Cannes Film Festival: Movies in competition are more international than ever

One example is the new film version of 'Macbeth,' which is directed by Australian Justin Kurzel and stars Irish, German-born Michael Fassbender in the title role, with the French Marion Cotillard co-starring.

Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'Mad Max: Fury Road' stars Tom Hardy.

There will be no selfies on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival this year, but, rest assured, there will be every other type of image-making at the French Riviera extravaganza.

Photographers will form flashing gauntlets through which many of the top stars and filmmakers in movies will stream on their way to premiering hotly anticipated films on screens that are less theaters than movie cathedrals.

Nowhere are films and filmmakers taken more seriously or superficially than at Cannes, the Cote d'Azur capital of cinema, which kicks off its 68th annual edition Wednesday.

"It's a circus," says Todd Haynes, ("Mildred Pierce," ''I'm Not There"), who will premiere his 1950s lesbian melodrama "Carol," starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. "It's a mad beast like nothing else. Nothing compares to Cannes, in my experience. It's an extremely important place."

At this year's festival, Haynes is one of two American filmmakers among the illustrious films in competition for the Palme d'Or. The Cannes top honor has occasionally gone to American directors (Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino), including this year's jury heads: Joel and Ethan Coen. (They won in 1991 for "Barton Fink.") The other American in competition is also a former Palme winner: Gus Van Sant (2003 for "Elephant"), who will bring "The Sea of Trees," a drama about suicide and survival starring Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe.

"It's only me and Gus Van Sant, who is also a gay Portlander, that are U.S. representatives," says Haynes, speaking from his home in Portland, Oregon. "I wrote him as soon as I saw that we were officially included."

But if the American contingent is narrow in neighborly proximity, this year's festival is otherwise striking for its international breadth. More than ever, the movies in competition at Cannes are international productions, shot on sets that could easily pass for United Nations assemblies.

The Italian stylist Paolo Sorrentino will present his follow-up to the Oscar-winning "The Great Beauty": "Youth," an Alps-set drama in English, starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. Joachim Trier, the Norwegian filmmaker of "Oslo, August 31," will also premiere an English-language drama, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Gabriel Byrne. "Sicario," a Mexican border crime drama starring Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, is the latest from the Quebec director Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners").

Even a multi-national Shakespeare will come to Cannes. "Macbeth," by the Australian director Justin Kurzel, stars the Irish, German-born Michael Fassbender and the French Marion Cotillard. Fassbender was thoroughly impressed by Cotillard tackling Lady Macbeth in a second language.

"I can't speak highly enough of her," Fassbender says. "For me to take it on, it was, 'OK, Shakespeare.' But she's French speaking. I just thought it was incredible bravery. And she's excellent."

Cannes is by far the largest movie market in the world, and while most will be eyeing the happenings along the red carpet at the Palais, the luxury hotels up and down the Croisette and the yachts moored offshore will be frantic with deal-making.

With so much of the film industry centered on Cannes for 12 days and media gathered from around the globe, Cannes has long functioned as an unparalleled international launching pad. In an out-of-competition screening, Pixar will celebrate the end of a two year hiatus with the animated "Inside Out," about the voices inside a girl's mind. A day before its North America opening, George Miller's dystopian drag race "Mad Max: Fury Road" will also invade the festival.

"'Mad Max' is just the right amount of crazy and anarchic for them," says Tom Hardy, who stars as the title road warrior. "I just love that George Miller is going to bring this insane ride down to the coast of Cannes where you'd expect Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck and Humphrey Bogart in formal outfits. George is going to turn up and blow the place up."

"Mad Max" on Thursday should offer a wild reversal to Wednesday's opening night, where Emmanuelle Bercot's delinquency drama "Standing Tall" will open off the festival, along with a ballet performance, choreographed by Benjamin Millepied, that pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo."

The hothouse of Cannes, equal parts madness and movies, can induce its own kind of vertigo. Perhaps that's why festival director Thierry Fremaux announced "grotesque" selfies won't be allowed on the red carpet. Amid the chaos a little sanity, please.

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