Cannes 2015: Wrap Critic Alonso Duralde Previews This Year’s Auteur Battle on the Croisette

Indie stalwarts Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant will vie against Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Paolo Sorrentino and Denis Villeneuve for top honors

This story originally appeared in TheWrap magazine: Cannes.

Think of the venerable Cannes Film Festival as the anti-Comic-Con. In July, actors and filmmakers will dutifully troop to San Diego to promote what will be, for the most part, their “one for them” movies, designed to make billions of dollars worldwide. But before that, many of those same actors will head off to the south of France to promote what will be, for the most part, their “one for me” movies, which provide them with artistic fulfillment and, perhaps, a shot at awards attention.

What Cannes may lack in Avengers, it more than makes up for in both star wattage and the presence of some of this generation’s leading auteurs. It’s one of the few times each year that the global entertainment industry (and the media) pretend to be as interested in the new Hou Hsiao-Hsien movie as they are in the prospect of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3D.” And when Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Colin Farrell and Jane Fonda show up on a red carpet, attention must be paid, even if the movies they’re promoting wind up being limited-release arthouse darlings.

It’s worth noting that first-timer Laszlo Nemes made the cut for the official competition, since it’s a category that’s generally reserved for the more established heavy hitters. Nemes and his Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” will face stiff competition from the aforementioned Hou (“The Assassin”), not to mention American indie stalwarts like Todd Haynes (“Carol”) and Gus Van Sant (“The Sea of Trees”).

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If there’s a theme for the artists vying for the Palme d’Or this year, it’s Directors on a Roll, with many established filmmakers displaying their eagerly anticipated latest efforts after having hit new heights with their recent releases. Paolo Sorrentino, who scored an Oscar in 2014 for “The Great Beauty,” returns to the Croisette with “Youth,” featuring a powerhouse ensemble that includes Fonda, Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Paul Dano and Harvey Keitel. Denis Villeneuve follows up on his one-two punch of “Prisoners” and “Enemy” with “Sicario,” starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro.

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Matteo Garrone of “Gomorrah” and “Reality” fame makes his English-language debut with “The Tale of Tales,” which will bring Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly to the festival. And those are just a handful of examples from this prestigious lineup. (Weisz and Reilly also turn up 
in “Lobster,” the latest from “Dogtooth” director Yorgos Lanthimos, alongside Farrell and Ben Whishaw.)

The number of films in competition directed by women soared from one in 2013 to two in 2014, and that level remains static this year, with only Valérie Donzelli’s “Marguerite & Julien” and actress-turned-writer-director Maïwenn’s “Mon Roi” breaking out of the boys’ club. (Emmanuelle Bercot’s “Standing Tall” is slated for Opening Night, the first time in almost 30 years a female-directed movie has gotten that prestigious slot.) Geographically speaking, neither African nor South American directors made the final cut, although the official competition represents just part of the overall Cannes schedule, which also includes Un Certain Regard, the Directors’ Fortnight, International Critics’ Week and many high-profile “out of competition” screenings.

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For the pundits who spend the year handicapping the Academy Awards, the goings-on at Cannes will certainly stoke their early prognos- tications, although these remain tricky entrails to read. Still, the prospect of Cate Blanchett reuniting with her “I’m Not There” director Haynes, or Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe teaming up under Van Sant’s watchful eye, will no doubt spawn Oscar talk.

And then everyone can go back to talking about “Star Wars.”

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