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Most regard the Un Certain Regard strand at the Cannes Film Festival as a kind of B-league to the Competition, populated with smaller films and names that aren't quite ready for primetime. In truth, however, the section's selections of late have established that there's very little to distinguish Un Certain Regard from the Competition on the grounds of quality: with major Competition alumni like Gus van Sant, Jean-Luc Godard and Bruno Dumont having accepted UCR berths in recent years, the increasing sense of the strand is one of mere spillover.
Consider this list of films to have played in Un Certain Regard over the last few years: "Dogtooth," "Blue Valentine," "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Miss Bala," "Mother," "Wendy and Lucy," "Precious," "A Scanner Darkly," "Elena," "Police, Adjective," "Father of My Children," "Tuesday After Christmas," "Heartbeats," "Oslo, 31 August" and so on. I wouldn't consider any of them second-class works, even if most of them don't come from the kind of brand-name auteurs (Haneke, Almodovar, von Trier) that are granted automatic entry into the Competition whatever the quality of their latest film. But they amount to a formidable bunch to have missed if you monitor Cannes with your eye on the Competition alone.
The principal difference between Un Certain Regard and the Competition, perhaps, is that nobody cares all that much about what film wins the former -- even if some well-chosen winners, like "Dogtooth" in 2009, have successfully parlayed the award into arthouse glory. Chances are it would have done so anyway, while less well-received winners, like last year's widely reviled "Arirang," haven't found the prize much of a help on the international distribution front. If the Competition generally lives up to its name, Un Certain Regard feels more like a curated showcase.
Nonetheless, the festival has lured in some pretty big world-cinema names to head the Un Certain Regard jury in recent years, including directors Claire Denis (who, in my book, deserves some bigger-ticket festival assignments), Paolo Sorrentino, Emir Kusturica and Fatih Akin. This year, however, they've changed things up a little -- and further amped up the name appeal -- by getting actor (and one-time director) Tim Roth to preside over proceedings. He has some form in this area, having served under Wong Kar-wai on the 2006 Competition jury that handed the Palme d'Or to "The Wind That Shakes the Barley"; hopefully the jury will arrive at a stronger decision under his rule.
Perhaps what's most surprising about the choice of Roth is that it rather outstrips that of this year's Competition jury president for international red-carpet status. Nanni Moretti may be an established and respected European auteur, and a Palme d'Or winner to boot, but his appointment in the top seat hasn't generated the same level of media attention and speculation as Robert De Niro and Tim Burton in years past -- inevitable when Hollywood names are involved, of course, but it's not as if they've picked from the holiest reserve of international filmmakers either.
Incidentally, Moretti headed the 2001 Venice jury, which displeasing many by giving the gold to Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding" over Alfonso Cuaron's "Y tu Mama Tambien"; pundits could be forgiven for expecting a similarly soft-edged choice this year.
Anyway, more fuel for the Cannes fire until the lineup of films is announced precisely a week from now. Hang in there.
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