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Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson face off this year at the Cannes Film Festival

Jonathan Crow
Movie Talk
April 19, 2012

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson might be soul mates in the "Twilight" series and may or may not be dating in real life, but in the just-released lineup of this year's Cannes film festival, they are competitors.

Kristen Stewart stars in Walter Salles's adaptation of Jack Kerouac's classic "On the Road," alongside Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, and Kirsten Dunst, who was named best actress at last year's Cannes for her role in "Melancholia." Salles is probably best known in this country for directing "The Motorcycle Diaries," which depicted Che Guevara's formative road trip through the hinterland of South America. "On the Road" shows Kerouac as he travels through America in the 1940s, hanging out with barely fictionalized versions of his Beat movement buddies Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Clearly, road trips are Salles's auteurist thing.

Robert Pattinson, on the other hand, stars in David Cronenberg's adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel "Cosmopolis," about a burned-out hedge fund manager trying to negotiate Manhattan traffic. Judging from the international teaser trailer (in French and marginally NSFW), Cronenberg has shed the patina of respectability that he accrued with his last couple of movies -- "Dangerous Methods," "Eastern Promises" -- and has created another mind-bending cinematic-fever dream along the lines of "Videodrome." This film geek is stoked. The teaser shows, among other things, Pattinson shooting himself in the hand, stabbing some guy in the eye with a fork, and frolicking with a number of nubile young women. There also seems to be a massive wild boar walking around the city.

So which flick might come out on top? Both movies are literary adaptations by hugely respected directors. If this were the Oscars, "On the Road" would be the clear favorite of the two. The academy has a long and sorry track record for not rewarding weirdness. Cannes, on the other hand, tends to reward risk. Last year's Palme d'Or winner was not best picture Oscar winner "The Artist," which was in competition, but Terrence Malick's pantheistic film poem "The Tree of Life." That being said, a win for either movie, given that both are in English and by name-brand directors, can be a big boost at the box office.

In terms of careers, the stakes couldn't be more different. Kristen Stewart has already proved herself outside the sparkly realm of "Twilight" with such critically lauded flicks as "Adventureland," "The Runaways," and "Welcome to the Rileys." More to the point, she is starring in the upcoming summer blockbuster "Snow White and the Huntsman." Even if "On the Road" proves to be a complete critical dud, her career will be just fine.

Pattinson, however, hasn't had much success outside the franchise. "Water for Elephants," a big-budget romantic drama, fizzled at the box office, and "Remember Me," a misconceived 9/11 tearjerker, nabbed him a Razzie nomination. "Cosmopolis" is a clear break from his cinematic output thus far, clearly calculated to shift him out of the romantic-genre ghetto. He needs this to be a success.

Of course, Cronenberg has a way of getting great performances out of underappreciated actors. Audiences knew Viggo Mortensen as Aragon, but they didn't know he could really act until they saw "A History of Violence." Keira Knightley gave a startlingly good performance as mental patient turned shrink/spanking enthusiast Sabina Spielrein in "A Dangerous Method." As for "Cosmopolis," Cronenberg is confident that Pattinson will knock it out of the park.

"He is fantastic," Cronenberg told me late last year. "He is a truly great actor, and it will be obvious to people when they see this movie."

Both movies face some pretty stiff competitors for the festival's top prize. Other American movies in competition: Wes Anderson's latest, "Moonrise Kingdom," which opens the fest and stars Bruce Willis and Bill Murray; Andrew Dominik's mob drama, "Killing Them Softly," starring Brad Pitt; Lee Daniels's "The Paperboy;" and "Mud" by Jeff Nichols, who made last year's fantastic "Take Shelter," starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey.

Also competing are such cinematic legends as French new-wave icon Alain Resnais, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach, and Michael Haneke, master of the feel-bad movie.

The Cannes film festival opens May 16.

See the international trailer for 'On the Road':

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