Round up the usual suspects. The 67th Cannes film festival opened yesterday beneath azure skies, with hundreds of movies in the market, thousands of delegates on the prom and a roll call of luminaries gracing the red carpet, from Mike Leigh to Jean-Luc Godard, David Cronenberg to the Dardenne brothers. Of the 19 directors competing for the crowning Palme d'Or award, no fewer than 13 have been nominated before. New blood runs thin at the front end of Cannes.
For festival director Thierry Frémaux, the issue of selection largely takes care of itself. “Great directors make great films,” he says, “and they will always have a place in Cannes.” Yet critics claim that the world's most prestigious movie showcase increasingly runs the risk of becoming too cosy, too predictable, and too reliant on its rotating supergroup of international auteurs.
Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound, says the lineup looks strong – at least on paper. But that's not the problem. “What I'm concerned about is the development of new people to replace the established names,” he says. “The film-makers that Cannes typically relies on are all of a similar age; they are all knocking on. In a bad year they might very well all leave us, and then who are they left with?”
This year's event, however, looks likely to be dominated by the Cannes elite and the repeat offenders. The Dardenne brothers are two-time winners making their sixth appearance in competition with “Two Days, One Night”. Godard, the 83-year-old mainstay of French new wave, hopes to make it seventh time lucky with his 3D abstraction, “Goodbye to Language”. All, however, are way behind Britain's Ken Loach; “Jimmy's Hall”, a period drama set in Ireland, has earned its director his 12th nomination for the Palme d'Or. Might the organisers be guilty of an excess of loyalty – of basing decisions on the names in the credits as opposed to the film in the can?
Writer Agnès Poirier, who helps pre-select films for inclusion, disagrees. “Critics say that it's always the same clientele on the red carpet,” she says. “But that's not always the case. I think as much consideration is given to the film as to the director.” Poirier points out that competition favourite François Ozon was recently bounced to the Un Certain Regard sidebar, while two-time champion Francis Ford Coppola played further up the Croisette, in the boisterous atmosphere of the directors' fortnight section. Nor does Poirier think the main competition would benefit from an injection of fresh blood. “Fresh blood? That's what the sidebars are for. All the people we see in competition started off in critics' week, or the directors' fortnight.” Awarding the Palme d'Or to an untried director, she suggests, would be like giving the Nobel Prize for literature to a first-time novelist.
Mark Cousins, a critic and film-maker, feels the festival, by and large, gets the balance right. “If there was no Cannes, we'd be desperate for one,” he says. Cannes, he adds, is a very Catholic affair. “It anoints, it beatifies, it sends up its white smoke after a conclave. To be sure, its decision-making is obscure and its choices often questionable. But its belief in cinema sainthood is exciting and fun.”