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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

CANNES SELECTION FULL OF FAVORITES

By MANOHLA DARGIS
The New York Times, 4/20/05

Maybe this year we can actually pay attention to the films. Yesterday, when the organizers for the Cannes International Film Festival announced the official lineup for this year's event they didn't just tease the cinephile palate -- among the directors returning to the Croisette are such leading world auteurs as Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jim Jarmusch, Lars von Trier, Gus Van Sant and David Cronenberg -- they also offered hope that this year attendees could keep their eyes and their attention fixed on the screen. The circus will be in town again, starting May 11, but with Miramax Films about to part ways with Disney there's no sign (yet) that at least one ringmaster, Harvey Weinstein, much in attendance last year with "Fahrenheit 9/11," will be cracking the whip with his usual brio.

There are no obvious hot-button films in this year's lineup, which stacks up as a classic Cannes selection packed with critical favorites and sprinkled with both potential comeback kids like Atom Egoyan, and hot directors, including, notably, Mexico's Carlos Reygadas and Italy's Marco Tullio Giordana. Three years ago, Mr. Reygadas made a stunning bow in one of the festival's unofficial programs, the Directors' Fortnight, with the austere "Japón," about a dying man's final awakening. This year, he leaps into competition with his second feature, "Battle in Heaven," about a kidnapping gone wrong. Mr. Giordana similarly thrilled critics two years ago with his six-hour, made-for-television epic "Best of Youth." This year, he joins the competition with the considerably shorter "Once You're Born You Can No Longer Hide," described as a coming-of-age story.

Although this year's competition films don't look controversial, they nonetheless inspire a host of burning questions: With "Don't Come Knockin,' " will this year be the year that we can finally stop asking whatever happened to Wim Wenders? Will Mr. Cronenberg send critics storming out of theaters with "A History of Violence," as he did with "Crash"? Is Mr. Egoyan's "Where the Truth Lies," as good as one movie executive insists (he says: think "Marnie" and "Mulholland Drive")? Will Mr. von Trier, last at Cannes with that teapot tempest "Dogville," again inflame (some) American critics, with the second chapter of his United States trilogy, "Manderlay"? Will anyone even notice, now that the "Dogville" star Nicole Kidman won't be on hand to suffer the Danish director's abuse, having been replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard, last seen moping through "The Village"?

As the premiere film festival in the world unwinds, serious moviegoers will likely be consumed with the latest offerings from favorites like Mr. Hou ("The Best of Our Times") and Mr. Jarmusch ("Broken Flowers"), while equally serious pop-culture mavens will be scrambling for center seats to the latest offering from the Hong Kong action whiz Johnny To ("Election") and to one of the festival's true wild cards, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada." A film about a ranch hand trying to bury a friend, "Three Burials" was directed by and stars the veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones and, in an example of how money and talent flow around the globe, was written by the Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga ("21 Grams") and executive produced by Luc Besson, the French director and producer. Like Mr. Weinstein, Mr. Besson knows how to put on a really big show.


TO READ MANOHLA DARGIS' REPORT ON "THE FIRST IMPORTANT FILM TO SHOW IN COMPETITION," CLICK HERE