Cannes Film Fest 2013: Strong Lineup

The Cannes Fest jury, headed by Spielberg, will have plenty of Hollywood talent to explore and evaluate this year.

Heralding a strong showing for American directors, Palme d’Or laureates Steven Soderbergh and Joel and Ethan Coen will square off with Alexander Payne and James Gray at the star-packed 66th edition of the Cannes Film Fest, announced by delegate general Thierry Fremaux and president Gilles Jacob at a Paris press conference.

Two US films would feature prominently out of competition. Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” would open the festival, on May 15, and Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” would kick off Un Certain Regard a night later, on May 16.

This year’s lineup is full of American and English-language fare.

Joel and Ethan Coen

The Coen brothers, previously in competition with 2007’s “No Country for Old Men,” will make a return appearance with “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a look at New York’s 1960s folk-music scene starring Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake. A good year for Mulligan, who is co-starring with Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Great Gatsby.”

Alexander Payne

Payne was last in Cannes Fest with “About Schmidt,” a movie that was added in the 11th hour as a replacement. Payne will return with another road-trip comedy, “Nebraska,” starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte and set in the writer-director’s native Omaha.

James Gray

The busy actor Jeremy Renner, Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard star in James Gray’s 1920s-set drama “The Immigrant,” which previously went by the titles “Lowlife” and “Nightingale.” James Gray had been present in Cannes before.

Soderbergh

Soderbergh, who recently competed for Berlin’s Golden Bear with his final theatrical picture, “Side Effects,” or so the rumor goes, will get another chance on the Croisette with his made-for-HBO miniseries “Behind the Candelabra,” starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as Liberace and his younger lover, Scott Thorson, respectively.

Although Olivier Assayas’ six-hour telepic “Carlos” was barred from competing at the festival in 2010, there’s a precedent for HBO fare screening in competition: “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” in 2004.

Fest director Fremaux said that while Soderbergh had initially wanted to present “Candelabra” out of competition, he begged the director to “say yes” to a competition slot, and Soderbergh agreed. “His first film, ‘sex, lies and videotape,’ played at Cannes and won the Palme d’Or in 1989, and we wish him the same fortune with his last film,” Fremaux said.

Nicolas Winding Refn

Also vying for festival prizes are Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”) with his latest Ryan Gosling starrer, “Only God Forgives.”

Two by Polanski

Roman Polanski’s French-language adaptation of David Ives’ Broadway play, “Venus in Fur,” starring Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner, who is his wife, will vie for competition.

Another Polanski-helmed picture, the auto-racing documentary, “Weekend of a Champion,” will receive a special screening.

Polanski, who hasn’t been in competition since “The Pianist” won the top prize in 2002, isn’t the only past Palme winner back in contention. The others are Soderbergh in 1989 and the Coen brothers, who won the Palme for 1991′s “Barton Fink.”

While Warner’s DiCaprio starrer “Gatsby” will get things off to a splashy start on May 15, what this year’s festival so far doesn’t have is the sort of big-budget Hollywood entertainment that typically generates red-carpet wattage at the midway point (a la “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” last year and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” the year before).

Rumors had circulated that Warners’ “Man of Steel” or Paramount’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” might nab an out-of-competition berth, but they didn’t pan out. U.S. studios represented on the Croisette include CBS Films (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), the Weinstein Co. (“The Immigrant”) and Paramount (“Nebraska”).

Tight Competition

Fremaux said he sifted through 1,858 films submitted from June to just two days before the press conference, a substantial n increase over selection pools from previous years.

Fremaux also pointed out the numerous international co-productions in the festival, with numerous helmers working outside their native tongue and country. “Films can’t be reduced to their nationalities any longer,” he said.

Iran’s Asghar Farhadi, whose brilliant “A Separation” won the Best Foreign Language Oscar two years ago, will appear in competition for the first time with “The Past,” a Paris-set romantic drama starring Berenice Bejo (“The Artist”) and Tahar Rahim.

Gallic auteur Arnaud Desplechin will have his fifth film in competition, “Jimmy P.,” an English-language drama set in Kansas at the end of WWII, starring Benicio Del Toro and Amalric. As for “Only God Forgives,” the violent revenge thriller was directed by a Dane, stars an American as a British gangster, is set in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, and was funded by Paris-based powerhouses Wild Bunch and Gaumont.

Out of competition, France’s Guillaume Canet (“Tell No One”) will make his English-language directing debut with “Blood Ties,” a thriller starring Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard and Mila Kunis.

Another high-profile picture slotted outside the Palme competition is “All Is Lost,” J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to “Margin Call,” a one-man survival-at-sea drama that, per star Robert Redford, has no dialogue.

Of the 19 films slated for competition, 13 are directed by filmmakers who have previously been there before.

They include:

France’s Francois Ozon, back with “Jeune et jolie,” a sexually charged portrait of a 17-year-old girl.

Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino with “The Great Beauty,” which reteams the helmer with “Il Divo” star Toni Servillo

Chad’s Mahamet Saleh-Haroun with “Grigris,” the story of a 25-year-old man who yearns to be a dancer, despite a paralyzed leg.

The three Asian helmers in competition are also veterans:

China’s Jia Zhangke with “A Touch of Sin”

Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda, bringing paternity-switch drama “Like Father, Like Son”

Japan”s cult director Takashi Miike, whose thriller “Straw Shield” looks to challenge “Only God

Forgives” as the festival’s bloodiest contender.

“Japanese cinema is making a comeback. It used to nurture the Cannes selection 15, 20 or 30 years ago, and it hadn’t been as present in a long time,” Fremaux said. “We could have selected many more.”

Debutants in Cannes

Aside from Farhadi, the six Cannes first-timers are Tunisia’s Abdellatif Kechiche with Lea Seydoux starrer “La Vie d’Adele,” the helmer’s first film since 2010’s “Black Venus”; Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam with “Borgman,” in which a middle-class family receives a visit from the devil; France’s Arnaud des Pallieres with “Michael Kohlhaas,” adapted from the 16th-century novel of the same name; Mexico’s Amat Escalante (whose “Sangre” premiered in Un Certain Regard) with crime-and-corruption drama “Heli”; and Italian-French actress-helmer Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi with “Un chateau en Italie.”

Fremaux said that Ozon’s “Jeune et jolie” and Kechiche’s “La Vie d’Adele,” both of which explore teenage sexuality, were likely to generate interest and heated conversation about “the way in which a filmmaker depicts sexuality in 2013, and how far he can go.” He also noted that both “Adele” and “Candelabra” are same-sex love stories.

Only One Woman

Bruni-Tedeschi is the sole female filmmaker in competition, a small improvement over last year’s widely criticized dearth of distaff directors.

The two best-known femme helmers in the official selection will screen their latest work in Un Certain Regard: Coppola with the aforementioned “Bling Ring,” a Los Angeles-set look at teenage misbehavior starring Emma Watson, and France’s Claire Denis with “The Bastards,” toplining Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni.

There are seven female directors in Un Certain Regard, amounting to one third of the series’ program.

“As a citizen, I’m obviously concerned about the place of women in society, but I don’t think gender should come into play when you’re looking at an auteur and what he or she has created,” Fremaux said. “It’s clear that men tend to dominate the film world and Cannes is a reflection of that trend. How to increase the presence of women in film is a question that should be raised not only once a year after the Cannes press conference, but every day, everywhere, in film schools, at production companies, etc.”

Fremaux has succeeded to raise Un Certain Regard’s profile during his tenure, often slotting established auteurs in the noncompetitive sidebar; this year’s batch includes Rithy Panh’s “L’image manquante”; Alain Guiraudie’s “L’inconnu du lac”; Filipino helmer Lav Diaz’s latest four-hour-plus opus, “Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan”; and “Omar,” from Palestinian helmer Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now”).

Imprisoned Iranian helmer Mohammad Rasoulof, whose feature “Good Bye” played alongside Jafar Panahi’s “This Is Not a Film” at the 2011 fest, received an Un Certain Regard slot for his latest picture, “Anonymous,” which was shot secretly and smuggled out of Iran.

Another Certain Regard title likely to attract attention is James Franco’s latest directorial effort, “As I Lay Dying,” which Fremaux singled out as “a very original attempt to bring the singular universe of William Faulkner to the bigscreen.”

Over the years, the sidebar has served as an international launchpad for Sundance hits, as with “Beasts of the Southern Wild” last year. This year’s represetative is Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station,” which premiered to much acclaim at Park City under its simpler original title, “Fruitvale.”

Rounding out Un Certain Regard are Flora Lau’s “Bends”; Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Death March”; Rebecca Zlotwoski’s “Grand Central,” also starring Seydoux; Diego Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”; Valeria Golino’s “Miele”; and Chloe Robichaud’s “Sarah prefere la course.”

The festival will host a special tribute to Indian cinema with a screening of “Bombay Talkies,” an omnibus featuring the work of four Indian directors. Elsewhere in the selection, Amit Kumar’s cop thriller “Monsoon Shootout” will receive a midnight screening.

Other special screenings at Cannes include Daniel Noah’s comedy “Max Rose,” featuring Jerry Lewis’ first filmed performance in more than 20 years and screening in homage to the French fave; James Toback’s meta-docu “Seduced and Abandoned,” which he shot at last year’s Cannes fest; Stephen Frears’ HBO telepic “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” focusing on a crucial moment of the fighter’s career; Taisia Igumentseva’s “Bite the Dust”; and Roberto Minervi’s “Stop the Pounding Heart.”

Fremaux noted the possibility that a few more films might be added to the lineup in the coming weeks.

The 66th edition of the festival runs May 15-May 26.