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If it's springtime, it must be Cannes

In just a week the French Riviera will come alive with the hoopla of the 65th Cannes International Film Festival, running this year from May 16 through 27. Despite the international proliferation of film festivals, like it or not, Cannes remains the biggest, most hyped, glitziest and most diverse event the world of film has to offer, the envy of every other festival.

As if the world at large also trembled at the import of the approaching festivities, previous Cannes festivals have been prefaced by volcanic eruptions, hurricane-force storms, national strikes, and bomb threats. What can we expect this year, when the festival officially becomes a senior citizen? Don't look for any rocking chairs along the Croisette, for one thing. Judging by the lineup of major directors represented in the Competition and other official sections, it's more likely that major revelations will be rocking the Palais. And if it's like other years, we can expect the festival will manage to rock a headline-grabbing major controversy or two as well.


For the fourth year in a row, Cannes will open with an American production, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," guaranteeing that name stars including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton will be gracing the red carpet on Wednesday, May 16 for a glamorous kick-off. Judging by the trailer available online, the real stars may be the large cast of kids in a comedy/drama that looks to be strong on surreal wackiness.

Even a quick glance at the list of films in competition yields an eye-popping number of famous names, including David Cronenberg (Canada), Michael Haneke (Austria), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Ken Loach (UK), Cristian Mungiu (Romania), Alain Resnais France), Carlos Reygadas (Mexico), Walter Salles (Brazil), and many more. This competition could be a veritable Olympics of the cinema gods...or not, as sometimes happen, because even world-class filmmakers and certified masters can disappoint.


Venerable French director Alain Resnais ("Night and Fog," "Last Year at Marienbad") turns 90 a few days after the close of the festival. He first competed at Cannes in 1959, with "Hiroshima Mon Amour," and now he's back in competition with "You Haven't Seen Anything Yet," featuring a very intriguing-sounding combo of leading men including Mathieu Amalric, Lambert Wilson, and Michel Piccoli.

When it comes to the elder statesmen of directors, I was hoping for a new film by another great, the ever-vibrant 104-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, who has been turning out one or more films a year for decades, and has really picked up the pace since he turned 90. No such luck at Cannes this time around, but he has two films in production.


I have no doubt that furious buzz and hot speculation will surround the Palme d'Or prospects of heavy-hitters Michael Haneke, Ken Loach, and Christian Mungiu, starting the first day of the festival. Haneke, an Austrian, won the Palme in 2009 for his dark, unsettling "The White Ribbon," and has been a regular competitor and prizewinner. His new film "Amour" features Isabelle Huppert, who won Best Actress at Cannes for her harrowing role in his 2001 film "The Piano Teacher," and also starred in his "Time of the Wolf."


British director Ken Loach has a long history of competing and winning various prizes at Cannes, and he snagged the Palme d'Or in 2006 with "The Wind That Shakes the Barley." His new film, "The Angels' Share," a comedy/drama about a delinquent who lucks into his dream job in a distillery, sounds like it may be more in line with the rollicking sensibility of his last comedy and Cannes contender "Looking for Eric."

Christian Mungiu focused the world's attention on the work of a generation of his nation's filmmakers when he became the first Romanian director to ever win the Palme d'Or in 2007, with "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." "Beyond the Hills," his film in competition this year, is his first since that award-winner, and will surely carry the weight of great expectations.


Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami won the Palme d'Or in 1997 for "A Taste of Cherry" (shared with Shôhei Imamura's "The Eel"), and his 2010 film "Certified Copy" was considered by many to be another contender. His consolation prize that year was Best Actress for star Juliette Binoche. "Like Someone in Love," will be his fifth film in competition. Kiarostami's stature in the world is such that he is assured of having many critics in his corner even before the film premieres.


Quite a few of the directors selected for the competition are known for the disturbing edginess of their work, a factor that could make it a very interesting festival indeed. I'm looking forward to Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis," based on a Don DeLillo novel and starring Robert Pattinson, Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti and Samantha Morton. Promoted as "the first film about our new millennium," it sounds as if it's permeated by some of Cronenberg's favorite themes including apocalyptic chaos, intimate violence, and the treachery of biology.


Carlos Reygadas has only made three previous features, "Japón," "Battle in Heaven," and "Silent Light," a Cannes Jury Prize winner in 2007, but his films are strong stuff, powerfully spiritual but laced with carnality. I'll be looking (hoping) for his new feature "Post Tenebras Lux" to develop those themes with the memorable rawness of my favorite, "Battle in Heaven."

Directors Leos Carax, represented by "Holy Motors," and Ulrich Seidl, represented by "Paradise: Love," can usually be counted on to divide audiences with in-your-face provocation that paradoxically has a spellbinding quality. Carax hasn't made a film since a 2009 short, and hasn't made a feature since POLA X in 1999. Seidl's last feature "Import/Export" was in competition in Cannes in 2007. The return to the Cannes screen of both of these directors is something to look forward to.


Asian cinema will have a special presence, with a tip of the hat to Chicago. Korean director Hong Sang-Soo, a fixture at Cannes, is in competition with "In Another Country," starring Isabelle Huppert. Thai director Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul, winner of the Palme in 2010 for "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," will present a special screening of "Mekong Hotel." Both are School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduates, now well established in the upper echelons of world directors.


I'll also be eager to see "The Taste of Money" by Korean Im Sang-soo, known for "The President's Last Bang" and "The Good Lawyer's Wife." He has a wicked sense of humor that usually targets both political corruption and moral hypocrisy, and his last film "The Housemaid" was a Cannes highlight for me in 2010.

And finally, as in past years, I'll be the judge and jury for Best Feline Performance for my own imaginary award, the Palme de Whiskers. Last year's winner was the hunky orange-and-white tomcat Kimbo from Kim Ki-duk's "Arirang." No doubt this year's feline stars are already nervously kneading their paws in anticipation.

There's so much to look forward to at 2012 Cannes, not least of all whatever dubious improvements my funky hotel may have made. The advance word from this august establishment, where "Fawlty Towers"-style hospitality is always on tap, is that the ancient portable TV in my room has been replaced by a little flat-screen model. Personally, I would have voted for fixing the shower drain, but hey, c'est Cannes, where keeping up appearances and spinning fantasies will trump everyday life every time. Isn't that what we love about it?


Barbara Scharres

Barbara Scharres is the former Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a public program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

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