Film Postcard: Cannes
"I like large parties," says Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. "They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy." This may be true, but it's doubtful whether the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, which runs from Wednesday to May 26, will provide much intimacy. With Baz Luhrmann's glittering take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1920s novel opening world cinema's hottest party, all eyes will be on the French Riviera for two weeks.
As usual Hollywood has muscled in - from Luhrmann's all-star cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, via Steven Spielberg heading the jury, to Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, her real-life tale of Los Angeles teen housebreakers who target Beverly Hills celebrities, which opens the festival's Un Certain Regard strand. Fortunately, the competition - the 20 films jostling for the coveted Palme d'Or - sees a more tasteful American influence.
Regular Cannes attendees are back in force, including Alexander Payne (who brings his black-and-white father/son road trip Nebraska), Jim Jarmusch (a late addition with vampire tale Only Lovers Left Alive) and James Gray (with The Immigrant). They'll be joined by former Palme d'Or winners Joel and Ethan Coen, with their 1960s folk music drama Inside Llewyn Davis, and Steven Soderbergh, who won the prize for his 1989 debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape and returns with what will be, so the 50-year-old filmmaker claims, his swansong, Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra.
Beyond the US heavy-hitters, there is much to look forward to. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi hits Cannes with The Past, his first film since 2011's A Separation, which claimed an Oscar and Golden Globe for best foreign film. While the plot details are under wraps, it is known that Farhadi's first film shot outside his native Iran stars The Artist's Bérénice Bejo and A Prophet's Tahar Rahim, two French thespians who owe a great deal to Cannes for boosting their careers.
Speaking of the French: prolific Gallic director François Ozon returns with his latest film, Young & Beautiful. Starring Marine Vacth, this portrait of a teenage girl "in four seasons and four songs" comes hot on the heels of In the House, one of the best movies of the French auteur's career. Italian maestro Paolo Sorrentino, after his oddball US odyssey This Must Be the Place, also reappears. His new film, The Great Beauty, promises to be a contemporary tale set among the Rome glitterati - re-acquainting him with regular star Toni Servillo.
Of course, there are the usual omissions. British filmmaker Steve McQueen's anticipated Twelve Years a Slave, starring his Shame actor Michael Fassbender and Hollywood megastar Brad Pitt, was said to be not ready. Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer's Scottish sci-fi Under the Skin also didn't make the cut. But Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux ensured the door was left open for Lars von Trier, after the Danish director's ill-advised "Nazi" comments in his 2011 Cannes press conference saw the festival declare him "persona non grata".
Proclaiming the ban wasn't forever, Frémaux said Von Trier's new film, Nymphomaniac, wasn't ready in time. "The day he has a film ready in time for Cannes we will talk about him again," he said. So the Danish presence is left to Nicolas Winding Refn, who follows his Cannes debut two years back with Drive with another Ryan Gosling love-in: a brutal-looking Bangkok-set crime drama Only God Forgives.
Away from the main competition, Hong Kong talent has not been overlooked: Cannes regular Johnnie To Kei-fung is back with Blind Detective, which reunites him with Canto-pop singer-actor Andy Lau Tak-wah and Canto-pop singer-actress Sammi Cheng Sau-man for the first time since 2004's Yesterday Once More. Meanwhile, in Un Certain Regard, Flora Lau Wan-man unveils her feature film directorial debut, Bends, starring Carina Lau Kar-ling as an affluent housewife who strikes up a friendship with her chauffeur.
After last year's outcry when no female director made the official selection, Flora Lau is one of eight women with films in Un Certain Regard, alongside veterans such as Claire Denis. Only one woman - Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, director of Un Chateau En Italie - made the main competition. "The thing about women is that - like men - they can make bad films," Frémaux said. It remains to be seen who'll win the battle of the sexes this year.