The director: Abbas Kiarostami (Iranian, 71 years old)

The talent: Kiarostami may have chosen a major international star to headline his foray into non-Iranian cinema two years ago, but for his second, he's taking the opposite tack. Rin Takanishi, his 23 year-old lead actress, is a relative newcomer, schooled mostly in Japanese television; her older co-star, Tadashi Okuno, may have a screen CV that dates back to the 1960s, but it's even briefer than Takanishi's. The most recognizable name here is Ryo Kase, whom you may remember from "Letters from Iwo Jima" and that godawful kamikaze-ghost role in last year's "Restless." Kiarostami sought Japanese talent below the line too: cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima is best-known for his work on Takeshi Kitano's films, as well as "Battle Royale." Kiarostami, as is his wont, wrote the original screenplay; he also produced alongside Frenchman Nathanael Karmitz, who also shpherded "Certified Copy" to the screen.

The pitch: Having spent several decades tracing the uneven physical and social landscape of his home country on camera, Kiarostami broke form in several ways with 2010's "Certified Copy": his first film set and produced outside Iran, not to mention his first star vehicle of sorts, the Tuscany-set production was also the most romantic and playful film of his career, trading observational sobriety for flirty, reality-fuzzing mind games. His latest film extends his international tour, this time into Japan: though "Like Someone in Love" has reportedly described by the director as a continuation of "Certified Copy," the connection isn't a self-evident one. Takanishi plays an attractive young university student in Tokyo who takes up prostitution to finance her studies; she forms an unlikely connection with one of her clients, an elderly academic played by Okuno. Once again, not a typical Kiarostami premise -- it'll be interesting to see how sexually direct and youth-oriented the material is in his hands. (Best possible outcome: "Sleeping Beauty 2: This Time It's Lyrical.") The French-Japanese co-production was originally titled "The End."

The pedigree: Now in the fifth decade of his filmmaking career, Kiarostami is one of the esteemed elder statesmen of the Competition, and one of four previous Palme d'Or victors in this year's lineup. He shared the big prize in 1997 for "Taste of Cherry," his second of five attempts; it remains the only award he's won at Cannes, though Juliette Binoche took Best Actress for "Certified Copy" in 2010.

The buzz: "Certified Copy" revived critical interest in Kiarostami's career beyond his circle of devotees, just as one too many obtuse gallery-oriented experiments had caused it to flag; thanks to the lush European setting and the luminous charms of La Binoche, it also gave him the biggest arthouse success of his career. Expectations for "Like Someone in Love" have therefore been set rather high: even if it can't offer comparable star power, the hope is that the new foreign setting will continue what his last film started in broadening his appeal. So far, it seems to be working: an evocative, enigmatic teaser trailer has been greeted with approving online murmurs; if nothing else, we know from this and the production stills to expect some dreamy visuals. 

The odds: The bookies presently have it among the frontrunners for the Palme; critic and more informed odds expert Neil Young, meanwhile, lists it as the favorite to win. There's a sound theory behind that: Nanni Moretti has previously voiced his admiration for Kiarostami's work, and jury presidents aren't averse to playing favorites. (Whether he's as keen on the director's new, seemingly more arch direction, however, remains to be seen.) Kiarostami may already have won a Palme, but a shared one, and 15 years ago at that: at 71, his career certainly merits entry into the two-Palme club. If the film isn't universally embraced -- which was the case with "Certified Copy" two years ago -- he'd still be a good bet for a consolation prize of the Best Director/Screenplay variety.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter. 

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