Cannes Check 2013: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s ‘A Villa in Italy’

Welcome to Cannes Check, your annual guide through the 19 films in Competition at next month’s Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off on May 15. Taking on a different selection every day, we’ll be examining what they’re about, who’s involved and what their chances are of snagging an award from Steven Spielberg’s jury. We’re going through the list by director and in alphabetical order — meaning actress-turned-director Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is first up with “A Villa in Italy.” 

The director: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi (Italian-French, 48 years old). Though perhaps better known as an actress in such films “Munich” and “5×2,” she has directed two previous features, “It’s Easier For a Camel…” (2003) and “Actresses” (2007). She is the only female filmmaker in Competition. (Fun fact: She’s the older sister of singer-actress and former French first lady  Carla Bruni.)

The talent: As in her first two films behind the  camera, Bruni-Tedeschi takes a substantial role in this one, and co-wrote the screenplay with fellow actress-turned-filmmaker Noémie Lvovsky and Agnès de Sacy. Indeed, the film is an all-round showcase for female off-screen talent, including cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie (best known for her previous work with Francois Ozon, and also the DP on fellow Competition title “Michael Kohlhaas”), editors Laure Gardette (“In the House,” “Polisse”) and Francesca Calvelli (“No Man’s Land”) and production designer Emmanuelle Duplay. In additional to the director herself, the cast features a number of well-known European faces, including Louis Garrel (a favourite of Christophe Honoré, also Bruni-Tedeschi’s real-life partner), Andre Wilms (“Le Havre”), Filippo Timi (“Vincere”) and another name with experience on both sides of the camera, Xavier Beauvois — who won the Grand Jury Prize three years ago, for “Of Gods and Men.” Producer Saïd Ben Saïd’s recent credits include Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” and Brian De Palma’s “Passion.”

The pitch: One of six French productions in Competition, Bruni-Tedeschi’s film is, as the title implies, set in Italy, and looks to be an ensemble family saga in the vein of “I Am Love” — centering on a large clan from the Italian industrial bourgeoisie. The official synopsis (roughly translated) doesn’t give much away: A woman meets a man who revives her dreams, while her story is braided with that of her mother and her ill brother. As romance blooms, this crumbling family faces the end of an era. I would presume that Bruni-Tedeschi and Garrel play the romantic leads. Sounds fairly classical and, at 104 minutes, not entirely epic in scope. Though Italian-set, the film’s dialogue is in French.  

The pedigree: If there was only going to be one female director in Competition this year, most would have bet on it being Claire Denis (relegated to Un Certain Regard) or Catherine Breillat (nowhere in sight); instead, it was the less seasoned Bruni-Tedeschi who got the nod. Not that she’s some kind of rube in the lineup: her directorial debut “It’s Easier For a Camel…” won France’s most prestigious film award, the Louis Delluc, for Best First Film. She made her Cannes debut with her 2007 follow-up, “Actresses”: programmed in Un Certain Regard, where it won a Special Jury Prize. (Of course, she also has years of experiencing attending the festival with films as an actress only.) A Competition berth feels like a natural progression for her at this stage.

The buzz: It’s unfortunate and unfair that Bruni-Tedeschi is going to be labelled a token inclusion in some quarters: festival director Thierry Fremaux attempted to pre-empt such talk in an interview by stating, “I don”t select films because they are directed by women … We put it in because we thought it was a good film.” Still, “A Villa in Italy” will probably be subjected to more scrutiny than it would be otherwise — no critical word on the film has emerged yet, but Bruni-Tedeschi’s reputation gives us little reason to be suspicious.

The odds: Cannes betting expert Neil Young currently has the film in second-last place in the Palme d’Or rankings, with odds of 50-1 — and indeed, it would be surprising to see Bruni-Tedeschi become only the second woman in history (after Jane Campion) to lift the trophy. Still, that’s not to say she’s unlikely to win any award at all if the film delivers: we don’t yet know the makeup of Steven Spielberg’s jury, but Bruni-Tedeschi might well have a sympathetic faction within it. It’s also worth noting that Cannes juries can be kind to directors who also appear on screen in their films: Tommy Lee Jones won Best Actor for “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” a ew years back, and Mathieu Amalric Best Director for “On Tour.” Something along the lines of a Jury Prize would not surprise me for the only female filmmaker to compete for the Palme in two years. 

The premiere date: Monday, May 20.

Check back in tomorrow, when we’ll be sizing up Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis.”