Safe selection of established auteurs; Love for Brits over Americans

The Cannes International Film Festival competition selections makes for a tasty balance between Croisette veterans and newcomers to the competition section, while Woody Allen, Stephen Frears and Oliver Stone are on hand to add a little glamour to the Out of Competition department.

It is nice to see such feted directors (and rightly so given their output over the years) such as Mike Leigh, Takeshi Kitano, Bertrand Tavernier and Abbas Kiarostami slugging it out together in such a competitive section.

Equally, Nikita Mikhalkov, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Rachid Bouchareb (whose Days of Glory was a highly tipped Cannes contender in 2006, where the eventual winner was Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul are all distinctive filmmakers who have made their reputations at festivals. It could be argued that with the majority of the films coming from established filmmakers that the selection might be perceived as somewhat safe, but it is likely there will be some surprises along the line.

The sole US competition entry comes from director Doug Liman, whose track record is with more mainstream fare such as Swingers, The Bourne Identity and Mr and Mrs Smith, but his political thriller Fair Game features strong casting with Sean Penn (Cannes jury president in 2008) and Naomi Watts.

With Mike Leigh – who won the Palme d’Or for Secrets & Lies in 1996 – back in Cannes, and with Stephen Frears (and the much-anticipated Tamara Drewe) and Ridley Scott (opening with Robin Hood) showing out-of-competition, it is a good year for the UK after a lean period in recent years. Plus Sophie Fiennes’s Over Cities Grass Will Grow receives a special screening and Woody Allen’s UK-set You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger will be claimed by some Brits.

And while some of the other competition had been tipped in advance (such as Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid; Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men and Daniele Luchetti’s La nostra vita) there are a few surprises….such as Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Screaming Man; Mathieu Amalric’s Tournee and Sergey Loznitsa’s You, My Joy.

Naturally, early tipping had pointed to a list of films that are surprising not to be featuring here. But as everyone knows, some filmmakers so not like the competition environment, while other films will simply just not be finished and/or targeting a festival/market platform later in the year. And there is the fact that organisers said this morning that a few more selections will be added in coming weeks.

Films hotly tipped but not in the line-up so far include Tran Ah Hung’s Norwegian Wood; Johnnie To’s Death of a Hostage; Julian Schnabal’s Miral; Tom Tykwer’s Three; Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse; Susanne Bier’s The Revenge and Julio Medem’s Room in Rome.

The solitary US competition film is equally surprising, especially when films such as Somewhere, from Sofia Coppola; The Beaver from Jodie Foster; The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick; Machete by Robert Rodriguez, and The Tempest from Julie Taymor had all been much mooted.

And let’s face it – there would have been a guilty pleasure if Sylvester Stallone and his macho band in The Expendables and Michael Patrick King and the girls from Sex and the City 2 had been shown in Out of Competition slots…just for the sheer competition in the red carpet glamour department.

Of course, more is to come next week with the announcements of Directors Fortnight and Critics Week selections.