Cannes goes Hollywood

As film festivals have become ubiquitous, status and distinction have become increasingly important. And no festival has the status and distinction that the Cannes International Film Festival has.

Nothing can beat the mix of midwinter sun, Cannes cachet, bonhomie, expensive sunglasses and the eclectic smorgasbord of big-bucks productions and auteur-driven independents.

The 54th edition of the film festival, which began Wednesday, doesn’t disappoint.

The festival’s festivities will kick off – literally – with a lavish and luscious flick, Moulin Rouge. A cancan revue, backed by the film’s interior sets, will take place near Cannes’ old port, starting the party, and the film’s buzz should dominate the first day.

The $50 million dollar production is the first of 23 films to be entered in competition for the Palme d’Or. Moulin Rouge, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, tells the tale of doomed love between a cabaret star and a young poet. Director Baz Luhrman is no stranger to Cannes: his Strictly Ballroom screened there in 1992.

DreamWorks’ much ballyhooed animated adventure film Shrek also is in the competition field. Featuring the voice talents of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy, Shrek is the first feature animation in 48 years to be assigned to the competition field. Shrek‘s showing at Cannes will be the world premiere for the film, as it doesn’t open nationally in the United States until Friday, May 18.

Three other American films will vie for the coveted Palme d’Or award. Joel and Ethan Coen return to the red carpet with The Man Who Wasn’t There, starring Frances McDormand (Fargo, Almost Famous) and Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Pushing Tin). Jack Nicholson stars in the Sean Penn-lensed stark mystery, The Pledge. And David Lynch returns to his dark, twisted side, with Mulholland Drive, Lynch‘s unique take on Los Angeles life.

Of the 18 other films in competition, ones to watch include:

Two-time Palme d’Or winner Shohei Imamura‘s Lukewarm Water Under The Bridge;
Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf portrays the plight of Afghani women in Sun Behind The Moon;
Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land, the first entry by a Bosnian;
Acclaimed Japanese director Shinji Aoyama’s Desert Moon; and
French new wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard‘s Eloge de l’amour.

But not all the excitement is reserved for those in competition. American films headline the Un Certain Regard category, Cannes’ second tier of films, including noted indie artist Hal Hartley‘s No Such Thing – a woman falls in love with a monster, set in Iceland – and the digital video project featuring Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Anniversary Party.

France and Japan also have an impressive presence in this category. The French film with the most buzz is Claire Denis‘ science fiction thriller, Trouble Every Day. Starring Beatrice Dalle (Betty Blue), the seemingly normal denizens of Paris are turning into cannibals.

Exploring a more current topic – and one that happens to affect most people – Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa releases Kairo, a computer-virus action flick. Needless to say, download the trailer to your home PC at your own risk.

Francis Ford Coppola is making a splash on the beach at Cannes, without even entering any competition. Twenty-two years after Apocalypse Now won a Palme d’Or, the movie returns, this time with 53 minutes of footage that’s never been seen before.

Coppola‘s son Roman is following in Dad’s footsteps, showing his new film C.Q. Cannes also screened last year The Virgin Suicides, directed by Coppla‘s daughter, Sofia.

The fortnight of film will end Sunday, May 20, with a showing of Savage Souls, by France’s Raoul Ruiz.