Many regard Cannes Film Festival as the most prestigious (if not controversial) film festival in the world and 2013 marks its 66th anniversary. It’s safe to say Cannes offers an acquired taste, recent Palme d’Or winners include Terence Malik’s Tree of Life and Michael Haneke’s Amour, both of whom have been no stranger to controversy and mixed receptions despite receiving Academy Award nominations respectively.

It is worth noting however that Cannes always plays safe with its opening film. Last year saw Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom swoon audiences with its majestic colours and youthful charm before the likes of Leos Carax’s mind bending Holy Motors and Cristian Mungiu’s quasi-religious Beyond The Hills ensure tendentious order is restored.

2013 looks to be no different. Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby is set to open the festival and its initial response could prove vital in ensuring success with future audiences. Luhrman’s previous effort Australia suffered with both critics and audiences alike barely recouping a third of its $130 million budget at the box office. Luhrman is under extreme pressure to deliver, especially since Gatsby has a similar budget not to mention the weight of remaining loyal to such a renowned piece of literature. Many will also be keen to see whether his choice to release the film in a 3 dimensional format is a wise one. Recent trailers look promising with Leonardo DiCaprio in fine form headlining a stellar cast including the likes of Toby Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton. Its safe to say if Luhrman can combine the visual aesthetics of Moulin Rouge with the depth he brought to Romeo & Juliet, the australian director has nothing to worry about.

The main competition this year sees the return of The Coen Brothers with their new film Inside Llewyn Davis which follows Oscar Issac’s self titled character as he embarks across the 1960’s New York music scene with support from Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and Coen’s favourite John Goodman. Having won the Palme d’Or for Barton Fink in 1991 as well as Best Director for Fargo and The Man Who Wasn’t There in more recent years, its no surprise to see Joel & Ethan back in the heavyweight category.

Another returning heavyweight this year is Roman Polanski. Following the success of The Pianist here a decade ago, the Polish director has failed to reach such heights since. This year could mark a return to form with his new feature Venus in Fur. This is Polanski’s second broadway adaptation following Carnage last year and the casting of Emmanuelle Seigner as the aspiring actress desperate to convince Mathieu Almaric’s director to cast her, will certainly get critics excited. There is also a special screening of his 1972 Jackie Stewart documentary Weekend of a Champion and at eighty years of age this could well be Polanski’s final outing at Cannes.

On the subject of retirement, Steven Soderbergh recently announced that last month’s Side Effects was to be his final film as he looks to focus on a career in television. His latest work Behind The Candelabra – a biopic on pianist Liberace – was picked up by HBO films after being shunned by Hollywood executives who deemed it “too gay” and now looks set for a feature release. Michael Douglas takes the reigns with Matt Damon offering support as Liberace’s young lover, recent trailers have sparked great interest with Rob Lowe and Dan Akroyd completing the ensemble cast.

Two years ago Nicholas Winding Refn took Best Director for Drive and his new film – Only God Forgives – sees him reuniting with Ryan Gosling once again, this time swapping the neon skyline of LA for the seedy underbelly of Bangkok. Previews indicate Refn has lost none of his cutting edge with plenty of gross out violence on offer. Kirstin Scott Thomas – who has had her career somewhat rejuvenated in France of late – plays Gosling’s mother who orders her son to exact revenge after his brother is brutally murdered. Takashi Miike is no stranger to violence either and his latest offering Straw of Shield proves to be no different following two police officers as they escort a prisoner across Japan. The only catch being the prisoner’s Grandfather has put a bounty on his grandson’s head with a couple of professional hit men keen to profit. Based on a Kazuhiro Kiuchi novel this could be Japan’s answer to Smoking Aces? Only better, much better.

It wouldn’t be Cannes Film Festival without a film from proclaimed auteur Francois Ozon and although very little is known about Young & Beautiful the recent teaser trailer suggests no signs of Ozon slowing down. Ozon favourite Charlotte Rampling is once again cast alongside Frédéric Pierrot and newcomer Marine Vacth.

American auteurs are few and far between in the modern age, however both Alexander Payne and James Gray have been held in high regard of the status in the past and both have new features selected this year. Following the mediocre reception ofThe Descendants Payne’s Nebraska could be a return to form for the Sideways director charting a Father and son journey from Montana to Nebraska to claim prize money with plenty of soul searching en route. Starring Bruce Dern and shot on crisp black and white film (despite strong opposition from studio executives) this could well be Payne’s chance to reach the heights set when About Schmidt screened here a decade ago.

