At Cannes, 'Blindness' unseen?

But the film's debut may yet be announced

NEW YORK -- When the Festival de Cannes unveiled the bulk of its lineup Wednesday, a call went up among industryites and critics: No "Blindness"?

The Fernando Meirelles drama, based on a novel from Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago about a city struck by a plague of blindness, seemed custom-tailored for the festival. The English-language film is an ambitious drama from a global auteur who has debuted at Cannes before. And domestic-rights holder Miramax (Focus Features holds international rights) rode the Cannes strategy to perfection last year with "No Country for Old Men."

Most important, unlike Guillermo Arriaga's "The Burning Plain" and other auteur films that won't be at the fest, "Blindness" is actually finished. So what gives?

Miramax, of course, could be holding back its big September release to roll it out through a combination of such summer/fall festivals as Venice, Toronto and New York, a gambit that worked for its September 2006 release "The Queen."

More likely, however, is that talk of a Croisette absence is premature. The opening- and closing-night films haven't been officially announced, and several sources said that Meirelles' profile and the film's scope (as well as such stars as Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo) make it a prime opening-night candidate. Even if it doesn't end up in that showcase slot, it could go in one of several competition slots that might yet be announced. Said one executive: "I'd be very surprised if it didn't end up there."

Spielberg and Eastwood could be getting company soon after all.