Coen brothers to bring quirky eye to Cannes contest

LOS ANGELES - Quirky US filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen -- once feted at Cannes as award winners -- will this month bring their distinctive eye to the Croisette as judges, in what could be good news for European directors.

Regarded as among the most innovative directors in the world, the Oscar-winning pair will jointly chair the jury that selects the prestigious Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes film festival, which runs from May 13-24.

"We are very happy to be coming back to Cannes... Being presidents of the jury this year is even more of an honour in that we've never been presidents of anything before," they said earlier this year.

Even though Ethan has called festival prize-giving a "ridiculous" activity, the nearly inseparable American duo are no strangers to Cannes glory.

Their "Barton Fink" won the Palme d'Or and the best director prize in 1991.

Joel earned best director honors two other times -- for "Fargo" in 1996 and "The Man Who Wasn't There" in 2001. Ethan's directing role was uncredited on all three films.

Their "Inside Llewyn Davis" won the jury's grand prize in 2013.

This year's competition line-up, which they will be judging, includes 19 films, 11 of which are from Europe.

Industry journal Variety's awards editor Tim Gray said that, in theory, having the Coens head the jury could help European films, which are perhaps more in line with the brothers' noir sensibilities.

"Their presence is good news for filmmakers from Europe -- and from everywhere else, for that matter. It's clear from the Coens' films that they like to think outside the box -- and that they have good taste," Gray told AFP.

The Coens are the fifth US filmmakers to head the Cannes jury in 10 years, after Sean Penn in 2008, Tim Burton in 2010, Robert De Niro in 2011 and Steven Spielberg in 2013.

But in only one of those years did a US film take the Palme d'Or, in 2011 for Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life".

And of course the rest of the jury will have their say: this year's panel also includes stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller and Sophie Marceau, as well as cult director Guillermo del Toro.

'Two-headed director'

"As jury foremen, the Coens don't make unilateral decisions, obviously. But they help steer the discussion. And their films show that they like to approach things from an unusual angle," said Gray.

Since debuting in 1984 with their offbeat thriller "Blood Simple," the two have reeled off a dozen films, each notable for their quirky humour or macabre themes -- and sometimes both.

Favored by critics and film festivals, they have won more than 120 prizes together, including four Oscars. They have been nominated for another nine Academy Awards, including one individual Oscar nod each.

The siblings are known as the "two-headed director" for their seamless ability to work alongside each other. They write, direct and produce their films jointly, and have also edited movies under the alias Roderick Jaynes.

The Cannes festival's official selection of competing movies is typically an eclectic list ranging across themes and borders.

If the Coen brothers' filmography is anything to go by, though, dark humour and offbeat characters or situations would be appealing traits they might seek out.

They have also increasingly been attracting Hollywood stars to their own films.

George Clooney, for instance, has already appeared in three of their movies -- "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", "Intolerable Cruelty" and "Burn After Reading".

He is appearing in a fourth Coen brothers film due to come out next year, "Hail, Caesar!", with Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson.

Whatever happens in Cannes, the winning film, actors and actresses will no doubt get a huge commercial and promotional boost from the honors bestowed on them.

But Ethan has also expressed skepticism about the whole process.

"The awards put a movie on people's radars," he once said.

"Festivals are good, even though the idea of putting movies in competitions -- this one is the best this, that one is the best that -- is ridiculous."