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Peter Mikelbank
January 03, 2008 08:55 AM

Sean Penn will say “bonjour” to Cannes this summer, the film festival’s organizers announced Thursday.

The 47-year-old actor/director – whose separation from his wife, Robin Wright Penn, 41, was confirmed to PEOPLE on Dec. 27 – has accepted the presidency of the festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or competition.

“The Cannes Film Festival has long been in the center of discovering the new waves of filmmakers,” Penn said in a statement. “I look forward very much to participating.” As president, he’ll help select the jury and oversee the judging at the annual movie fest, running this year from May 14 to 25.

Also Thursday, the festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux said, “Penn represents the independent American cinema as well as a vision of America that we like.”

After three nominations, the actor finally won his best actor Oscar in 2004 for Mystic River. He also directed 2007’s critically acclaimed Into the Wild.

The self-styled Hollywood maverick (who was once married to Madonna) has never lacked for controversy. He famously paid a pre-war visit to Iraq, toured Iran in 2005 and, last year, courted controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

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