Cannes film festival 2012 lineup: the competition's still a man's world

With new offerings from Audiard, Haneke and Loach, this year's festival will be another feast of quality film-making. Could have done with a few more women directors, mind
Marion Cotillard in Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, showing at Cannes film festival 2012
Challenging … Marion Cotillard in Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, screening in competition at Cannes film festival 2012
Challenging … Marion Cotillard in Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, screening in competition at Cannes film festival 2012
Thu 19 Apr 2012 10.44 EDT

Once again, the Cannes film festival has unveiled a gorgeous list. The only disappointments, for some, will be the fact that Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master and Terrence Malick's new project were not included, reportedly because they were not ready in time – although the idea of Malick actually having a new film completed just one year after the last head-spinning epic is fantastically improbable: as if he had moved up to a Roger Corman level of productivity. Some observers will be disappointed that Stoker, by the South Korean director Park Chan-wook has not been selected, likewise Wong Kar-wai's The Grand Master – although the festival could sneak in a late entry here and there.

The relative absence of women in the list of directors is, however, pretty dismal: the competition is an all-male affair, and there are just two women film-makers in Un Certain Regard: Sylvie Verheyde, with Confession of a Child of the Century, and Catherine Corsini, with Three Worlds.

It's still a mouthwatering selection: new films by Jacques Audiard, Lee Daniels, Carlos Reygadas, Andrew Dominik, Abbas Kiarostami, Wes Anderson, Hong Sang-soo, and Ken Loach in the main lineup, with Yousry Nasrallah's After the Battle tackling the Egyptian revolution and the Arab spring. Bernardo Bertolucci's new film Me and You is screening out of competition – a dark two-hander, based on a novella by Niccolò Ammaniti, about a young man helping his half-sister to beat heroin addiction. Takashi Miike's The Legend of Love and Sincerity and Dario Argento's Dracula are showing at midnight screenings – events that are bound to be red-hot tickets. The Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a Palme-winner for his ghost parable Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, has a special screening for his new project, Mekong Hotel. Pablo Trapero's new film White Elephant is in Un Certain Regard.

One auteur with a virtual freehold on the competition list is Michael Haneke, the master of challenging and confrontationally difficult film-making – the idea of a Haneke film getting put into Un Certain Regard, or even rejected outright, is pretty much unthinkable. Cannes festivalgoers are steeling themselves for his new work, about a woman, played by Isabelle Huppert, and her relationship with her elderly parents, Georges and Anne, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

Michael Haneke, left, and his stars on the set of Amour
Michael Haneke, left, with his stars on the set of Amour. Photograph: Denis Manin

The couple are trying to deal with the effects of Anne's recent stroke. The film is entitled Amour, or Love, and it should be expected that this purely ironic; certainly its audience will be waiting for some single, devastatingly shocking moment – but his previous work, the Palme d'Or-winning The White Ribbon, was not exactly like that and appeared to show a softer, even humorous side. Amour intriguingly features the British opera singer-turned-actor William Shimell, who appeared in Kiarostami's film Certified Copy.

Jacques Audiard's De rouille et d'os, or Rust and Bone, is one of the most keenly anticipated titles; adapted from the 2005 short story collection by the Canadian author Craig Davidson, it stars Marion Cotillard, and tells the story of a bareknuckle fighter and someone losing limbs to an Orca whale being trained in a marine show park. The unsubtitled trailer is below, but this perhaps does not quite convey what is thought to be the fiercely challenging nature of the movie.

David Cronenberg has long been a favourite of Cannes, and his new film, an adaptation of Don DeLillo's 2003 novella Cosmopolis, follows a billionaire Wall Street trader on his strange, slow and frequently impeded journey through Manhattan in a lumberingly unmanoeuvrable stretch limo.

Given the title of one of Cronenberg's best-known works, should we wonder about the imminence of a crash? DeLillo's novel was written before the financial meltdown, but Cronenberg may wish to create a post-crash interpretation, or draw out unsettling auguries already in the text. Robert Pattinson appears to have a vaguely vampiric aura in the leading role. Cronenberg's previous picture, the psychoanalytic drama A Dangerous Method, was considered to have continued the director's evolutionary progress away from the body-horror effects of his early work and towards something more conventional. Actually, Cosmopolis looks a little more challenging than that.

