Cannes Film Festival preview: New work from perennial favorites

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When the 66th Cannes Film Festival opens Wednesday, it'll do so with a big bash of a movie, not in competition, already up and running in the U.S.: Baz Luhrmann's “The Great Gatsby,” based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald's drunken revels up and down the Cote d'Azur in the 1920s remain the stuff of literary and liver-related legend. Since “Gatsby” has opened here already, the Cannes buzz among American cinephiles, journalists and critics, not to mention programmers, sellers, buyers and dreamers, has morphed into a nervous and rather unseemly refrain: Forget the film. I wonder if I can scam my way into what promises to be a pip of an afterparty?

“The Great Gatsby” is one of several hundred movies in half as many languages screaming, murmuring, jockeying for attention at the world's most magnetic film festival. Some compete for the storied Palme d'Or, the prize won in past years by, among others, “Taxi Driver,” “Pulp Fiction,” “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and last year's winner, and eventual Academy Award honoree, “Amour.”

This year's main competition jury, headed by Steven Spielberg, will assess and debate 20 titles, many directed by auteurs on whom Cannes has smiled fondly in previous years. Five of the 20 come from American directors. They are: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, represented by their '60s folkie pastiche “Inside Llewyn Davis”; James Gray, a steady Cannes presence, directing a period piece starring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, “The Immigrant”; Jim Jarmusch, bringing to the seaside resort mecca a tale of vampire love and marriage, “Only Lovers Left Alive”; Alexander Payne, whose latest is “Nebraska”; and Steven Soderbergh, with his Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra.”

For many, those will be enough. For others, the tantalizing promise of new work from Jia Zhangke (director of the brilliant “Still Life,” arriving with “Tian Zhu Ding”) or Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation,” presenting his latest, “Le Passe”) is the key 51 percent of Cannes' value and allure. The red carpet stuff? It photographs well, to be sure. But it's where the red carpet leads you that counts.

The 66th Cannes Film Festival runs May 15-26.

In the main competition

“Only God Forgives,” directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The style-conscious and saturation-plus director reunites with his “Drive” star, Ryan Gosling, in this Bangkok-set revenge machine about a drug smuggler (Kristin Scott Thomas plays his mom) hunting his brother's murderer. “Drive” won the best director award two years ago in Cannes.

“Inside Llewyn Davis,” directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. The Dylanesque 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene gets the Coen brothers treatment. Favorites of the French Riviera festival, the Coens have been honored several times at Cannes during their careers, topped by a Palme d'Or for “Barton Fink.”

“Behind the Candelabra,” directed by Steven Soderbergh. Airing on HBO May 26, the director's Liberace biopic (Michael Douglas plays Lee, of Milwaukee; Matt Damon, the tell-all b.f.) has been getting strong response in its earliest semi-clandestine screenings. Recently (though not for the first time) announcing a hiatus/retirement from cinema, Soderbergh is no stranger to Cannes. Festival delegate-general Thierry Fremaux said recently: “His first film, ‘sex, lies and videotape,' played at Cannes and won the Palme d'Or. And we wish him the same fortune with (his last) film.”

“Nebraska,” directed by Alexander Payne. A member of last year's Cannes main competition jury, the director of “The Descendants,” “About Schmidt” and “Sideways” delivers a black-and-white road movie showcasing Bruce Dern and, as his son, Will Forte, seeking lottery prize money and a little connection.

“Le Passe,” directed by Asghar Farhadi. The writer-director of “A Separation” returns with a drama of an Iranian-born man (Tahar Rahim) separating from his French wife (Berenice Bejo of “The Artist”) and their children. Two countries, two lives, complicated hearts.

In the Un Certain Regard sidebar competition

“The Bling Ring,” directed by Sofia Coppola. Last seen in Cannes with “Marie Antoinette,” the director of “Lost in Translation” and “Somewhere” opens the UCR slate with a true-ish story featuring Emma Watson as the ringleader of a group of teens who broke into stars' houses, including Paris Hilton's and Lindsay Lohan's, to steal their stuff and try a little secondhand celebrity on for size. Opens June 14 in the U.S.

“The Bastards,” directed by Claire Denis. Brothers, sisters, suicide, shady business practices, revenge, sexual and otherwise. Denis' return is hotly anticipated.

In the Directors' Fortnight sidebar competition

“The Congress,” directed by Ari Folman. The follow-up to his superb animated moral inquiry “Waltz With Bashir,” Folman's partly animated, partly live-action adaptation of the Stanislaw Lem novel “The Futurological Congress” features Robin Wright as an aging actress offered a tempting 20-year contract. With a hitch.

In the Critics Week sidebar competition

“Suzanne,” directed by Katell Quillevere. The Critics sidebar opens with this drama of a woman who, as a teenager, abandoned her infant.

Special presentation

“Max Rose,” directed by Daniel Noah. Jerry Lewis, le un and only, will be feted in person at Cannes; his comedy “The Ladies' Man” will screen on the beach as part of the Cannes Classics series, and this new picture, a modestly scaled indie, showcases Lewis as a jazz pianist who discovers a secret about his long-time marriage.

mjphillips@tribune.com

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