By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn April 19, 2012 at 10:08AM
The more you attend Cannes, the more you know Cannes. Six years ago, when I first attended the festival, I knew nothing of Hong Sang-soo, whose "In Another Country" premieres in this year's competition two years after the Korean director won the Un Certain Regard sidebar for his "Ha Ha Ha." Now I not only know have learned to appreciate Hong's perceptive character-driven approach to unsuspectingly advanced narratives, but I realize why Cannes is the ideal portal for his work: Hong makes movies that require context -- preferably a familiarity with his style and a willingness to go with the flow. I don't mind drinking the Cannes kool-aid; sure, it has been plagued with distracting politics and ego for decades, but its exclusive club of international directors are a pretty talented bunch.
Hong isn't the only filmmaker graduating to a new stage of exposure. Pablo Trapero first arrived on the scene with his delightfully strange debut feature "Tony Manero," which premiered in Directors' Fortnight a few years back, and has now made his way to Un Certain Regard with "White Elephant" (his second feature, "Post Mortem," opened in New York this month). Jeff Nichols has steadily made his southern-fried approach to strange, dramatically powerful storytelling clear over the course of his last two features, the quietly affecting "Shotgun Stories" and the dreamy "Take Shelter"; early buzz is that his Cannes-competing "Mud," which stars Matthew McConaughey, is an extraordinary achievement. Xavier Dolan has also been an incredibly advanced filmmaker for his age, and I imagine "Laurence Anyways" will continue to demonstrate as much.
And then, of course, the Greats. A lot of festival attract the greats, but Cannes attracts the Greats. The big boys. (And they are largely boys, unfortunately, much more this year than in other recent ones. It is worth asking where the ladies are at.) Auteurs to the core, these filmmakers hold a spot in film history so tightly that even they haven't made a masterpiece in years, it's still very much valid to get a little giddy when their names appear on a list of upcoming screenings: Alain Resnais. Philip Kaufman. David Cronenberg. Dario Argento. Bernardo fucking Bertolucci.
Practically speaking, the filmmakers worth really singling out this year are the ones who have created recent masterpieces, if only because the creative spark is theoretically fresh. These include Carlos Reygadas, back on the scene post-"Silent Light" with "Post tenebras luxe," as well as "A Prophet" director Jacques Audiard, premiering "Rust and Bone." Then again, there could be a surprise or twelve, like: Maybe all of these guys screwed up and this year's program blows. Then again, that could make room for the newcomers to gather momentum they may deserve. Who knows? It's Cannes. You just go with it.
Lots to see and discuss. Let the salivating begin.