GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN previews the 61st Festival de Cannes, beginning this week.

IN A WAY, Cannes has managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat, and the selection of films is as good as it was in 2002. That year, we saw City of God, About Schmidt and The Pianist, and the edition that will open May 14 has some of modern cinema’s best helmers, such Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen and Atom Egoyan.

It was a big surprise when Eastwood finished his Changeling in record time – with star Angelina Jolie willing and smiling – to be in Competition at the French Riviera. Steven Soderbergh is another auteur who beat time to be at Cannes with his four-hour biopic on the Latin American revolutionary, Che Guevara. I remember Soderbergh’s Sex Lies and Videotape, which caused a stampede outside the Kolkata venue at the International Film Festival of India in the early 1990s. Since then he has given us a mixed bag of Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Full Frontal and The Good German.

Both Soderbergh and Eastwood are familiar faces at Cannes. Eastwood’s Mystic River and earlier Unforgiven were hailed by critics and others. In fact, one of the best features of Cannes is its strategy of getting big names into the Festival, followed by new comers and experimental movies. It is another thing that in name of experiment some rank bad cinema gets in. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, Murali Nair’s Maranasimhasanam (The Throne of Death) and Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny are classic examples of what I would consider disasters.

This year, France will be in its usual strength. If Catherine Deneuve and Arnaud Desplechin’s family drama, A Christmas Tale, will be one of the better ones in the French basket, Director Philippe Garrel’s La Frontiere de L’aube may well be as engaging. In his 40-year career, Garrel will be in Competition for the first time. A third French work, Entre Les murs by Laurent Cantet, has just been added in the same category.

A loud buzz surrounds Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Turkish drama Three Monkeys, James Gray’s Gwyneth Paltrow-starrer Two Lovers, Egoyan’s Adoration, Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, Brillante Mendoza’s Serbis and Wim Wenders’ Palermo Shooting. And these and the others were picked from a mountain of 1692 DVDs!

Cannes will open with Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, shot partly in Toronto. We would have Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Danny Glover and Gael Garcia Bernal gracing the Red Carpet. Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened will draw the curtain on May 25, with Bruce Willis, Robin Wright Penn, Sean Penn and Robert de Niro bidding au revoir.