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Nichols, Anderson gear up for big Cannes debuts

Charles Ealy

Jeff Nichols is unfailingly polite, but he makes one thing quite clear: He doesn't have time to talk about "Mud."

Earlier this year, he sent a rough cut of his new movie to the Cannes Film Festival, and on April 19, the organizers announced that "Mud" was among 22 films selected to screen in competition for the Palme d'Or.

The world premiere at the festival, which starts Wednesday, will be the biggest moment yet in the relatively young career of the 33-year-old Austin director. It comes a year after Nichols won the prestigious Cannes sidebar called Critics Week for "Take Shelter." It also comes one year after another Austinite, Terrence Malick, became the first Texan to win the Palme d'Or for "The Tree of Life." And for the first time in history, Nichols' "Mud" will be competing for the Palme d'Or with a film from another Texas director — Wes Anderson, the University of Texas graduate whose latest is "Moonrise Kingdom."

Nichols recently said via email that he was "insanely swamped working to finish up the film in time." But there's little doubt among critics that "Mud" will be among the best at this year's glittery event along the French Riviera.

At last year's festival, while promoting "Take Shelter," Nichols talked briefly about "Mud" with reporters in a white cabana overlooking the blue Mediterranean.

He described the movie to the American-Statesman and others as being "like a Mark Twain short story directed by Sam Peckinpah." The screenplay focuses on two boys who discover a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River. And the boys decide to help him communicate with his estranged lover (Reese Witherspoon).

Michael Shannon, who starred in Nichols' "Shotgun Stories" as well as last year's "Take Shelter," has a supporting role, and one of the boys helping McConaughey's character is played by Texan Tye Sheridan, who was also in Malick's "The Tree of Life."

Nichols shot "Mud" along the Mississippi River in his native Arkansas late last year, and a lot of the movie was filmed on a strip of land near Eudora.

The budget for "Mud" has not been disclosed, but it's apparently bigger than any earlier Nichols project. One of its producers is Sarah Green, an Austin Film Society board member and a producer on last year's "Take Shelter" as well as "The Tree of Life."

Although Nichols is understandably working hard to get his film into shape for the festival, it's not at all unusual for directors to still be editing and polishing their movies just days before their Cannes screenings.

One of the most notorious incidents came in 2004, when director Wong Kar-Wai brought "2046" to Cannes just hours before it was scheduled to screen. And it took Wong another year to finish his edits.

It seems highly unlikely that Nichols will face similar problems, especially when you consider his deft editing of "Shotgun Stories" and "Take Shelter."

The same can be said for Anderson and "Moonrise Kingdom." The Houston native's latest movie opens the festival on Wednesday. It deals with a boy and girl who run away on a romantic whim and cause an uproar in their small New England town.

The ensemble cast includes Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Jason Schwartzman — providing the Hollywood glitz that Cannes loves.

Other movies with American ties in the main competition also promise to provide a lot of star power.

In addition to "Mud," McConaughey is expected to help promote director Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy," in which he stars with Zac Efron, John Cusack and Nicole Kidman.

Based on a novel by Peter Dexter, "The Paperboy" focuses on a reporter who returns to his home in Florida and delves into a murder case involving what he suspects is a wrongful conviction.

And then there's director Andrew Dominik's mobster movie "Killing Them Softly," starring Brad Pitt and Ray Liotta. Dominik's only previous feature was 2007's acclaimed "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

Canada's David Cronenberg will debut his latest, "Cosmopolis," based on the Don DeLillo novel and starring "Twilight" heartthrob Robert Pattinson.

Director Walter Salles will screen "On the Road," the tribute to Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, starring Pattinson's "Twilight" counterpart, Kristen Stewart.

Director John Hillcoat will present "Lawless," a Prohibition-era tale starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain and Guy Pearce.

And DreamWorks will be rolling out its big summer movie, "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," in a special screening outside of the competition.

Despite the strong North American presence in Cannes this year, several European auteurs are sure to be in the running for the Palme d'Or.

Among those are Jacques Audiard, "Rust and Bone"; Leos Carax, "Holy Motors"; Matteo Garrone, "Reality"; Michael Haneke, "Amour"; Abbas Kiarostami, "Like Someone in Love"; Ken Loach, "The Angels' Share"; Cristian Mungui, "Beyond the Hills"; Alain Resnais, "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"; and Thomas Vinterberg, "The Hunt."

Adam Leon's "Gimme the Loot," which won the Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize at South by Southwest in March, will screen in the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Only one American is in the prestigious short film competition: New York University's Grainger David, for "The Chair."

But several filmmakers from Central Texas are taking movies to the Short Film Corner, where thousands of aspiring directors congregate to network in a market atmosphere in the basement of the Palais. The corner is not a curated event, and the shorts are not part of the official Cannes selections. Instead, the shorts screen in dozens of small booths.

The Cinema du Cannes Project, based at Connally High School in Pflugerville, will send five students to the Short Film Corner. Christian Nelson will screen two shorts, "Paradox of the Intellect" and "Phoebe and Jay." Ulyses Castellanos will screen "Ernesto." Others attending are Rhonda Huynh, Alexis Campanile and Mireydi Mendieta.

Austin filmmaker Mario Troncoso will show "Clowns Never Lie" in the Short Film Corner.

Contact Charles Ealy at 445-3931

Our man in Cannes