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(Welcome to Cannes Check, your annual guide through the 20 films in Competition at next month's Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off on May 15. Taking on a different selection every day, we'll be examining what they're about, who's involved and what their chances are of snagging an award from Steven Spielberg's jury. We're going through the list by director and in alphabetical order -- next up, François Ozon with "Young and Beautiful.")
The director: François Ozon (French, 45 years old). Perhaps the friskiest, wittiest member of France's current auteur elite, Ozon has experimented with a variety of formal and tonal approaches over his 14-feature career -- though expert manipulation of perspective and a preoccupation with complex human desire tend to bind even his most disparate projects. Born in Paris into a bourgeois intellectual family, the candidly gay director studied filmmaking at the city's famed La Fémis school -- also the alma mater of French masters ranging from Alain Resnais to Claire Denis to another of this year's Palme contenders, Arnaud Desplechin. Ozon made his name on the festival circuit with a series of acclaimed shorts, notably the Cesar-nominated "A Summer Dress," which was released in the US alongside his spikily satirical 1998 debut feature, "Sitcom." Since then, he's rarely rested more than a year between features, bouncing between opposing trademark modes of thoughtful, low-key character study ("Under the Sand," "5x2") and heightened, often high-camp pastiche ("8 Women," "Potiche") -- with the odd film, notably the recent "In the House" (released mere weeks ago in the US), fusing the two. Influences range from Chabrol to Hitchcock to Fassbinder (directly adapted in 2000's "Water Drops on Burning Rocks"), while LGBT themes are present more often than not.
The talent: 23-year-old lead Marine Vacth, a former model, has only four film credits to her name, the first of which was Cedric Klapisch's 2011 comedy "My Piece of the Pie." More established names in the cast include Frederic Pierrot (best known for significant supporting roles in "Polisse" and "I've Loved You So Long"), Cesar winner Geraldine Pailhas (who starred in Ozon's"5x2") and British veteran Charlotte Rampling -- who arguably owes her late-career rejuvenation to her starring roles in Ozon's "Under the Sand" and "Swimming Pool."
Ozon, as usual, wrote the screenplay himself. Producers Eric and Nicolas Altmayer also steered the director's last two films, "Potiche" and "In the House." Cinematographer Pascal Marti, here working with Ozon for the first time, is best known for his collaborations with director Cedric Kahn. Returning from "In the House" is editor Laure Gardette, who recently won a Cesar for her work on multi-stranded 2011 Cannes Jury Prize winner"Polisse." Composer Phillippe Rombi, meanwhile, has been a regular Ozon collaborator since 1999's "Criminal Lovers."
The pitch: Plot details are being kept tightly wrapped on this one: the official synopsis describes the film only as "a contemporary portrait of a teenage girl, in four seasons and four songs." Dig beneath this coyly evasive line, however, and it appears that Ozon, after giving audiences a relatively easy time in "In the House" and "Potiche," is back on sexually frank, button-pushing form: Vacth plays a 17-year-old girl who decides, freely and for her own amusement, to become a prostitute. That's all we know, and the enigmatic teaser trailer below tells us only to expect a chillier, more sombre Ozon than we've seen recently. The "four songs" reference had me wondering whether musical elements of the "8 Women" variety were on the cards, but that doesn't square with what we see here. It's the first Competition film to premiere, and at 95 minutes, it's one of the shortest.
The pedigree: Perhaps surprisingly for a French filmmaker with more critical and commercial clout than most, Ozon has been in Competition at Cannes only once before, and 10 years ago at that -- for the brain-teasing thriller "Swimming Pool," which left the festival empty-handed. Since then, he's competed at Venice twice and Berlin three times; whereas Ozon could arguably have been considered an enfant terrible the last time he vied for the Palme d'Or, he's now one of the bristlier members of the French auteur establishment. He's also coming off a good run of form, with the popular one-two of "Potiche" and "In the House" (which cracked my own Top 10 of 2012) having raised his stock after the back-to-back misfires of "Angel" and "Ricky" toward the end of the last decade. Ozon has never won a jury award at any of the Big Three festivals; nor, despite 10 career nominations, has he ever won a Cesar. His time is surely approaching.
The buzz: While the film itself remains mostly a mystery package, the provocative publicity materials and kinky premise have kept its profile high in the run-up to the festival. At least one Competition film satisfies the media every year with a healthy level of controversy, and the story of an underage prostitute is likelier than most to be the one. Perhaps coincidentally, it shares the same Competition-opening slot that Julia Leigh's faintly similar-looking (and suitably provocative) "Sleeping Beauty" did two years ago.
The odds: Erotic, brittle, enigmatic, preoccupied with teen female sexuality -- on paper, at least, nothing about "Young and Beautiful" seems designed to curry favor with jury president Steven Spielberg. (Though, hey, sometimes the best tactic is to plump for the film that least resembles one the president would make.) Jigsaw Lounge's long-ish Palme d'Or odds of 22-1 are probably on the money, then, though if Vacth's performance ticks the "brave" box that so often impresses festival juries, she could be a viable contender in a stacked Best Actress contest.
The premiere date: Thursday, May 16.
In the next edition of Cannes Check, we'll be sizing up the third of four American entries in this year's Competition lineup: Alexander Payne's "Nebraska."
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