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By Alexandria Sage
CANNES (Reuters) - An avenging Venus settling the psychological and sexual score is the star of acclaimed director Roman Polanski's "La Venus a la Fourrure" ("Venus in Fur"), one of the Cannes film festival's two final movies in main competition to premiere on Saturday.
The French-Polish director is one of 20 vying for the top Palme d'Or prize to be handed out at the festival on Sunday by a jury led by Steven Spielberg. Polanski won the prize in 2002 for "The Pianist", his semi-autobiographical drama about the Warsaw Ghetto, for which he also won an Oscar for best director.
"I think when you show a film here, you have to be in the competition, you have to be a sport," Polanski told journalists before the official screening. "And even if I don't get anything I can say, 'Well, I got it already.'"
Also screening on Saturday is "Only Lovers Left Alive," U.S. director Jim Jarmusch's languorous retro-cool vampire film.
Frontrunners for top prize at the end of the 12-day festival include French director Abdellatif Kechiche's love story "Blue is the Warmest Colour" - whose no-holds-barred lesbian sex had audiences buzzing - and "Inside Llewyn Davis", U.S. directors Ethan and Joel Coen's story of a struggling singer trying to make it as a folk singer in the 1960s.
Also on the short list is "The Great Beauty" from Italy's Paolo Sorrentino, a heady, magical ode to the decadence of Rome, and "The Past" a tension-filled psychological drama from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi.
The jury of Ang Lee, Vidya Balan, Daniel Auteuil, Lynn Ramsay, Christoph Waltz, Naomi Kawase, Nicole Kidman and Cristian Mungiu will hand out the top prize and a slate of other directing and acting awards on Sunday.
U.S. director Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" starring Michael Douglas as pianist Liberace was an opulent, rhinestone-encrusted spectacle while the most unabashedly political film this year was director Jia Zhangke's critical look at modern China, "A Touch of Sin".
Polanski, whose 1974 film "Chinatown" established him as one of the world's great directors, remains controversial after his 1977 flight from the United States after serving time for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.
"Venus in Fur" stars Polanski's wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, as brash actress Vanda who crashes an audition to convince writer Thomas, played by Mathieu Amalric, to cast her as the lead in his new play.
Soon, the roles in the play are being acted out by Vanda and Thomas, and as the themes of domination and submission come into focus, roles become reversed and reality is blurred.
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw called Polanski's first French-language film a "playful if occasionally heavy-handed jeu d'ésprit on the subject of sexual role-play, the games we all play, illusion and reality, and directing as a sexual act."
Peppered with erudite literary references and infused with retro cool - blood is drunk from cordial glasses or frozen into popsicles - "Only Lovers Left Alive" is high on style but short on emotional depth as lovers Adam and Eve seek out type O negative blood and disparage humans as "zombies."
Starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, Variety's Leslie Felperin called it a "sweet but slight love story" that feels like "an in-joke intended only for select acolytes, who will probably love it with an undying passion."
(Editing by Patrick Graham)