Like Someone in Love is another film by the Cannes equivalent of a "made guy". Abbas Kiarostami, a Palme d'Or winner for his 1997 film Taste of Cherry, returns with an intriguing-looking film set in Japan, his second fiction feature to be shot outside Iran. It's the story of a young woman working as a prostitute and her relationship with a client. The trailer is up here:

Anything by Kiarostami is a must-see, although I have to say I found some tonal uncertainties in his previous film, the Italian-set Certified Copy, with Juliette Binoche and William Shimell. It will be fascinating to see how the director handles the new cultural challenge he has set himself, and us.

Many festival observers had been asking themselves if Britain would get a competition entry, and even wondering about the longshot possibility of a slot for Ben Wheatley and his new film, Sightseers. Unfortunately, that doesn't look to be happening, or at least not so far. But Ken Loach, the British director to whom Cannes is always loyal, is back with The Angels' Share, his Scottish comedy written by longtime collaborator Paul Laverty. It's about some guys in trouble with the law who find themselves involved in the whisky business.

Cannes has been a showcase for Loach's gentler, more comic side recently – in the form of his 2009 film Looking for Eric, for instance – and this film does seem to be the one offering the most conventionally obvious lighter moments in the festival. Loach is perhaps channelling the spirit of Alexander Mackendrick's 1949 film Whisky Galore.

Walter Salles' account of Kerouac's On The Road looks, on the face of it, to be similar to his movie version of Che Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries, a road movie which is, in the time-honoured manner, an internal journey of self-discovery. (However, Che himself might have rejected that Hollywoodised egocentric approach to his own journey, which was significantly about the discovery of injustice and exploitation in the external world.) Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund are Sal and It, and Kristen Stewart plays Marylou – the female "third wheel", perhaps, in this intensely male odyssey.

The 89-year-old Alain Resnais is now a virtual folk memory of Cannes and French cinema, and a testament to the extraordinary tenacity and staying power of what might be loosely called the "new wave" generation. His new film in Competition is Vous n'avez encore rien vu, or You Haven't Seen Anything Yet, a loose reworking of Jean Anouilh's Eurydice, about a group of actors gathered in the house of a dead dramatist, awaiting the reading of his will. The movie features a blue-chip French cast, including Michel Piccoli, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny and Lambert Wilson. Resnais's films have looked to me a little stately recently, but they have been rapturously received, and the agility and wit of Resnais's creativity is a marvel: his presence at Cannes is always a treat.

I am excited to see the new film from Thomas Vinterberg, Jagten, or The Hunt, in competition at this year's festival. After the sensational impression he made with his 1998 film Festen, or The Celebration, a touchstone of the fledgling Dogme 95 movement, Vinterberg arguably did not deliver on his promise and has often seemed to be missing in action. His 2010 film Submarino – a very good film that featured in Berlin – did not find space in British cinemas. The Hunt stars Mads Mikkelsen as a divorced man in a small country town who is accused of abusing a child. It sounds like a tough watch, of course, but in all probability a rewarding one.

Leos Carax is a mercurial presence in French cinema and in Cannes, and he returns with his first feature since the exasperating but diverting Pola X, which was in competition back in 1999. Holly Motors stars Denis Levant as DL, a man who is able to switch between different "parallel lives". Kylie Minogue has a role, playing an actor.

Every year, Cannes festival regulars nervously scan the competition list for the film that's going to shock and upset everyone. The main contender has to be the new film from the Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl: Paradies. Like his earlier, very controversial film Import Export, this film is bifurcated, a dramatic diptych with two stories. The first, Sugar Mama, is about a middle-aged woman called Teresa who travels to Kenya in the hope of finding a younger lover. The second story, called Melanie, is about Teresa's overweight teenage daughter, who is packed off to weight-loss camp while Teresa is away and finds herself involved with the camp's middle-aged director.

So: another colossal buffet of cinematic prestige from Cannes, a festival so spoiled for choice that it can afford to put brilliant and well-known directors and heavy-hitters on the sidebars, and one that always promises something new.

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