Cannes 2012: It's a Man's World (But at Least That Man Isn't Lars von Trier)

2012's Cannes Film Festival doesn't have a single female director in competition, but at least it'll be free of Lars von Trier's antics

This year's Cannes Film Festival probably won't debut three Oscar Best Picture nominees the way last year's Cannes did, but it will also be mercifully free of the one person who threatened to turn the 2011 festival into a sideshow.

That would be Lars von Trier, the Danish director and provocateur who essentially hijacked last year's festival with a press conference in which he called himself a Nazi because of his partial German heritage.

Cannes posterOn the other hand, it'll also be free of any women directors in the main competition, which could supply some controversy in the absence of von Trier.

Also read: Cannes Will Be Speaking English This Year: David Cronenberg, Lee Daniels, Andrew Dominik …

Last year, von Trier's antics threatened to overshadow a festival that saw the debuts of Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" and Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist."

This year, an unusually large number of English-language films are hoping to grab the spotlight that a Cannes debut can provide, among them David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis," Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly" and Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy."

But they'll probably have to do so in the face a litany of complaints about how the festival has taken a step backward in the way it includes women.

Similar complaints resounded down the Croisette in 2010, when the festival had a similar absence of women in the main competition, and a petition circulated during the festival drew more than 1,000 signatures. In 2011, though, a record four films directed by women were in competition; one of them, Maiwenn's "Polisse," won the Prix du Jury.

This year, none of the 21 competition films were directed by women, and only two of the 17 in Un Certain Regard.

Richard Buckner/Getty Images"For an industry that professes to examine questions about life, that challenges conventions, that pushes the envelope, the total Neanderthal approach to women is breathtaking," wrote Melissa Silverstein on the Women and Hollywood blog at indieWIRE.  

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"Regardless of whether the problem is that there are no female-directed films for Cannes to select, or whether the problem is that female-directed films were not selected, the statistics about the dearth of female film directors are remarkable and deserving of attention and action," director Lucy Walker, whose film "Countdown to Zero" screened out of competition at Cannes two years ago, told TheWrap. "I believe that the former is the important problem, and that women are not getting sufficient opportunities to direct films at all."

The criticism may find some traction as Cannes begins its 12-day run on Wednesday night with a screening of Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom." Or a film, a bidding war, a breakout star or a different controversy could seize the spotlight, the way "The Tree of Life" seemed to be doing last year before von Trier opened his big mouth.

Also read: Historic Change as Women Directors Leave Mark at Cannes

Besides the scarcity of women, one notable characteristic of this year's Cannes lineup is the abundance of films in English. There's Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis," a Don DeLillo adaptation and the first film Cronenberg has written himself since 1999; Dominik's "Killing Them Softly," his first film since "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; and Daniels' reportedly steamy "The Paperboy."

Other English-language fare includes "Moonrise Kingdom," Jeff Nichols' "Mud," John Hillcoat's "Lawless," Walter Salles' "On the Road" and Ken Loach's "The Angels' Share" in competition, along with special screenings of Philip Kaufman's HBO movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn" and DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar 3." 

Richard Buckner/Getty ImagesThen again, fans of international cinema will no doubt be even more eager to sample "Beyond the Hills," "Like Someone in Love" and "Amour," the new films from past Palme d'Or winners Cristian Mungiu ("4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"), Abbas Kiarostami ("Taste of Cherry") and Michael Haneke ("The White Ribbon"), respectively.

Also Read: Cannes Classics: Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Agnes Varda, Roman Polanski Headline

"A Prophet" director Jacques Audiard is back with "Rust and Bone," while 89-year-old French legend Alain Resnais is represented with "You Haven't Seen Anything Yet" and Korean director Sangsoo Hong with "Da-Reun Na-Ra-E-Suh" ("In Another Country").

Cannes will also provide a couple of notable pairings: David Cronenberg's son Brandon will be screening his directorial debut, "Antiviral," in the Un Certain Regard section, which also includes Benh Zeitlin's Sundance sensation "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

And the stars of "Twilight," Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, are both expected to show up on the Croisette, Pattinson with "Cosmopolis" and Stewart with "On the Road."

Of those two, Pattinson is deemed likelier to be attending the Cannes awards ceremony on the festival's final day. The British bookmakers Paddy Power currently has "Cosmopolis" tied for third among predicted Palme d'Or winners, with 7/1 odds. ("On the Road" is way down at 25/1.)

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The likeliest winner, say the bookies, is Haneke's "Amour" at 4/1, followed by "Rust and Bone" at 9/2 and "Cosmopolis," "Like Someone in Love" and Carlos Reygadas' "Post Tenebras Lux" at 7/1.

Least likely, they say: "Lawless" and Im Sang-soo's "The Taste of Money" at 33/1.

Meanwhile, an entirely different festival – one where the focus is on deals and blockbusters, not awards and art movies, and one where the currency isn’t prestige, it's currency – will be taking place at the Cannes marketplace.

The schedule itself has already stirred up a few complaints, because Cannes organizers have slated a surprising number of high-profile films late in the festival, when many journalists and buyers have already gone home.

"Cosmpolis," for example, doesn't screen until May 25, two days before the end of the festival, while "Mud" is being held for the following day – a decision that often-cranky blogger Jeff Wells called "obstinacy" and "provocation for provocation's sake."

Then again, it wouldn't be Cannes without provocation. Just ask Lars von Trier.

(Photos of Cannes by Richard Buckner/Getty Images)