Old guard dominates festival fare

Un Certain Regard sidebar hosts potential surprises

Cannes director Thierry Fremaux and president Gilles Jacob will have a tough time matching last year's vintage festival, which kicked off with the Pixar high-flier "Up," included two instant classics in Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner "The White Ribbon" and Jacques Audiard's runner-up "A Prophet," and featured Quentin Tarantino's comeback film "Inglourious Basterds." Add the shock-and-awe of Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" and Cannes 2009 has to rank as one of the best.
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With the bar set so high, there was an inevitable let down when Cannes announced its 2010 lineup. Where were Christopher Nolan's "Inception," Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" and Darren Aronofsky's " Black Swan" just three of a dozen much-hyped films rumored to be Croisette-bound this year not to mention Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life,"which Fremaux held out for without success?

In place of art-house superstars like Tarantino, von Trier or Pedro Almodovar, in the Competition and Un Certain Regard sections Cannes has largely gone for a group of elder statesmen. From Woody Allen (74) and Ridley Scott (72) to Iran's Abbas Kiarostami (70), France's Jean-Luc Godard (80) and Portugal's Manoel De Oliveira (101),Cannes 2010 is a toast to cinema's classic helmers.

"The City Below"

While some late additions to the Competition helped add balance notably Kornel Mundruczo's "Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project"
and Wang Xiaoshuai's "Chongqing Blues," the young faces this year will be mainly on screen.

A global publicity splash is guaranteed when Ridley Scott's out-of-Competition "Robin Hood" launches the event May 12, thanks to stars including Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe," a live-action adaptation of a Brit newspaper comic strip, features new hotties Gemma Arterton ("Clash of the Titans") and Luke Evans ("Immortals"). Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," the sequel to his 1987 landmark, swaggers into town with Carey Mulligan and Shia LaBeouf adding a youthful quotient to Michael Douglas. The cast of Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger also has Freida Pinto and Anna Friel, alongside veterans Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.

In Competition, the only film with comparable star power is the sole U.S. entry, Doug Liman's "Fair Game." A spy thriller focusing on one of the more controversial episodes during the Bush administration, the movie features Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as real-life husband and wife Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson.

In Cannes, of course, stars are no guarantee of kudos. And this year the real buzz centers on noncelebrity-driven works. In "Outrage," Japanese multihyphenate Takeshi Kitano has dropped the platinum hair and self-reflexive tone of his past few films to return to his roots in hard-boiled Yakuza gangsterdom.

"Biutiful," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first all-Spanish effort since his breakthrough debut "Amores Perros" (2000), is already an early awards favorite, if only for the track record of the director and his star, Oscar winner Javier Bardem.

And Mike Leigh, a Palme d'Or winner for "Secrets and Lies" (1996), offers a light touchwith his latest ensemble dramedy "Another Year," a title certain to be used as a cynical tagline by Cannes veterans midfest.

The hometown crowd will be cheering for "Outside of the Law," Rachid Bouchareb's look at a Paris massacre, when French police opened fire on Algerian protesters demanding independence from colonial rule. Bouchareb reteamed for the film with the writer and most of the cast of his Oscar nominated "Days of Glory" (2006). "Law" is certain to spark debate on a period of history often glossed over in France.

"Life, Above All"

Different versions of national identity will fight it out in the two Russian Competition titles. Old school nationalist Nikita Mikhalkov arrives with the World War II epic "Burnt by the Sun 2: Exodus," the sequel to his 1994 best foreign language film Oscar winner and, at an estimated $55 million budget, the most expensive Russian film of all time. On the other end of the political and financial scale is "My Joy," the feature fiction debut of documentarian Sergei Loznitsa. The German-Ukrainian-Dutch coproduction was made outside the Moscow-approved state system and its tale of a hapless truck driver traveling through a post-Soviet landscape is billed as a dark parable of modern Russia.

The more specialized crowd could go for Lee Chang-dong's latest, "Poetry," the story of the relationship between an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's and her teenage grandson. And fans of queer cinema icon Gregg Araki will be staying up late for the midnight screening of his high school sci-fi feature "Kaboom."

With few obvious must-sees in the Competition lineup, however, the Un Certain Regard sidebar may steal the spotlight.

Expect around-the-block lines for "Chatroom," an online-offline thriller from"Ring" director Hideo Nakata, featuring "Kick-Ass" star Aaron Johnson,with a script from "Hunger" scribe Enda Walsh.


Other potential gems include "Aurora," the latest from Romanian helmer Cristi Puiu, whose "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" won the sidebar's top prize in 2005; and "Heartbeats," from Canadian director Xavier Dolan, who is all of 21. Dolan's debut,"I Killed My Mother," swept the Directors' Fortnight prizes last year. The former child actor is hoping to avoid the second film curse with his latest, tells the story of a love triangle where two friends fall for the same guy.

Dolan and Puiu aside, Cannes' main sections may not offer much in the way of fresh blood, but Cannes is a bit like the Rolling Stones who are also heading to the Croisette to support Directors' Fortnight doc "Stones in Exile": Even if the show doesn't have the youngest talent, it still rocks.