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Is Cannes still as important as it thinks it is?

Next Thursday, the Cannes International Film Festival will announce the official lineup of the French festival, running from May 16 to 27. Think of it as The Hunger Games of international cinema, an event full of suspense, pomp and ritual reassurance.

For art-film lovers, the announcement is the culmination of months of gossip, speculation careful tracking of production schedules. We already know Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom will open the festival. So does that mean it's not good enough to compete? Will Terrence Malick'snew film, The Burial, or Wong Kar-Wai's The Grandmasters be ready in time?

Pity any fool who dares to mock this ritual. A couple of weeks ago, a French website called Blog du Festival de Cannes published what it claimed to be the official competition of the Cannes festival lineup, which had accidentally been leaked online. The lineup included two Canadian entries, David Cronenberg's upcoming Cosmopolis and Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways, along with The Master from Paul Thomas Anderson, Malick's The Burial and new films from Italy's Matteo Garrone ( Gomorrah) and France's Jacques Audiard ( A Prophet).

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The Cannes festival press office dismissed it as a " poisson d'avril," referring to the French tradition of sticking a paper fish on someone's back to mark April Fool's Day. But the joke was not taken lightly. In an interview with the Hollywood website, Cannes director Thierry Frémaux denounced the prank: "This is all lies and it's disgusting to play with such a thing. Cannes is an institution and must be preserved. There is a code of conduct for Cannes and it must be respected. Those who don't respect the code will never come back to Cannes."

What made Frémaux invoke codes, institutional preservation and the guillotine of non-accreditation? Seriously? The last time the festival was at risk from revolution was when it closed during the student protests of 1968. I've long been fascinated with Cannes's queasily contradictory nature, its impossible commercial-artistic, Hollywood-European, corporate and anti-capitalist identity: Sly Stallone meets a hard-hitting Belgian child-abuse drama, L'Oréal models and a celebrity-studded AIDS luncheon.

The truth is, Cannes is no longer a central hub for the worldwide traffic in film. The festival's market accepts about 1,000 films. In 2009, Hollywood digital entrepreneur Chris Hyams, creator of software used by film festivals, estimated that there were 50,000 independent films produced worldwide. Artistically, it's often great – each year, about half of my top 10 list consists of films that have been screened at Cannes. And almost as often, it's bewildering, with ridicule-inviting entries like Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny or Johnny Depp's The Brave in the competition.

Which brings us back to Cannes as the real-life version of The Hunger Games. Unlike non-competitive events, such as the Toronto International Film Festival, the autocratically run Cannes exemplifies what academics call a "tournament ritual" and a "field-configuring event." The terms are used by Narasimhan Anand in a collection of essays called Negotiating Values in the Creative Industries: Fairs, Festivals and Competitive Events (Cambridge Business Press, 2011). Unlike traditional religious festivals and holidays, "tournament rituals" are periodically recurrent multi-organizational events outside the normal economic activity that involves the privileged in a status contest.

The idea isn't new (the lame-brained Athenian tragedy jury of 429 BCE gave Sophocles's Oedipus the King the runner-up prize), but these spectacles have come to dominate the arts world, as vehicles for business, media and art to engage in some mutual brand-stroking while artists' reputations are raised high or dashed. Cannes – in its high-handed, undemocratic, annoying and often-right way – remains the arbitrary model of who's in and who's out.


On Thursday, the Cannes International Film Festival will announce which films are in contention for the 64th festival, from May 16-May 27. Here are 10 of the films that are widely considered to be likely contenders:

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Cosmopolis: David Cronenberg's filmadaptation of Don DeLillo's novel follows a billionaire investor (Robert Pattinson) making a day-long trek across Manhattan in his limousine to get a haircut, while risking assassination and financial collapse.

The Place Beyond the Pines: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) directs Ryan Gosling as a stunt biker.

To Rome with Love: Woody Allen's new comedy stars Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin and, for hometown flavour, Roberto Benigni.

The Grandmasters: Wong Kar-Wai's new drama looks at the man who trained martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

Stoker: Chan-wook Park's English-language is a Hitchcockian thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska. and Matthew Goode.

Amour: Michael Haneke's new film focuses on an elderly couple dealing with the aftermath of the wife's stroke. Their daughter is played by Isabelle Huppert.

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The Master: Paul Thomas Anderson's new film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as an L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader.

Post Tenebras Lux: Mexican director Carlos Reygadas's new globe-hopping semi-autobiographical film is about "feelings, memories, dreams, things I've hoped for, fears, facts of my current life."

Vous n'avez encore rien vu (You've Not Seen Anything Yet): Eighty-nine-year-old French master Alain Resnais ( Last Year at Marienbad, Hiroshima Mon Amour) offers this adaptation of Jean Anouilh's Eurydice, starring Marion Cotillard.

The Burial: Terrence Malick's new film stars Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko as an unhappy couple with a daughter, who are both looking to stray. The cast also includes Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem and Barry Pepper.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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