The 65th Cannes Film Festival may be taking place on the French Riviera, but the Stars and Stripes will be everywhere.
A number of U.S. films will be heading overseas to compete for the Palm d’Or, the festival’s highest prize.
“The Americans are coming,” says Lee Daniels, director of The Paperboy. “I am feeling it. It’s great to see the Americans in full force.”
Last year’s festival had a particularly worldwide focus, with only two American films in competition: the Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which won the top prize.
This year, Daniels’ The Paperboy will compete against Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, John Hillcoat’s Lawless, Walter Salles’ On the Road and Jeff Nichols’ Mud.
“There is no festival in Cannes without a strong U.S. participation,” says festival director Thierry Fremaux. “(But) this year we are spoiled.”
The festival kicks off Wednesday night with Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which stars Bruce Willis, Bill Murray and Edward Norton. The film follows the story of two young lovers fleeing their New England town, only to be pursued by a Scoutmaster (Norton) and his troop.
“The subject makes for a very American film,” says Anderson, who is attending the festival for the first time. “It’s even Norman Rockwell America.”
The director adds that Europeans have commented that the film, and Anderson’s work in general, has a quirky Euro-flair to it.
“I have been inspired by what people consider foreign films,” he says. “But I am more inspired by American movies than any of them.”
One of the most American films in competition was helmed by an Australian. In Lawless, Hillcoat brings to life the gritty reality of Depression-era Virginia and its bootlegging culture. Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf play liquor-swilling brothers; Guy Pearce is the creepy, violent deputy on their case; and Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska play the women who capture the men’s hearts.
Like Anderson, Hillcoat found inspiration in American cinematic storytelling.
‘Two great American genres’
“Lawless is where the Western intersects the gangster film, which to me are the two great American genres,” says Hillcoat. “I’m lucky that I have a true story that encapsulates both.”
Hillcoat, also a first-time Cannes competitor, believes that the resurgence of American films at Cannes is the result of filmmakers stepping away from big-budget spectacles in favour of making more adult-conscious films.
“Things seem to be really picking up again,” he says.
Fremaux agrees. “The American cinema of recent years has been marked by an extreme polarization between the ‘big’ studio films and ‘small’ independent films,” he says. “But there is a return to more films that viewers 30 to 50 years old want to see. Of course, not everyone will love them all, but I’m sure they will be the subject of much discussion.”
Something that will garner much of that buzz is the tantalising use of Hollywood’s brightest young stars in the festival’s competition slate. Two of the most high-profile films feature Mrs. Robinson-esque liaisons.
In Daniels’ The Paperboy, 24-year-old Zac Efron sports a ’70s-style haircut and has hot scenes with 44-year old Nicole Kidman.
“We get down,” Daniels says of the film. “It’s a Zac we have not seen. And Nicole jumped in all the way.”
Robert Pattinson, 26, stars as a Wall Street banker in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, shot primarily in the back of his character’s giant white limousine — where Pattinson’s banker has a tryst with 48-year-old French actress Juliette Binoche. Pattinson then does Efron one-better.
“There’s a scene where I’m seducing (another woman) naked, while having a prostate exam in the back of a limousine. People don’t really see that very often in movies,” laughs Pattinson. “You do what you can to surprise people.”
Besides the Yankee heavyweights, the main competition features 16 global entries. Notables include France’s Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard’s latest drama starring Marion Cotillard), Michael Haneke’s Amour and Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. Also competing are Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love from Japan and Britain’s The Angels’ Share by Ken Loach.
Films of a certain regard
In a separate competitive category called Un Certain Regard, an American entry arrives with much early fanfare: Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, was the darling of the Sundance Film Festival.
American films feature prominently in other parts of the festival as well. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and the HBO drama Hemingway and Gellhorn (starring Kidman and Clive Owen) will be screened out of competition. Ken Burns’ documentary The Central Park Five, about an infamous 1989 rape case, will be showcased in a special screening.
Even the official poster for the film festival features a great American film icon — Marilyn Monroe in honour of the 50th anniversary of her death.
Today’s living legends will be in full force, too. Killing Them Softly will bring its star Brad Pitt, and fiancée Angelina Jolie is expected. Director Andrew Dominik knows that the duo will bring serious attention to the underworld tale.
“I’ve done film festivals before with them,” says Dominik. “It’s like walking around with The Beatles.”
The red carpet lineup also will feature Twilight’s golden couple, Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. This time they are going head-to-head, with Stewart starring in the competition film On the Road.
“I’m already making excuses,” Pattinson jokes about their friendly festival competition.
But for these two weeks, it’s not all about winning the contest, but enjoying the glitz in the South of France.
“There is really something glamorous about Cannes,” Pattinson says. “It’s the bow ties and the way the festival holds onto the glamour. People really make an effort.”
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