Cannes is upping its “Q” score.
The official selection for the 2009 Cannes Film Festival was announced Thursday morning in Paris, and while it will be hard to beat last year’s excitement of a whip-cracking Indiana Jones on the Croisette, Quentin Tarantino’s take-no-prisoners personality may just be big enough to give old Indy a run for his money.
As was widely anticipated -- especially given that the director last year declared he would have his film ready in time for this year’s Cannes -- Tarantino’s World War II action movie, “Inglourious Basterds,” starring Brad Pitt, is one of 20 films that will vie for the coveted Palme d’Or at the 62nd running of the event.
Cannes’ general manager and artistic director, Thierry Fremaux, said that despite media reports claiming the film was a lock, it wasn’t until the last few days that it secured its spot. Tarantino, the only U.S. director with a film in competition this year, has maintained a strong connection to the festival since his “Pulp Fiction” won the Palme d’Or in 1994.
Regarding the limited number of U.S. films, Fremaux said: “I think it’s a coincidence. But I wondered if it could have had something to do with the writers strike.” Further, considering the lack of big studio pictures, he noted: “We would have liked to have more, like [“Public Enemies” from] Michael Mann, for example, but that is coming out in July.”
In addition to “Inglourious,” other U.S. titles to storm the town’s famed Palais des Festivals include Disney-Pixar’s opening film, the 3-D animated “Up” -- which is running out of competition -- and Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” with Liev Schreiber, Emile Hirsch and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Otherwise, the competition category is rife with returning international auteurs such as Pedro Almodovar and his “Broken Embraces"; Lars von Trier with “Antichrist"; Michael Haneke with “The White Ribbon"; Alain Resnais with “Les Herbes Folles"; Ken Loach, with his ninth film in competition, “Looking for Eric,” starring soccer legend Eric Cantona; and Gaspar Noe, whose “Irreversible” stunned Cannes audiences with its brutal rape scene in 2002, with “Enter the Void,” a long-in-the-works film set in Tokyo.
Given that there were so many auteurs with ready films this year, Fremaux said he had “an embarrassment of choice, but . . . they’re not there just because they are great filmmakers, they have to be there because they have great films.”
New Zealand director Jane Campion also returns for the first time since she won the Palme d’Or for “The Piano” in 1993. Campion is the only woman ever to earn that honor. Her 2009 entry is “Bright Star,” a romantic drama with Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw.
Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye finds himself back in competition following the stir caused in 2006, when his “Summer Palace,” a romantic drama set during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, was screened despite protests from Chinese censors. Lou was banned from shooting films in China but managed to make this year’s entry, “Spring Fever,” under the radar. Other Asian fare in the main competition include Park Chan-wook’s “Thirst,” Tsai Ming-liang’s “Face” and Johnnie To’s “Vengeance,” starring French rocker Johnny Hallyday as a man out to avenge his daughter’s death.
Twenty films will also run in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, a section for movies that are often considered “discoveries,” including Sundance winner “Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire,” which now goes by the name “Precious,” from director Lee Daniels. That section is low on household names by U.S. standards but does include well-known Asian directors Bong Joon-ho with “Mother” and Hirokazu Koreeda with “Air Doll.”
Also appearing in the sidebar is Cristian Mungiu, who is one of a quintet of directors of omnibus picture “Tales From the Golden Age,” a look back at Romania under Ceausescu via a series of vignettes on urban legends. Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” won the Palme d’Or in 2007 but ultimately, and rather inexplicably, failed to secure an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film.
Meanwhile, the out-of-competition screenings include an appearance by the late Heath Ledger in his final role. Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” will screen, with the actors who replaced Hedger -- Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell -- likely to be in town for the event.
Sam Raimi will also get a chance to mount the red carpet when his return to the horror genre, “Drag Me to Hell,” has its midnight screening. The film, which has been solidly building Internet buzz, stars Justin Long and Alison Lohman.
Also garnering out-of-competition slots are Alejandro Amenabar with “Agora,” starring Rachel Weisz, and Michel Gondry in a return to French via an intimate tale, “L’Epine dans le Coeur.”
Jury members this year are an international bunch, with French actress Isabelle Huppert as president of the main panel, supported by actresses Robin Wright Penn, Asia Argento and Shu Qi and directors Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who won the directing Palme d’Or last year for “Three Monkeys”), Lee Chang-dong, Hanif Kureishi and James Gray.
The closing night film will be Jan Kounen’s “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,” starring Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen.
For the complete 2009 Cannes lineup, go to theenvelope.com.