A year ago, Vincent Gallo's "The Brown Bunny," an inert drama that featured the filmmaker driving in silence for minutes at a time, came to symbolize a generally dull slate of movies at the world's most prestigious film festival.
Organizers of the 57th Cannes fest, which opens Wednesday and runs through May 23, made sure to spice up the mix and hopefully stifle the yawns. Big summer flicks such as the animated ogre sequel "Shrek 2" and Brad Pitt's ancient Greece saga "Troy" are using Cannes to launch into their theatrical releases.
The schedule is heavy on movies from edgy filmmakers, among them Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education," which opens the festival Wednesday night, Jean-Luc Godard's "Notre Musique" (Our Music), Wong Kar-Wai's "2046" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," the director's assault on President Bush's handling of the Sept. 11 attacks which is embroiled in a distribution controversy in the U.S.
Hollywood movies already out in the United States are at Cannes as a springboard for overseas release, including the zombie fest "Dawn of the Dead," the Coen brothers' crime comedy "The Ladykillers" and Billy Bob Thornton's foul-mouthed "Bad Santa."
Cannes also is presenting the assassin vengeance tale "Kill Bill — Vol. 2" from festival jury head Quentin Tarantino, who won the top honor at Cannes in 1994 for "Pulp Fiction."
Gilles Jacob, festival president, said organizers this year renewed their efforts to select "popular auteur films, or, if you prefer, intelligent popular films."
That populist approach can create fresh headaches for Cannes planners, with snooty critics complaining that Hollywood and commercial movies sometimes overrun more artistic choices.
"As always, the difficulty comes in respecting the balance, and that's what we're trying to do," Jacob said. "The idea is to appeal to the tastes of as many media as possible, as many professionals, as many movie-goers, though it's a given that you never know in advance what movie will have the most success with the representatives of a given country or a particular profession. ... That's why the idea of maximum diversity is so difficult to reach, but we attained it, I hope."
Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" will be one of the hottest tickets at Cannes, with audiences anticipating equal parts satire and outrage from the man whose hilarious and horrific "Bowling for Columbine" won the documentary Academy Award for 2002. Moore, who premiered "Bowling for Columbine" at Cannes that year, made a fiery anti-Bush speech at the Oscars.
Even before its Cannes premiere Monday, "Fahrenheit 9/11" was causing a ruckus. Last week, Moore assailed the Walt Disney Co. for preventing subsidiary Miramax from releasing "Fahrenheit 9/11." Miramax financed the movie, but Disney boss Michael Eisner said the film was too political for a "nonpartisan company" to distribute.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is virtually certain to find an eager distributor, possibly during Cannes.
"Bowling for Columbine" was the first documentary to screen in the main competition at Cannes. "Fahrenheit 9/11" is the second.
"That confirmed the test screenings we'd done, the test screenings in the Midwest," Moore said. "It's a powerful, explosive film, and people love it."
Along with Pitt, Moore, Tarantino and his "Kill Bill" star Uma Thurman, celebrities expected at Cannes include "Shrek 2" vocal stars Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy; Geoffrey Rush, Charlize Theron and Emily Watson, who co-star in "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers"; Tom Hanks of "The Ladykillers"; and Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, who star in "The Assassination of Richard Nixon."
Outside the official festival, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Jack Black will be on hand to promote their upcoming animated flick "Shark Tale." Distributor DreamWorks is presenting footage from the movie for reporters at Cannes.
"There should be a lot more well-known actors this year, like Brad Pitt," said 18-year-old Amelie Archilla, who works in a trinket shop across from the red-carpeted stairs that stars mount on their way into premieres. "But I'm looking forward more to Tom Hanks. I think he's a better actor."
Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, stars of the Cannes closing-night film "De-Lovely," will be joined by musical co-stars Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and Natalie Cole, who each sing tunes in the fanciful tale of composer Cole Porter.
Kline, who has been at the festival before with "The Ice Storm," said the grandeur and ceremony of Cannes is unmatched in show business.
"Nobody takes film quite as seriously as the French," Kline said. "You march up the red carpet and there's these guys with halberds and dressed like French Republican guards, and you think, 'Are these guys from central casting?' The pomp and circumstance is amazing."
Written By DAVID GERMAIN