Cannes: Todd McCarthy on the Promise of This Year's Lineup

Cannes poster - P 2013

The American contribution to the festival is notable both in quantity and the names involved.

The announcement of any Cannes lineup should kick-start the pulses of cinephiles everywhere, and there seems to be enough in the cinematic smorgasbord unveiled today in Paris to promise some excitement in the South of France during the second half of May.

For starters, the American contribution to the festival is notable both in quantity and the names involved. Former Palme d'Or winners Steven Soderbergh (Behind the Candelabra) and the Coen Brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis) are joined in the competition by the estimable James Gray (The Immigrant) and Alexander Payne (Nebraska), and then there are “American” films directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Only God Forgives), Arnaud Desplechin (Jimmy P.) and, out of competition on opening night, Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby).

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Two more noncompeting titles also have a Yankee slant: J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford, which, given that almost nothing is known about it other than it has no dialogue, stands as one of the festival's most intriguing entries; and Guillaume Canet's two-and-a-half-hour Blood Ties, which was shot in English in the U.S.

For good measure, Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring will kick off the Un Certain Regard section, which will also feature James where-does-he-find-the-time Franco's adaptation of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying as well as Ryan Coogler's Sundance-winning topical drama Fruitvale Station, which has had a second word added to its title.

And there is still more: James Toback's behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at Cannes, Seduced and Abandoned featuring Alec Baldwin, which will debut in a special screening, and Daniel Noah's Max Rose, starring Jerry Lewis in his first big-screen outing in 20 years.

All of this should make it easier for American film critics and journalists to convince their cash-strapped publications that it will be worth their while to send them to the Croisette this year, just as it promises some enticing titles for the fall festival season, when many of these films will make their North American debuts. The directors of the four major American competition titles are among the most reliably interesting filmmakers in the country, and all the films mentioned above have provoked undeniable curiosity on one level or another.

Elsewhere in the competition, I am probably most intrigued by The Past, the first work from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi since his great A Separation; La Vie d'Adele, or Blue Is the Warmest Color, a three-hour-plus entry by the extravagantly talented Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche; The Great Beauty from Paolo Sorrentino, a film that at least on paper suggests a contemporary echo of La Dolce Vita, and, of course, Roman Polanski's latest contribution to his “confinement” series and his second stage adaptation in a row, Venus in Fur.

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It's also reassuring to see Asia reasonably represented in the competition again after a lackluster year or two (plus, there's a four-hour Filipino film in Un Certain Regard that will provide bragging rights for the hardy), even as it's dispiriting to find little to speak of from the U.K., Germany, Russia and the Scandinavian countries.

Of course, one always hopes for a breakthrough or two from unknown or little-known talents, as any festival that does not produce discoveries isn't doing its job. Festival chief Thierry Fremaux said that he and his committee watched a record number of films this year, so one trusts they found a few unsuspected gems in the bunch.