Gray on the other hand has been quiet since 2008’s Two Lovers but the return of his leading man Joaquin Phoenix (the pair also previously collaborated on The Yards and We Own The Night) has brought about his return to cinema with The Immigrant. Marion Cortillard takes the leading role as a woman trapped in a life of burlesque work by Phoenix’s pimp whilst Jeremy Renner plays a magician desperate to save her. Featuring three actors who have been prominent with Academy Award nominations in recent years as well as Gray’s ability to craft complex character studies, The Immigrant could be a strong contender for the top prize come end of May. Gray has also co-written out of competition entry Blood Ties. Once again starring Marion Cortillard and directed by her husband Guillaume Canet., this is the Tell No One’s director first english language film and is in fact, a remake of Jacques Maillot’s 2008 film Rivals, which Canet himself starred in. Clive Owen, Mila Kunis, James Caan and Matthias Schoenaerts round off an impressive cast.

Other contenders this year include Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, starring The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo and A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim. Having cemented his place in World Cinema with the Oscar winning A Separation, many will be keen to see what the Iranian director’s new feature offers. Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place failed to live up to expectations following his 2008 entry Il Divo, however The Great Beauty marks a return to homeland cinema for the italian in what early previews deem, a modern portrait of today’s Rome. There is also much excitement due for spanish prodigy Amat Escalante’s new feature Heli. Although plot summaries are scarce its thought to contain themes of police corruption, drug trafficking and sexual exploitation. His previous feature Los Bastardos was well received in 2008 and such success has led the 34 year old filmmaker to make the leap from the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category to Palme d’Or contender.

The main competition may contain all the glitz but this isn’t to say Un Certain Regard should be overlooked, far from it. In fact many critics feel the category is far more exciting in comparison to some of the more stagnated commercial entrants, offering a chance to discover the next crop of challenging filmmakers from the world over.

Having said that this year’s see’s Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring open the selection. Based on the true story of a group of teenagers who stole from celebrity homes between 2008-2009, Coppola will be out to prove a point having seen her biopic on Marie Antionette booed by audiences here in 2006. Brits will also be keen to see Emma Watson shed her Hermione image in favor of something a little more devious.

Other entry’s include Claire Denis’s Les Salauds who surprisingly has only featured at Cannes once (for her debut Chocolat in 1988), despite being one of France’s most challenging and thought-provoking directors for the past three decades. Fans of Denis’s social realist work can expect more in the same vein.

James Franco’s adaptation of William’s Faulkner 1930’s novel As I Lay Dying also features, the Spring Breaker’s star casting himself alongside friend Danny McBride in a film bound to raise brows. Valeria Golino is also making the transition from actress to director this year with her debut feature Miele. The Hot Shots! star casts Jasmine Trinca as a woman devoted to helping people adapted from an Angela Del Fabbro novel.

James Toback – the man responsible for showing us the true side of Tyson – has a rather unusual new documentary screening in the form of Seduced & Abandoned. A film documenting conversations between Toback and Alec Baldwin, as well as Scorcese, Polanski and others into how to generate finance for a movie. A movie about making money to make a movie. Confusing, yes, but certainly intriguing.

Hong Kong favourite Johnnie To screens his new police thriller Blind Detective and there is also room for first time female director and fellow Chinese compatriot Flora Lau, who has impressively gained a slot in the Un Certain Regard section for her romantic drama Bends.

If there’s one criticism about this year’s Cannes contenders its that it features no British entrants, with the exception of National Film & Television School graduate Ana Caro’s ten minute short The Magnificent Lion Boy and Stephen Frear’s out of competition entry Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight. Over the years Cannes has been acceptant of British cinema with heavyweights such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, both of whom have previously won the Palme d’Or for Secrets & Lies and The Wind That Shakes The Barley respectively, often featuring.

Many will regard this absence as a result of the demising funds within the British Film market whilst others may claim we have yet to solicit a new generation of filmmakers able to compete with the likes of Soderbergh, Coens etc. Rumors had been made that Steve McQueen’s follow up to Shame, the 19th Century epic Twelve Years a Slave may make the cut but with a release date of December it looks more likely to screen at the likes of Venice or Toronto later this year.

Despite the disappointment of a British exodus, Cannes shows no signs of slowing down in its quest to be the most prestigious film festival in the world today. Come mid May when prizes are given, condolences taken, the champagne has been drunk and there are canapes all over the red carpet Cannes willl have succeeded in doing what it always does best; displaying the good, the bad and the ugly of world cinema. No doubt leaving plenty of excitement stirred for the year ahead, as film blogs and twitter feeds come to life with exclusive raves, rants and reviews of what we can expect from the future of world cinema.

By Robin Pailler

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