Cannes Film Festival lineup has familiar faces

The 64th edition of the Cannes Film Festival will not be a somber affair, general delegate Thierry Fremaux announced at the unveiling of the official selection Thursday morning. "This will be a Cannes where we can have fun," he said.

Certainly this is a festival that will be a mix of established and new filmmakers with such big-ticket auteurs as Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodovar, Aki Kaurismaki, Terrence Malick and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne facing off with such newer talents as Australia's Julia Leigh, France's Maiwenn and Denmark's Nicolas Winding Refn.

The official selection of films — 49 this year — was chosen from more than 1,700 screened by Fremaux and his team (including films submitted for the first time through the Internet). It is a selection rife with familiar names — but don't call them "usual suspects" lest Fremaux get his feathers ruffled.

Although many predicted the presence of Malick ("Tree of Life"), Von Trier ("Melancholia"), Almodovar ("The Skin I Live In") and others, Fremaux took pains to point out they shouldn't be referred to as "regulars."

"Great auteurs make great films, and they have a place in Cannes," he said. But, he assured, "They are not always the same filmmakers, and we've recently had to say no" to some.

One name Fremaux and company had been waiting on is Malick. At last year's announcement of the official selection, Fremaux put to rest the rumors circulating at the time that "Tree of Life" would be part of the 2010 vintage. "It was a death in the soul," he said, referring to being told the film would not be ready for inclusion last year.

This year the story is decidedly a happier one, Fremaux said as he joked that the festival was trying to prepare the reclusive Malick for how to handle a news conference: "They ask you a question and you answer it," Fremaux said he'd explained to the director. "C'est pas gagné" — "he's still got a ways to go" — Fremaux then deadpanned, eliciting laughs from the crowd.

Speaking to The Times later in the day, Fremaux said overall reactions to the selection have been positive. "We've got a good feeling about this year," he said, adding, "Last year was a little morose, a little melancholy, and this year is very optimistic, full of hope. It's going to be a celebration.

"What excites me the most is that I feel like, little by little, all of world cinema feels welcome at Cannes. It's really a worldwide platform, it's not just a French festival."

A-listers who will appear include Sean Penn ("This Must Be the Place," "Tree of Life"), Johnny Depp for Rob Marshall's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (which is screening out of competition) and Mel Gibson in a rare Riviera (or anywhere else for that matter) appearance with Jodie Foster's "The Beaver," also screening out of competition. Brad Pitt will likely also be on hand for "Tree of Life" and Angelina Jolie for "Kung Fu Panda 2," which is not an official festival screening.

As previously announced, Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy will open the festival out of competition. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is not expected to attend.

Although there are no U.S. films listed among the competition aside from "Tree of Life," Fremaux has a habit of adding titles in the days leading to the festival. He did note Thursday morning that certain things, including "out-of-competition" events, had yet to be announced.

The festival runs May 11 through 22. Robert De Niro is the competition jury president this year, while Emir Kusturica oversees the Un Certain Regard jury. The remaining jury members will be announced next week.

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