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First-timers and veterans headline at Cannes

Science fiction and thrillers mingle with historical dramas and animated comedies.

April 21, 2006|Nancy Tartaglione-Vialatte | Special to The Times

PARIS — Directors with films depicting the underbelly of America's fast food industry, the coming of age of a self-absorbed queen in 18th century France, and a red terror alert in Los Angeles are among newcomers competing for the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

With Ron Howard's "The Da Vinci Code" previously announced as the opening night, out-of-competition world premiere, the festival will keep star-wattage high with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel" starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal, Sofia Coppola's "Marie-Antoinette" with Kirsten Dunst and Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" with the Rock, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore and Miranda Richardson, all in official competition.

As the first director ever to have films in the main competition and Un Certain Regard sidebar, Richard Linklater has scored a berth for "Fast Food Nation" starring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Kris Kristofferson, Avril Lavigne and Greg Kinnear in the former and one for "A Scanner Darkly" with Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. in the latter.

Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux noted that "A Scanner Darkly" was confirmed just the day before the announcement and said that Linklater "has two very different films in two different sections.... It proves that the festival is a place for a filmmaker to showcase his work."

The three U.S. directors, Linklater, Coppola and Kelly, are making their competitive debuts to vie for the Palme d'Or, joined by seven other first timers. Nineteen films will compete for the top prize. (For a complete list, go to

Given that "The Da Vinci Code" and "Marie-Antoinette" were both shot in part in France, some observers have wondered whether there wasn't a bit of favoritism behind their selection. Fremaux dismissed that idea. "One is an event film and the other is the very anticipated third film from a young auteur. Even if it had been shot at the other end of the world we would have taken it."

"If 2005 marked the return of the great auteurs," Fremaux said, "this year is the contrary. It's a year of renewal and new names. The festival wanted to take risks and show films that people might be surprised to see in Cannes."

It was not surprising to see Pedro Almodovar's "Volver," starring Penelope Cruz, which has been garnering strong reviews. Also marking a return to Cannes is Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki with "Lights in the Dusk." Kaurismaki took the Grand Jury Prize in 2002 for "The Man Without a Past."

Ken Loach comes to the competition for the eighth time with "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" and Italian director Nanni Moretti also returns with his controversial look at Italian politics, "The Caiman."

Along with Inarritu, Mexico will be represented by Guillermo Del Toro's fantasy film "Pan's Labyrinth," and France has three films from directors Nicole Garcia ("Selon Charlie"), Bruno Dumont ("Flandres") and Xavier Giannoli ("Quand J'Etais Chanteur").

Chinese director Wong Kar Wai will preside over the jury made up of Italian actress Monica Bellucci, British actors Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth, American actor Samuel L. Jackson, Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang, Argentine director Lucrecia Martel, French director Patrice Leconte and Palestinian director Elia Suleiman.

The major out-of-competition screenings are a grab-bag of U.S. studio fare with British director Paul Greengrass' "United 93," Brett Ratner's "X-Men: The Last Stand" and Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick's animated comedy "Over the Hedge."

The closing film is Tony Gatlif's "Transylvania" (noncompeting). Gatlif won the best director prize in 2004 for "Exils."

Fremaux said there were more than 1,580 entries, and for the first time allowed himself an early disclaimer that there could be last-minute changes. "People are always surprised by it, but it's like cooking, sometimes you have to add a bit of sugar or salt at the end."

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