Montreal filmmaker Chloé Robichaud’s debut feature Sarah Prefers to Run (Sarah préfère la course) had a warm welcome Tuesday following its world premiere at the Un Certain Regard program of the Cannes Film Festival.

Robichaud, 25, said she was overwhelmed by the reception to her film, about a young runner who marries so she can get the funding to go into an advanced training program.

"We had a standing ovation.  I don't know — maybe five minutes,  everyone [stood] up," she told Radio-Canada. "I don't have words. It was just too much."

Keanu Reeves makes directing debut

Canadian-born actor Keanu Reeves has turned director with a trilingual film, Man of Tai Chi, that he played to a select crowd at Cannes on Monday.

The English, Cantonese, Mandarin film is not part of the Cannes program. It has a Chinese release date set for this summer, but Reeves is seeking distribution deals in France.

Reeves, best known for his role in The Matrix, working with Matrix martial arts specialist Chen Hu on the film, described as a contemporary Kung Fu film.

He said he found it difficult to step behind the lens.

"As an actor you are concerned with your role, you are concerned with your story," he said. "The director's side is much more other, it is looking out. ... The first day I just didn't quite have it. It wasn't pleasurable."

Robichaud previously showed a short film in competition at Cannes, but said the feature film experience was quite different.

"The room filled up and you know they are there for your film," she said.

Stars Sophie Desmarais, who plays the runner, and Jean-Sébastien Courchesne, who plays her husband, also walked the red carpet, following on the heels of Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. Courchesne said he was surprised to have people asking for his autograph as he left the theatre.

Producer Fanny-Laure Malo lauded Robichaud for a remarkable achievement.

"Every film is years of work but especially for a first feature as a producer and with a first-time director as well, it was a common effort and to have such recognition as today for a first feature! It’s just an overwhelming sense of gratitude," she said.

Robichaud is part of a wave of young Quebec filmmakers who have burst onto the international stage in the past few years, among them Denis Villeneuve, who directed Oscar nominee Incendies, Philippe Falardeau, who directed Oscar nominee Monsieur Lazhar, and Xavier Dolan, director of I Killed My Mother which he debuted at Cannes at age 19.

Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis

Cannes critics embraced the Coen brothers' new film Inside Llewyn Davis, which resurrects the folk scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s in New York's Greenwich Village.  A screening Sunday night was met with rapturous applause.

"Joel said suppose we start the movie with Dave Van Ronk getting beat up outside of Gerde's Folk City which was such an absurd image to think about," Ethan Cohen told Radio-Canada in an interview Sunday.

coen-cannes-300

U.S. directors Joel, left, and Ethan Coen pose on Sunday ahead of screening Inside Llewyn Davis at the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

Joel and Ethan Coen have been darlings at Cannes since their 1991 film Barton Fink won the Palme D’Or and have since brought films such as Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou to la Croisette.

Inside Llewyn Davis  is based in part on Van Ronk's memoir The Mayor of McDougal Street and follows a figure very like the influential folk singer. Oscar Isaac plays the talented but broke Llewyn Davis, who sleeps on couches, a stray cat in tow, as he plays the coffee houses.

"The movie doesn't really have a plot," Joel Coen told reporters at the festival. "That actually concerned us at a certain point. It's why we threw the cat in."

Isaac's performance as the caustic, frustrated Isaac drew raves and there was praise for the way the Coen brothers captured the gritty pre-Dylan years of the folk scene.

"It can be such a melancholic film but I know for me in between takes I was smiling ear to ear," Isaac said.

Justin Timberlake as a folk singer

There were also notable performances from Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, who portrays a bearded folk singer based on Ireland’s Paul Clayton, singing in a style very different from his current hit Suit and Tie.

"Obviously, it's on the surface, a different style from the music that I make in real life," Timberlake said. "But listen, man. I grew up in Tennessee, the home of the blues, the birthplace of rock `n' roll — Memphis — and a lot of country music. So my first musical lessons were given to me by my grandfather on an old Gibson guitar. He taught me how to fingerpick."  

Timberlake also helped write the music to the comic song, Please, Mr. Kennedy, which he sings with Isaac and Adam Driver of Girls. The oft-repeated chorus goes: "Please, Mr. Kennedy, don't shoot me into outer space."

Pre-Dylan years in folk scene

While the Coens give audiences their share of laughs, Inside Llewyn Davis is ultimately a story of talents who don't get the big break.

The co-directors said they were interested in investigating the lesser-known scene that Dylan would enter in a few year’s time, catapulting folk music into the mainstream.

"I feel even uncomfortable talking about Bob Dylan in the context of this movie which is what we asked about because he's like the elephant in the room," Ethan Cohen said. 

Inside Llewyn Davis is in competition for the Palme d'Or.

   

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Denis Villeneuve directed Monsieur Lazhar.
    May 22, 2013 8:58 AM ET
With files from Radio-Canada, Associated Press