Femmes make strong showing at Cannes
April 14, 2011

"We Need to Talk About Kevin," starring Tilda Swinton, marks helmer Lynne Ramsay's Cannes competition debut.

Marking a banner year for female directors in competition after last year's weak showing, Scotland's Lynne Ramsay, Japan's Naomi Kawase, France's Maiwenn and Australia's Julia Leigh will duke it out for the Palme d'Or alongside such Croisette faves as Pedro Almodovar, Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier and the Dardenne brothers at the 64th Cannes Film Festival.

Malick is the only American helmer in competition, though sidebar sections look to feature more Yanks. In Un Certain Regard, harrowing cult-themed drama "Martha Marcy May Marlene," which won first-time helmer Sean Durkin a directing prize at Sundance, will play alongside previously announced opener "Restless" from Gus Van Sant.

Thesps who could make their way to the Riviera include Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, Penelope Cruz, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Antonio Banderas, Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst.

Presiding over a Paris press conference on Thursday, fest topper Thierry Fremaux unveiled a forward-looking lineup notable not only for its gender diversity but for the wide range of genres represented.

The official selection is unusually strong on action-driven fare, with competition slots for Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" and Takashi Miike's "Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai," which will be the first 3D film to play in competition at Cannes.

In a further sign that the festival is attempting to move away from its image as a staid showcase for the usual tried-and-true auteurs, there are almost as many competition newcomers as there are veterans: This will be the first appearance in Cannes' elite program for Israel's Joseph Cedar, Romania's Radu Mihaileanu and Austria's Markus Schleinzer, as well as for Ramsay, Maiwenn, Leigh and Miike.

In sharp contrast to last year's competition lineup, roundly criticized for its lack of female filmmakers, no fewer than four of the films slated to compete are directed by women; there are seven distaff helmers in the official selection overall. Ramsay, whose prior features "Ratcatcher" and "Morvern Callar" played the Croisette, will make her debut in competition with British-American co-production "We Need to Talk About Kevin," starring Swinton (also a producer) and John C. Reilly. Pic was adapted from Lionel Shriver's 2003 novel about a school massacre.

Kawase, who won the Grand Prix for 2007's "The Mourning Forest," will compete again with her fifth feature, "Hanezu no tsuki," a philosophically inclined entry that, together with Miike's "Hara-kiri," will give Japan a strong Cannes presence; it's the sole Asian country repped in competition.

Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty," an erotic drama starring Emily Browning ("Sucker Punch") that reps the first fully Australian-funded feature to compete at Cannes since 2001's "Moulin Rouge," is one of two debuts in competition. The other is "Michael," an Austrian entry from thesp-helmer Markus Schleinzer, who has also worked as a casting director on films including 2009 Palme d'Or winner "The White Ribbon."

Maiwenn will make her Cannes debut with her third feature, "Polisse," a social satire that also stars the monomonikered actress-helmer (the sister of thesp Isild Le Besco). Other French helmers in competition are Bonello, who will bring "L'apollonide," a drama set in a Parisian brothel in the early 20th century; and Cavalier with "Pater," an intimate two-hander starring the director and Vincent Lindon. It's Cavalier's first competition entry since 1993's "Libera me."

Special screenings include "Labrador," from Denmark's Frederikke Aspock; "Le Maitres des forges de l'enfer," from Cambodia's Rithy Panh; "Michel Petrucciani," from the U.K.'s Michael Radford; and "Tous au Larzac," from France's Christian Rouaud.

Though they had been tipped for official-selection berths, Yorgos Lanthimos' "Alps," Andrei Zvyagintsev's "Elena," Christophe Honore's "The Beloved," Brillante Mendoza's "Prey," Lou Ye's "Love and Bruises," and Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's "Chicken With Plums" were absent from Thursday's announcement.

Still, with only 19 films in the competition (which can easily balloon to 20 or more) and no closing-night film yet announced, there's room for Fremaux to fiddle with the lineup before the start of the festival, which runs May 11-22.

Source: Variety