeying beings for Croisette

With the jury still out on where this year's Berlin lineup will rate on the Dieter meter, attention is beginning to focus on the selection for the Festival de Cannes.

The Riviera event marks its 60th anniversary when it unspools May 16-27, suggesting fest president Gilles Jacob will want to inject some extra glitz. But artistic director Thierry Fremaux said the landmark will not influence his choice of movies for Competition.

After the poor reception given to last year's opener "The Da Vinci Code," pressure is on to find a more crowd-pleasing title. One option under consideration is the hugely ambitious documentary "earth," which offers a dazzling look at natural life on our planet.

"We're already speaking to Cannes about being the opening film. We're sending an unfinished mix to Cannes at the end of February," said Sophokles Tasioulis of Greenlight Media, who co-produced the movie with the BBC. The movie is distributed in France by Gaumont, which has previously handled opening-night duties with "The Fifth Element" and "Vatel."

A more conventional contender is "Ocean's Thirteen" from Palme d'Or winner Steven Soderbergh. And one that would allow for a top-flight red carpet gala given the Warner Bros. picture's all-star cast headed by George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Al Pacino.

Warner's Iraq-themed movie "The Valley of Elah" written and directed by Paul Haggis starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and James Franco is also in the running. "It's not out of the question," said a source.

Although it is still too early for titles to have received any locked-down slots, Fremaux looks to have a good choice of titles from both the U.S. and France.

Among the former is Cannes golden boy Quentin Tarantino's exploitation double-feature "Grind House," co-directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is one possible for out of Competition. Paramount Pictures' fantasy adventure "Stardust," starring Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller and Michelle Pfeiffer, may also show up. "Spider-Man 3" is thought unlikely, since it bows in the U.S. ahead of the festival. Twentieth Century Fox top brass in Berlin hinted that the studio would not be positioning anything for the Croisette this year. Despite early speculation that DreamWorks' "Shrek the Third" would make the trip, the odds now seem to be lengthening.

The Coen brothers' adventure drama "No Country for Old Men," starring Tommy Lee Jones, for Paramount Pictures should be ready, as should Palme d'Or winner Gus van Sant's "Paranoid Park," produced by French indie MK2.

But selectors might be wary of criticisms about packing the lineup with familiar faces.

Other U.S. indie titles in contention are thought to be: Sean Penn's Alaskan tale "Into the Wild," based on the best-seller by Jon Krakauer and starring Emile Hirsch; Harmony Korine's comedy drama "Mister Lonely," starring Diego Luna as Michael Jackson and Samantha Morton as Marilyn Monroe; and Billy Crudup starrer "Dedication," directed by Justin Theroux, though the film's inclusion in Sundance means it is more likely for a sidebar slot.

Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dreams," shot in London and Brighton and starring Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell and Michelle Williams, and Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth" are also possibles.

The documentary possibilities are strong. After successfully screening Al Gore climate change docu "An Inconvenient Truth" last year, Leonardo DiCaprio produced documentary "11th Hour," a sort of survival guide for the global environment directed by Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen.

And Michael Moore -- director of the most commercially successful Palme d'Or film with "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- may be back with "Sicko," his expose of the U.S. healthcare system.

Gallic contenders include Claude Miller's drama "A Secret;" "Les amours d'Astree et de Celadon," a romantic drama from New Wave veteran Eric Rohmer; Olivier Assayas's thriller "Boarding Gate," starring Asia Argento and Michael Madsen; Emilio Siri's Algerian war drama "The Intimate Enemy;" Cedric Klapisch's "Paris," starring Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris; and Catherine Breillat's "An Old Mistress." And following a long absence, Erick Zonca may make a return with the thriller "Julia," starring Tilda Swinton in the title role.

After the runaway success of his school docu "Etre et Avoir," Nicolas Philibert may be set for a return to the Croisette with "Return to Normandy."

Elsewhere, last year's jury president Wong Kar Wai could be back this year to face the judges with his U.S.-set road movie "My Blueberry Nights," starring Norah Jones.

Double Palme d'Or winner Emir Kusturica could also be back in town with "Promise Me This," the story of a young man who has to carry out his grandfather's dying wishes.

Two Korean films tipped to make the final cut are Lee Chang Dong's comic romance "Secret Sunshine," which CJ Entertainment is selling, and Wild Bunch's "Beyond The Years" from Kwon-taek Im.

After Berlin picked four French titles for this year's Competition, Cannes could look to return the favor in a Teutonic tit-for-tat. The two German films leading the pack in the Riviera race are Fatih Akin's Turkish-language drama "Yasamin kiyisinda," and Hans Weingartner's socially-critical thriller "Free Rainer."

Other possibilities include David Cronenberg's London-set Russian mafia tale "Eastern promises," starring Vigo Mortensen and Naomi Watts; Carlos Reygadas' "Silent Light;" Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Red Balloon;" Peter Greenaway's Rembrandt story "Nightwatching;" Nabil Ayouch's English-language "Whatever Lola Wants"; French-language drama "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," directed by Julian Schnabel.

On the animation front, one surprise could be "Persepolis," a coming-of-age story that begins during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, with voices by Catherine Deneuve, Gena Rowlands and Simon Abkarian, directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi.

Among Brit frontrunners are London-set drama "Brick Lane," directed by Sarah Gavron; Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart," about slain journalist Daniel Pearl; and Anthony Byrne's drama "How About You," starring Vanessa Redgrave and newcomer Hayley Atwell.

Scott Roxborough and Stuart Kemp contributed to this report.
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