With Robert De Niro in charge of the jury for the official selection and Woody Allen's latest Midnight in Paris awarded the coveted opening slot as well as the new Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides showing out of competition, the Cannes Film Festival has a strong American presence.
Add in the long-waited Terrence Malick opus The Tree of Life, originally talked about for last year's selection, Jodie Foster's fourth directorial outing The Beaver and Gus Van Sant opening the sidebar Un Certain Regard section with Restless featuring rising star Mia Wasikowska and Franco-American relations definitely seem to be warming up. On top of all of that a vintage portrait of Faye Dunaway graces the official poster.
Unveiling what is being perceived already as a potentially vintage year Thierry Fremaux, the festival's artistic director told the assembled media throng in the gilded surroundings of the Grand Hotel in Paris yesterday, that the world of cinema at least appeared to be emerging from global economic woes. "The market place in Cannes has more subscriptions than ever (a ten per cent increase over last year), media accreditations also are up and more than 1700 titles were offered for selection."
Other main contenders in the official selection of 19 titles (excluding the out-of-competition slots) are:
Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In. The Spanish filmmaker has never won the Palme d'Or and his last film Broken Embraces walked away empty-handed.
Nanni Moretti's Habemus Papam which stars Michel Piccoli as a newly elected Pope who is crushed by the responsibility of the role.
Paolo Sorrentino's first English-language sortie This Must Be The Place which teams the director with Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn. The two met when Penn was head of the Cannes jury and Sorrentino's Il Divo was in competition. The resulting collaboration is the story of an ageing rock star on the hunt for his father's Nazi executioner. The film shot in the US, Ireland and Italy.
From the UK much advance attention is being generated by Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin, her long-awaited third feature based on the novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver. Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly star in the film, which has been generating terrific advance buzz. Ramsay previously was in Cannes with Ratcatcher.
The Dardenne Brothers (The Kid With A Bike), Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia), Aki Kaurismaki (Le Havre) and Lars Von Trier with Melancholia.
Meanwhile, Fremaux is fielding a bumper crop of French directors: Perennial Cannes favourite Robert Guedeguian returns with The Snows Of Kilimanjaro in Un certain regard about a happily married middle aged couple whose lives are torn apart by an armed attack in which they are beaten, tied up and robbed. Gueduguian regulars Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Ariane Ascaride star.
Bruno Dumont will deliver his sixth film The Empire for Un certain regard, which is set in the Pas-de-Calais region in the northernmost part of France. David Dewaele plays a mysterious man who lives in the dunes and combats evil in a small village community.
Bertrand Bonello, who was in the Quinzaine in 2008 with De La Guerre, has a new offering in the official selection, House Of Tolerance set in the early 20th century and starring Noemie Lvovsky as a disfigured prostitute.
Michel Hazanavicius, the director behind the OSS films, reunites with his OSS star Jean Dujardin on the black and white silent comedy The Artist (out of competition) about a silent movie star whose career is destined to end with the arrival of sound in 1927. An international cast includes John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle and Berenice Bejo.
Maiwenn, the actress/filmmaker is generating heat for her third film as director, Polisse, which is set among the men and women who work in the child protection unit of the Paris police. Maiwenn is the sister of actress Isild Le Besco. Polisse also stars with Joey Starr, Marina Fois, Karin Viard, Nicolas Duvauchelle and Italy's Ricardo Scamarcio.
One of the most intriguing out of competition titles is The Conquest, Xavier Durringer's narrative film about the rise to power of French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the separation from his second wife Cecilia. Carla Bruni, the president's wife, is one of Woody Allen's star turns in Midnight in Paris, the opener. Greek actor Denis Podalydes plays Sarkozy and Florence Pernel plays Cecilia.
The film, which could be hugely embarrassing for Sarkozy, is the first about a French president to be made while he is in office but Fremaux assured journalists that the Elysee put no pressure on the Festival.
The image on the poster of Faye Dunaway comes from the little seen Puzzle of a Downfall Child, which screens in a restored print from Universal Pictures. Director Jerry Schatzberg took the photo in 1970. Schatzberg is a filmmaker from New York who won the Palme d'Or in 1973 for Scarecrow.
De Niro who has come to Cannes with films in selection eight times including two which won the Palme d'Or (1976's Taxi Driver and 1986's The Mission) has said about his role: "The Cannes Film Festival is a rare opportunity for me as it is one of the oldest and one of the best in the world." He added, "As co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival and the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, I have an increased appreciation for the jury, who serve, undertaking an important role in choosing films that are represented in the world of film at its highest level, and these types of festivals help connect the international film community and have a lasting cultural impact."
The festival runs from May 11-22.
The 19 films competing for the Palme d'Or:
The Skin I Live In by Pedro Almodovar
L'Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close) by Bertrand Bonello,
Footnote by Joseph Cedar
Pater by d'Alain Cavalier
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
The Boy on the Bike by Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne
Le Havre by d'Aki Kaurismäki
Hanezu no Tsuki by Naomi Kawase
Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay
Polisse by Maïwenn,
The Tree of Life by Terrence Malik, with Brad Pitt
This Must Be the Place by Paolo Sorrentino
La source des femmes by Radu Mihaileanu
Habemus Papam by Nanni Moretti
Melancholia by Lars Von Trier
Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn
Michael by Markus Schleinzer
Ichimei by Takashi Miike
Out of competition:
The Beaver by Jodie Foster
The Artist by Michel Hazanavicius
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides by Rob Marshall
La Conquête de by Xavier Durringer and Patrick Rotman
The 19 films selected for Un Certain Regard:
Restless by Gus Van Sant (opening film)
The Hunter by Bakur Bakuradze
Halt auf freier Strecke by Andreas Dresen
Hors Satan by Bruno Dumont
Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin
The Snows of Kiliminjaro by Robert Guédiguian
Skoonheid by Oliver Hermanus
The Day He Arrives by Hong Sang-Soo
Bonsaï by Cristian Jimenez
Tatsumi by Eric Khoo
Et maintenant, on va où? by Nadine Labaki
Arirang by Kim Ki-Duk
Toomelah by Ivan Sen
Yellow Sea by Na Hong-jin
Oslo, August 31st by Joachim Trier
L'exercice de l'Etat by Pierre Schoeller
Travailler fatigue by Juliana Rojas et Marco Dutra
Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo
Loverboy by Catalin Mitulescu