Cannes turns to big stars, edgy auteurs

Sun May 8, 2011 7:02pm EDT
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By Scott Roxborough

COLOGNE (Hollywood Reporter) - Cannes' 2011 slate seems designed to avoid the pitfalls of last year's competition, which failed to produce a single Oscar winner, crossover commercial success or grand cinema scandal -- the three boxes any great film festival worthy of the name needs to tick.

For its 64th edition, beginning Wednesday, Cannes appears intent on reasserting its claim to the title of world's best film festival, with an auteur-heavy lineup that includes Pedro Almodovar, Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick.

The fest is also putting the focus on youth with a generous sampling of the hottest up-and-comers in global film, from Nicolas Winding Refn, the Danish director of the Ryan Gosling vehicle "Drive," to Julia Leigh, the Aussie first-timer behind the edgy "Sleeping Beauty."

On the star front, Cannes this year is an embarrassment of riches, playing it safe with big names such as Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Eva Longoria, Jodie Foster, Antonio Banderas and Owen Wilson. Not to mention France President Nicolas Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni, who will likely hog the opening-night spotlight when they show up for the premiere of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," in which Bruni has a cameo.

But in Cannes, the films are the stars, and it's with this year's competition lineup that the festival really shines.

The hottest ticket is Malick's long-gestating "The Tree of Life." The drama, starring Pitt and Penn, was originally set to bow last year in Cannes before perfectionist Malick withdrew it to tinker further. The delay has only heightened the film's enigmatic allure, and expectations are high.

"It was very important for Cannes to have this movie because we have been talking about it for a year now," says Xavier Leherpeur, a film critic for French movie magazine Studio CineLive. "I want it to be great."

Malick has been to Cannes only once before -- in 1979, when he won the director prize for "Days of Heaven." But even sight unseen, "Tree of Life," which screens May 16, is the odds-on favorite to win the Palme d'Or.   Continued...

<p>Brad Pitt and Laramie Eppler in a scene from 'The Tree of Life' from director Terrence Malick. REUTERS/Fox Searchlight</p>