Cannes Logic: Who Needs Hits When You've Got Auteurs?

The stars will be there for show, but the real substance at Cannes will come from a strong lineup of arty filmmakers

The blockbuster stops here.

And that blockbuster is apt to be mighty lonely at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Cannes Film Festival"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" will have its gala premiere in an out-of-competition slot at the 64th Cannes, which kicks off on Wednesday night in the South of France. But the rest of this year's lineup will be much smaller and far artier: international auteurs, not American hitmakers.

See slideshow: From 'Tree of Life' to 'Melancholia': 10 Most Buzz-Worthy Cannes Films

Of course, that's par for the course at Cannes, which always features one or two high-profile U.S. releases to lure the stars and feed the paparazzi (Johnny Depp! Penelope Cruz!), but then gets down to business with Almodovar and von Trier and the Dardenne brothers.

Even the festival's opening-night attraction, which the past two years has gone to Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" and Pixar's "Up," this year is reserved for a smaller film: Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," a Sony Pictures Classics release from an iconic filmmaker who isn't exactly big business these days.

Also read: Cannes Unveils 2011 Lineup: Malick, Almodovar, Von Trier, More

To be sure, festivalgoers on the Croisette will see lots of stars: Depp and Cruz for "Pirates," Sean Penn and Brad Pitt for "The Tree of Life," Penn again for "This Is the Place," Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan for "Drive," Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly for "We Need to Talk About Kevin," Kirsten Dunst for "Melancholia," Robert De Niro and Jude Law and Uma Thurman on the jury …

CannesBut the focus, at least among the films screening in competition in the main selection and the smaller, artier Un Certain Regard sidebar, will be on the names behind the camera: Pedro Almodovar with the thriller "The Skin I Live In," master provocateur Lars von Trier with "Melancholia" (which seems unlikely to cause as much stir as his "Antichrist" did two years ago), Nicolas Winding Refn with "Drive," Gus Van Sant with "Restless," Hong Sang-soo with "The Day He Arrives," Nuri Bilge Ceylan with "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," the Dardenne brothers with "The Kid With a Bike," Sean Durkin with the Sundance fave "Martha Marcy May Marlene."

None, though, will loom bigger than Terrence Malick, who will bring his long-awaited coming-of-age opus "The Tree of Life" to Cannes a year after many thought the film would appear. The film has been praised by a small number of viewers who suggest it'll change the way people think about movies; it's been scoffed at by business types who say it has no chance of making money.

For "The Tree of Life," Cannes could be a launching pad or a graveyard — but coming into the festival, nothing has garnered anywhere near the amount of attention it has.

Another thing to watch: after 2010, in which a petition circulated criticizing the festival for not having a single female director in the main competition, this year's lineup features an unprecedented four films directed by women.

Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" (below), Naomi Kawase's "Hanezu," Maiwenn's
"Poliss" and Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" will likely have nothing in common beyond the gender of their directors, but their presence is as much a political statement as the last-minute addition of two films from imprisoned Iranian directors, Jafar Panahi's "This Is Not a Film" and Muhammad Rasoulof's "Good Bye."

Sleeping BeautyOverall, the lineup appears stronger and deeper than last year's widely-criticized slate, which included a handful of films that received American distribution but only three competition films that went on to land Oscar nominations: Best Foreign-Language Film nominees "Outside the Law" and "Biutiful" (which also picked up a nod for Cannes Best Actor winner Javier Bardem) and Un Certain Regard entry "Blue Valentine."

The year before, three Foreign-Language Oscar nominees screened at Cannes, and so did three Best Picture nominees: "Inglourious Basterds" and "Precious" in competition, and "Up" out of competition.

Then again, Cannes is seldom a path to Oscar: no Palme d'Or winner has ever gone on to win Best Picture, and in the past 14 years only one, "The Pianist," has been nominated. 

"The important thing is being in the festival, not winning," Sony Pictures Classics co-chief Tom Bernard told TheWrap this week. "If, say, the Dardenne brothers win, it might not be as important in America as when Tarantino won [for "Pulp Fiction"]. What really matters is that you can put your movie on the map there, because of all the media crammed into one room."

On the acquisition side, added Bernard, Cannes itself is big business, with buyers and sellers and media flocking to the Croisette and filling the adjacent Film du Marche market, which may largely be a schlockfest but definitely benefits from its proximity to the festival.

And with sales unexpectedly strong at the Toronto and Sundance festivals during the last year, Cannes itself could well see a sales market that is livelier than usual.

"Last year, the economy had an impact," Bernard said. "This year, I've noticed a lot more companies coming to Cannes and advertising that they're going to be in Cannes. There are more receptions, more screenings, more people coming."

One key, he added: "People are coming here looking to buy rights that go beyond just theatrical rights. Now you've got lots of different windows, starting with theatrical — there are more mouths to feed and more places to have your movie seen, even if you don’t make the cut theatrically."

The 64th Cannes Film Festival begins on Wednesday, May 11; winners will be announced on Sunday, May 22. TheWrap will have complete coverage of the festival at Report from Cannes.