A strong Canadian contingent is heading to the La Croisette seaside strip for the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, which will screen new movies from both established names like David Cronenberg and budding directors invited to the French fest for the first time.

The festival opens Wednesday with American director Wes Anderson's coming-of-age comedy Moonrise Kingdom. The tale of a New England community on the hunt for two runaway teens, the film's cast includes Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and regular Anderson collaborators Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman.

Cronenberg is screening his Robert Pattison-led feature Cosmopolis, based on Don DeLillo's novel, at the annual event.

"When we we go to Cannes, everyone is looking for something that is going to change the face of cinema. We are not just looking for a great film. We are looking for something that we haven't seen before, that will get people really excited — whether it is Sex, Lies, and Videotape or Apocalypse Now or Easy Rider," Canadian film critic Brian D. Johnson told CBC News.

"Cronenberg is the kind of the director who does like to take us to the unknown, shock us, show us something we haven't seen before."

The Toronto filmmaker behind movies like A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises, Dead Ringers and The Fly is in fine company among the other festival circuit stalwarts at Cannes.

Cronenberg and Cosmopolis face competition for the French fest's top honour, the Palme d'Or, from acclaimed peers such as Walter Salles, Ken Loach, Michael Haneke and Alain Renais.

"Cannes is like a high altar of cinematic art. You go there with a certain faith, hoping that, you know, something is going to completely knock us silly to the point where we don't know what to think anymore. That is where film criticism and film viewing becomes interesting," Johnson said.

Palme d'Or contenders

  • Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom.
  • Jacques Audiard, Rust and Bone.
  • Leos Carax, Holy Motors.
  • David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis.
  • Lee Daniels, The Paperboy.
  • Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly.
  • Matteo Garrone, Reality.
  • Michael Haneke, Love.
  • John Hillcoat, Lawless.
  • Hong Sangsoo, In Another Country.
  • Im Sang-soo, The Taste of Money.
  • Abbas Kiarostami, Like Someone in Love.
  • Ken Loach, The Angels' Share.
  • Sergei Loznitsa, In the Fog.
  • Cristian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills.
  • Yousry Nasrallah, After the Battle.
  • Jeff Nichols, Mud.
  • Alain Resnais, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet.
  • Carlos Reygadas, Post Tenebras Lux.
  • Walter Salles, On the Road.
  • Ulrich Seidl, Paradise: Love.
  • Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt.

"The reactions tend to be very visceral and strong.… It's not unusual to have films booed in Cannes."

Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti heads the jury that will choose the Palme d'Or winner. His fellow judges include actor Ewan McGregor, fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier and filmmakers Alexander Payne and Andrea Arnold.

Spotlight on budding filmmakers

Cronenberg's son, Brandon, is also bound for Cannes with his feature film debut, Antiviral. The sci-fi thriller — about a man who collects celebrity-incubated viruses and sells them to obsessed fans — will compete in the festival's Un Certain Regard program. The showcase recognizes emerging talent and innovative filmmaking.

Also vying for honours in the section is rising Quebec filmmaking star Xavier Dolan. He brings his third feature, Laurence Anyways, to Un Certain Regard, where he previously won kudos for Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) and J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother).

A host of up-and-coming Canadian filmmakers will also bring their films to Cannes as part of Telefilm Canada's Perspective Canada showcase.

"Cannes is like the Mount Olympus of film festivals, so to be there in any way, in any regard, is pretty awesome," said Rodrigo Gudino, selected for his feature film debut The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh.

"Even though I have had shorts there, and had a lot of attention paid to them, I feel like it is a bit of a different game with a feature film."

Other notable titles to screen (out of competition) at Cannes include:

  • The new Sacha Baron Cohen satire The Dictator.
  • Bernardo Bertolucci's Me and You.
  • Philip Kaufman's Hemingway & Gellhorn.
  • Animated film Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.
  • Dario Argento's highly anticipated 3D take on Dracula.

Stars expected to appear on the red carpet include Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hardy, Kristen Stewart, Jessica Chastain and Zac Efron.

In 2011, organizers reacted swiftly to expel controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier for making bizarre jokes about the Nazis during a press conference for his film Melancholia.

This year, the festival has already come under fire for its lack of female filmmakers in the main competition lineup. On Wednesday, festival director Thierry Fremaux acknowledged that filmmaking is still primarily dominated by men.

"I don't select films because the film is directed by a man, a woman, white, black, young, an old man," he said. "I select films because I think they deserve to be in selection.

AUDIO

Maclean's movie critic Brian D. Johnson talks to Q about a distributor's controversial price list for interview access to major stars at Cannes and runs down what to look out for this year.

"It wouldn't be very nice to select a film because the film is not good but it is directed by a woman," he added.

Meanwhile, distributor Alliance Films has drawn criticism for presenting a price list to Canadian journalists for interviews with major stars.

The Cannes Film Festival continues through May 27, with Claude Miller's Thérèse Desqueyroux to screen as the closing title.

With files from The Associated Press