MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From Paris now to the French Riviera. The 2012 Cannes Film Festival got under way this week, and at least one thing is clear from the fare so far. The festival has long billed itself as a showcase for the world's best cinema, but this year, it looks remarkably American. Steve Zeitchik is covering Cannes for the Los Angeles Times, and he joins me now. And, Steve, what is with this American focus this year? What do you take from that?
STEVE ZEITCHIK: You know, it's really interesting, Melissa. Many years, you'll see one or two American films. Sometimes, you'll see a little bit more than that. But this year, you really have about four or five movies that are really trafficked in sort of not only American themes with American actors but in this idea kind of kind of an Americana. One movie that's here is called "Mud." It's sort of an update on the Huck Finn story. There's another film called "Lawless." That's a Shia LaBeouf film. Basically, it's set among bootleggers in Prohibition-era America.
And then finally, you have "On the Road," which is the adaptation of the Jack Kerouac novel.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ON THE ROAD")
SAM RILEY: (as Sal Paradise) The only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like Roman candles across the night.
BLOCK: And, Steve, a number of these films are smaller films, but they do have some pretty big stars, among them: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson of "Twilight" fame. And it doesn't get much bigger than that among a certain demographic.
ZEITCHIK: No, it doesn't. And, you know, this is sort of what's happened now is that, you know, as it's harder and harder for some of these very prestigious films to get made in a kind of Hollywood attempts to make big blockbuster "Avengers"-style films, you do need a big star to get a movie made instead of a more kind of classically trained actors. So indeed, you have Kristen Stewart who, as you say, is "On the Road," and then you have Robert Pattinson, her "Twilight" costar, who's in a movie called "Cosmopolis," which is a David Cronenberg film based on a Don DeLillo novel.
So you have kind of the two biggest teen stars, and you also have Zac Efron, who's another kind of teen pinup, who's in a movie called "The Paperboy." So you're starting to see these stars who you normally would maybe see in a vampire movie. You're seeing them here at Cannes.
BLOCK: Let's also talk about another actor, and that's Matthew McConaughey in not one but two films at Cannes: "The Paperboy," which you mentioned, and also "Mud."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MUD")
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: (as Mud) You don't need to be afraid of me. I got two ways to protect myself out here: this shirt and this pistol. A number of fierce powers at work in the world, boys - good, evil, poor luck, best luck - because men, we've got to take advantage where we can.
BLOCK: Now, Steve, Matthew McConaughey, we may have seen in some really forgettable romantic comedies over the years, but is he staking out new ground here with these new movies?
ZEITCHIK: You know, it is really interesting. Matthew McConaughey is not someone, as you say, one normally associates with films like this. I know when the announcement came out, we're all kind of puzzling over it, and we said, well, there's a film - Matthew McConaughey is going to be at Cannes. And then there he is again. He's going to have two movies at Cannes, which is really rare for any actor, let alone one who's known for his exercise videos or kind of his naked bongo playing or...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ZEITCHIK: ...whatever he's been up to. So he certainly seems to be staking out new ground. And a place like Cannes, it is sort of a venue where someone like him can reinvent himself.
BLOCK: Well, it's early in the Cannes Film Festival. But why don't you talk about what you've liked that you've seen so far and what you're really looking forward to?
ZEITCHIK: Well, it's - even just in these couple of days, there have been some really interesting films. I think that the two that have jumped out to me, one is a film from a director named Jacques Audiard. He's a French director who did a movie called "A Prophet." He has a movie called "Rust and Bone" with the actress Marion Cotillard. It's kind of a romantic drama. There's a sort of kind of tragic thing that happens, and everyone kind of has to pick up the pieces. And I like that quite a bit.
Also earlier today, I just saw Matteo Garrone's new movie. This is the Italian director who, I think, many listeners will remember did a movie called "Gomorrah" a few years ago. And here, he does a sort of almost satiric take on reality television, which is not something this director who's known for his more gritty, violent dramas would normally do. But both very interesting efforts, and I think we're going to see both films come the fall.
BLOCK: I've been talking with Steve Zeitchik. He's covering the Cannes Film Festival for the Los Angeles Times, such a hardship post. Steve, thanks so much.
ZEITCHIK: We also suffer for our art. Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.