Seventy years ago next month, the Americans made a historic landing in France.
They're at it again.
At this year's Cannes Film Festival, the prestigious and peculiarly French cinema gathering now underway, many of the hottest titles don't come from an obscure group of Europeans, as they have so often before.
Instead they arrive from more familiar faces, including one of Hollywood's biggest heartthrobs (Ryan Gosling) and one of its most grizzled veterans (Tommy Lee Jones) making rare directorial efforts, plus star turns from comedy actors (Steve Carrell), teen pinups (Robert Pattinson) and action stars (Channing Tatum). All of their movies will be — quelle scandal! — in English.
In the last five years or so, you had to look long and hard for more than a few English-language titles among the movies in the coveted annual "Cannes competition," as financing for high-end English-language dramas dried up.
This year, out of the 18 movies in Cannes' competition slate, considered by many the most elite group of films in the world, nine are English-language projects — the result of an interesting wave of American directors and financing players, as well as European filmmakers increasingly likely to look across borders for both casting and language choices.
Even one of France's most-prized native sons, director Olivier Assayas, is catching Yankee Fever. His new movie "Clouds of Sils Maria," though set in the Swiss Alps, has a uniquely American flavor: It stars some of Hollywood's most prominent young talent in Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz. It, too, is in English.
Hollywood is in the midst of a major exporting boom, with blockbusters storming through Europe and Asia, often earning the majority of their box office dollars there.
But a funny thing happened when the studios began shipping "Captain America" across the globe: The rest of the world's films started looking more American too.
It's a globalization of sorts in the art house: With English-speaking celebrities increasingly important to film financing, and national cinemas more interconnected than ever, American independent movies and sensibilities are front and center on the world stage in ways they haven't been in years.
"The globalized independent phenomenon is real, and it's a lot more exciting than Hollywood globalization," says Assayas, who reports that he found making a film with U.S. stars easier financially and more satisfying creatively. "Blockbuster globalization — which promotes a hegemonic view of cinema — tends to eliminate local cultural differences. The art-house kind embraces them."
Surely Cannes seems to think so.
This year's competition films include Jones' western-flavored "The Homesman," which sees Hilary Swank in Cannes for the first time, and Bennett Miller's John du Pont story "Foxcatcher," starring unlikely Cannes rookies Tatum and Carrell. Canadian auteur David Cronenberg's first U.S.-made movie is the competition film "Maps to the Stars," a take on child celebrity starring Pattinson.
All of this comes in addition to an older generation of English-language British filmmakers, including the venerable Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, both with new competition films. First-time North American voices have made the grade too, including Gosling, here with the surrealist "Lost River," about a mysterious underwater kingdom; Ned Benson, director of the ambitious romantic drama "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby"; and Damien Chazelle, who brings the Sundance fest phenomenon "Whiplash" to the Croisette.
Cannes also gave a special-screening slot to "How To Train Your Dragon 2," continuing a recent tradition of conferring the gala treatment on a big Hollywood movie, and according its Canada-born, Hollywood-based director Dean DeBlois a status among the festival icons.
The trend is a reversal of sorts from the days when English-speaking actors such as Kristin Scott Thomas made movies in French to show their international bona fides. It also flies in the face of a more pessimistic assessment of English-language cinema, which tends to believe that most Americans are too busy crafting superhero product to worry about high-level dramas.
It would be too simple to say that the boom is the result of young Americans concentrating on more challenging films, though that is part of it.
Benson had never made a feature before "Rigby," which he conceived as two separate films from dueling perspectives before the Weinstein Co. helped blend it into one piece. Chazelle, at 29, had made only a short before "Whiplash." And Miller is hailed as one of the young American greats, though he has made only two films, "Capote" and "Moneyball."
It also helps that American filmmakers are broadening their scope, allowing for more acceptance on the global stage.
Jones' seemingly America-centric take on a 19th century frontier story — it involves a claim jumper and a plot to get three deranged immigrants across the landscape — contains a number of international elements.