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CANNES WATCH: Natalie Portman makes directing debut

Actress Natalie Portman, left, and her husband choreographer Benjamin Millepied arrive for the opening ceremony and the screening of the film La Tete Haute (Standing Tall) at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

CANNES, France (AP) — For the second year in a row, the Cannes Film Festival is showcasing the directorial debut of a Hollywood star. This year it’s Natalie Portman’s first feature, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”

Adapted from an autobiographical novel by Amos Oz, the film is an ambitious period piece that charts the birth of the state of Israel and a boy’s initiation into the realities of disappointment and death.

The Israel-born Portman also wrote the screenplay and stars in the Hebrew-language feature as the boy’s mother Fania, a cultured and imaginative woman whose dreams can’t withstand grinding everyday reality.

Portman’s film is playing as a special screening outside of the main competition at Cannes — just like Ryan Gosling’s film “Lost River” did last year.

“A Tale of Love and Darkness” didn’t draw as strong a response from critics as “Lost River,” a baroque urban fairy tale generally panned as an ambitious flop.

Portman’s film — a reverent adaptation with a vivid sense of place but less memorable characters — received mild applause at its press screening Friday. It has its gala festival screening on Saturday.

Robbie Collin of Britain’s Daily Telegraph tweeted that the film was earnest but “completely respectable,” while Variety’s Peter Debruge said the “drearily empathetic film lacks whatever universality has made (the book) such an international phenomenon.”

Portman, 33, is returning to acting soon with a starring role as Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie,” set in the days after John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.

–By Jill Lawless, http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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