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David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan among record number of Canadians off to Cannes

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TORONTO - A haunting look at Hollywood excess. A thriller that explores what happens to a community when a young girl goes missing. A story of a widow raising a troubled teen with help from a mysterious neighbour.

These are the three Canadian films competing for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, marking a record-breaking number of Canucks hitting the Croisette when the festival opens Wednesday.

Telefilm Canada celebrated this achievement with a red-carpet celebration on a recent evening, bringing together filmmakers Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Guy Edoin, Marie-Josee Saint-Pierre and others.

"I feel incredibly excited and proud. It's a great moment for the country," said Egoyan, whose film "The Captive" is among the three in contention for the top prize at Cannes. "This will be remembered as a really, really historic moment."

Egoyan, who has competed at Cannes six times and is known for his art-house sensibilities, said that "The Captive" does represent a shift toward more "genre" thriller fare but the story is emotional and complex.

The film centres on a father, played by Ryan Reynolds, who leaves his daughter in his truck for a few moments and returns to find her missing. The kidnapping winds up destroying the relationships among those involved.

"I come from a town where there was a child that disappeared unexpectedly in a park one day, and the whole town still believes he's going to appear one day, out of those woods," said Egoyan, who wrote the script.

"It's an incredibly emotional journey for unexpected reasons. It goes to places you don't think it's going to go. It has an unusual structure, but at all times you know exactly what's happening emotionally with the characters."

He said that Canadian actor Reynolds is going to "completely redefine" himself with his performance. "I'm really excited about that."

The other two films by Canadian directors in the official competition are "Maps to the Stars," directed by Cronenberg, and "Mommy" by 25-year-old Xavier Dolan.

"Maps to the Stars" takes aim at Hollywood excess, with an ensemble cast including a bleach-blond Julianne Moore playing a hysterical actress and Mia Wasikowska playing the mysterious, scarred young woman who suddenly appears in her life.

Although it marks the first time Cronenberg, known for "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises," has made a film about Hollywood, he said he has been trying to make the movie — based on a script by novelist Bruce Wagner — for a decade.

"I've never really been obsessed with doing a movie about movie-making or anything like that, but in a way his script was not that. It's about ambition and fear and desperation and a whole bunch of other things within the context of movie-making," he said.

The film reunites Cronenberg with "Cosmopolis" star Robert Pattinson, who the director called "a terrific actor."

"When we did 'Cosmopolis,' he didn't really want to do it because his character was in every scene. He really wanted to be in an ensemble piece, where he was one of a great cast of actors," said Cronenberg. "I said, 'We talked about that and here it is. Here's a perfect role for you.'"

Dolan was unable to attend Telefilm's event, but "Mommy" marks the first time the young Quebecois auteur has been in competition at Cannes. The film is about a widowed single mother, played by Anne Dorval, who is raising her violent son alone when a mysterious neighbour appears to offer support.

The three films in competition are not the only Canadian content on display at Cannes. Edoin's "Ville-Marie," about the lives of four people that collide in the emergency department of a Montreal hospital, has been selected for the Cinefondation's Atelier. Another 15 films will be showcased at Telefilm's Perspective Canada.

Meanwhile, the Director's Fortnight, an independent series inside the festival, will feature Saint-Pierre's short film "Jutra," about the legendary Quebec filmmaker Claude Jutra, and Stephane Lafleur's "Tu Dors Nicole," about a young woman who has her parents' house to herself for a summer until her older brother and his rock band arrive.

Oscar-nominated Canadian actor Ryan Gosling is also making his directorial debut at Cannes with "Lost River." Gosling’s dark thriller, based on his own screenplay and starring Christina Hendricks, was selected for the Un Certain Regard category.

Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm Canada, said she was proud to see established filmmakers like Cronenberg alongside younger ones like Dolan in competition at Cannes, which runs from till May 25.

"Three films in competition, it's one more than the Americans. With just that, we should be over the top," she said.

"We even have Ryan Gosling! That makes me really, really proud."

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