Old Europe snubbed at Cannes

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - The list of movies in competition at the Cannes Film Festival makes for depressing reading for the old countries of Europe -- if you discount French efforts, which have “home-field advantage” when it comes to selection.

No British, Spanish or Italian titles made the cut. And the one German title is a co-production with Turkey, with the Turks responsible for 60% of Fatih Akin’s “The Edge of Heaven.” There is an Austrian film this year -- Ulrich Seidl’s “Import/Export” -- just to ensure envious German eyes.

But as long as business is good, Germans aren’t too bothered about the lack of competition entries.

“Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s ‘The Lives of Others’ had its premiere at the market in Cannes last year and went on to conquer the world and win the Oscar,” said Christian Dorsch, managing director of export agency German Films. “The sale of German films is booming worldwide and German directors are getting recognition, whether or not that gets reflected in the Cannes lineup.”

The U.K., which provided last year’s Palme d’Or winner (Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”) and Jury Prize winner (Andrea Arnold’s “Red Road”), is represented only by Michael Winterbottom’s out-of-competition slot in the main section with “A Mighty Heart.”

No one from across the English Channel is panicking, though.

Pathe U.K. managing director Cameron McCracken, whose company produces movies at home and in France, puts it down partly to a mix of coincidence and the cyclical nature of filmmaking. “Many of Cannes’ favorite European filmmakers simply don’t have films that are ready. There are sudden flourishes of talent that occur in some parts of the world, while in others strong voices appear to wane. There’s no nation with a monopoly on talent.”

Italy’s love affair with Cannes is on hold this year. Director Nanni Moretti, a veteran of more than five previous competition slots and a winner once, warns against judging the state of the industry on what is where in Cannes.

“It’s a great honor to be nominated, of course, but there are great many wonderful films from Italy and in the world that are never nominated, and that doesn’t mean they aren’t being made,” Moretti said. “We had two last year (including Moretti’s ‘The Cayman’) and none this year, and perhaps one or two next year.”

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Spanish producers regularly complain that, with the exception of Pedro Almodovar, Cannes overlooks their offerings.

“I’m accustomed to seeing Spain passed over by Cannes,” said Antonio Saura, head of Madrid-based production house Zebra. “It is unfair to dismiss an entire industry just because it’s not from a country that’s in the papers everyday.”

It’s Eastern Europe that is making a comeback in competition. Five films are in after long years when directors from behind the old Iron Curtain rarely got a seat at film’s big banquet.

The festival’s artistic director, Thierry Fremaux, said it’s all about maturing filmmaking.

“For a few years now, we’ve seen Eastern European cinema coming back,” Fremaux said. “The Un Certain Regard selections are witness to that. Today, this cinema has reached maturity and thus ended up in competition.”

He added: “In the past, these (Eastern) countries were very well represented. When the (Berlin) wall fell, they disappeared. Now they’re back. This is good news. As for traditional Europe, England won the Palme d’Or last year and will come back very quickly. Who can doubt that?”

Serbian helmer and two-time Palme winner Emir Kusturica brings his latest film, “Promise Me This.” And St. Petersburg-based art house Russian director Alexander Sokurov’s “Alexandra” marks his fifth Cannes entry since 1999.

A relative newcomer, Hungarian director Bela Tarr, whose challenging black-and-white film “Werckmeister Harmonies” was in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar in 2000, contributes “The Man From London” to this year’s competition.

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The two other entries from the region are from relatively fresh young talent: Romanian director Cristian Mungiu brings “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” and Siberian-born Andrei Zvyagintsev -- whose first film, “The Return,” picked up Venice’s Golden Lion in 2003 -- makes his Cannes debut with his second film, “The Banishment.”

But to attribute this year’s Eastern European showing to the strength of films from the region -- or any other region this year -- would be a mistake, Berlin-based film critic Jorg Taszman said.

Taszman, who writes for the Die Welt newspaper and grew up in Paris, suggests Cannes is innately conservative and tends to go for established names.

“There is a tradition at Cannes that from Eastern Europe they take only the so-called masters. Cannes is not very good at discovering new talent. Of course, you find Sokurov here -- once Cannes grabs someone they keep him,” Taszman said, adding that the idea is “once you are in the league, you stay in the league.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter