Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
The only female helmer in Competition in Cannes graduates to the big show as a director for the first time this year with A Castle In Italy. Italian-born Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi has appeared many times across the festival’s official selections as an actress and in 2007 was in Un Certain Regard for directing Actrices for which she won a special jury prize. The sister of France’s former First Lady Carla Bruni is a star at home who hails from a well-to-do family, but knows how to poke fun at herself. Despite her heritage, “she makes movies that are tongue in cheek and has a Woody Allen-esque tone to what she does” says an exec involved in Italy. And that makes her “very likeable.” She’s had roles in Hollywood movies including Ridley Scott’s A Good Year and jury president Steven Spielberg’s Munich and has worked with director (and co-competitor) François Ozon in 5X2 and Time To Leave. Her directing breakout in France was 2003’s It’s Easier For A Camel. A Castle In Italy, in which she also acts, is about a family forced to sell their Italian home and is said to be partly auto-biographical.

Guillaume Canet
Blood Ties helmer Guillaume Canet has been referred to as the “Ben Affleck of France.” He is a huge star at home who made his name as an actor before moving into directing with his first well-received feature, 2002’s Mon Idole. He followed that with Tell No One, a critical and box office success in France and abroad. Canet won the best director César for the suspense picture. His ensemble pic Little White Lies in 2010 was also a hit. After Tell No One, he was offered a lot of scripts out of Hollywood, for both small and studio films, he tells me. But, he says, “I didn’t feel at all like I wanted to go on an adventure with a big studio where I couldn’t control the situation. I thought I should do a smaller film that would really be mine.” Blood Ties, his first English-language film which is in official selection here in Cannes, is just that. Canet starred in the original French version, Les Liens Du Sang, and turned back to it thinking it would be “very interesting” to do a picture based in 1970s New York. Canet enlisted the help of James Gray (whose The Immigrant, also here in Cannes, stars Canet’s wife Marion Cotillard) and the two hammered out a take, producer Alain Attal tells me. The movie about two brothers, one a cop and one an ex-con, stars Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Lili Taylor, Zoe Saldana, Mila Kunis, James Caan, Noah Emmerich, Cotillard and her Rust And Bone co-star Matthias Schoenaerts. Attal says Canet is the kind of director that likes to talk to his actors and take a lot of time with them. Canet says he only wanted actors who were truly committed. But he has increasingly made the choice not to appear in his own films. “When I do a film I like to be concentrated on directing,” he says, “but it will probably happen” that he’ll act again in one of his own. Doing another movie in English is not out of the question. “If the material lends itself, why not?”.

James Franco
James Franco, actor, producer, director, conceptual artist, et al, is making a leap with his As I Lay Dying in official selection at Cannes. The movie, based on the classic William Faulkner novel which was a book recommended by his dad many years ago, is running in the Un Certain Regard section. Franco says, “One of the nice things about being accepted to Cannes is I’ve noticed people really considering me as a director now.” His last helming effort, Interior. Leather. Bar. ran in Sundance, but he says that was a “different kind of project” that was made “strictly for artistic reasons. It was an interesting film but we didn’t feel any pressure to tell a conventional narrative.” That’s not the kind of movie that As I Lay Dying is, he says, even though it’s a “very daring kind of project to take on.” The intention was to gear this one to a theatrical release. And he says that going forward as a director he will be “exploring new things but will be making them in a way that they will be able to live in commercial theaters.” He recently signed on to The Garden Of Last Days, an adaptation of the bestselling book by House Of Sand And Fog author Andre Dubus III. Franco says, “It was brought to me as a director, and that was new.” He also recently directed the upcoming Bukowski and Child Of God. As for acting, Franco says he still enjoys it, in part because it allows him to work with the “best directors” and the collaboration is a learning experience. He says that a discussion with his Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine sums up his goal: “Be sure to have one area that’s purely yours. That’s the area you’re doing projects you believe in. And find a way to do them; those are your movies.” He admits, however, to being as excited as a little kid to have his first film in Cannes. “There are so many dreams I’ve had coming true at once.”

Anurag Kashyap
This year marks the 100th birthday of Bollywood cinema and a director working a bit to the left of tradition is involved in four films this year in Cannes. Anurag Kashyap, the Indian helmer who wrote 2005 Oscar nominee Water and directed last year’s Gangs Of Wasseypur, scored a second consecutive berth in Directors’ Fortnight this year with family drama Ugly. He’s also got out of competition screening Monsoon Shootout, which he co-produced, and the 100th anniversary tribute movie, Bombay Talkies for which he directed a segment. Kashyap is known as a helmer who steps out of the norm of Bollywood using the influences of Scorsese, Tarantino and Leone, says an exec who has worked with him internationally. And the same person says that Ugly is “interesting after Gangs because it’s a much more intimate and strong universe.”

Yann Le Quellec
Yann Le Quellec is by day a film financier, and by night – or on his vacation days as he says – a director. He’s a former Citi exec who co-founded French investment fund Cinemage several years ago. Via his exec work, he’s invested in 180 films and also worked with French minimajor Wild Bunch as a consultant. Lately, he’s been directing what in parlance are short films, but which are actually about 40 minutes in length. His latest, Le Quepa Sur La Vilni! is screening as part of Directors’ Fortnight. His previous 33-minuite film, Beauty And The Beat, got a rare theatrical release in France. It went on to the festival circuit, notably appearing in Locarno last year. The latest is about the mayor of a small town who enlists a group of cyclists-cum-town-criers to promote the launch of a movie theater. Ahead of Cannes, it won France’s prestigious Jean Vigo prize for a short. Le Quellec was a movie critic in his younger days and says, “I always thought about directing, but I had to find the right circumstances.” His company, White Light Films, produced both pictures and he’s considering moving on to the adaptation of a comic he wrote entitled Love Is In The Air Guitar. But going from financing features to directing his own mid-length pics wasn’t as easy as it might appear. The feature and the shorts worlds are separate, “if you have an investment fund, it’s a bit weird for people… I had to call people I didn’t know.” As an investor, Le Quellec reads 150 scripts a year which provides a lot of insight. On the flipside, directing helps him in his investment choices. “When you talk to a producer about their budget needs, and when you’ve never lived it yourself, it’s theoretical. Once you’ve been confronted with it as a director it’s more real.” Now, he says, “I feel like in the analysis of projects I understand the job better.”