The speculation on when the world would see Tree of LifeTerrence Malick’s latest film, which stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn – became a great sport of inside baseball until Fox Searchlight picked it up and announced a May release date. For Tree of Life there were likely to be two periods of release: Cannes or award season. With the May date, it seemed the film premiering at Cannes was inevitable, and now Variety has confirmed that it will be playing the festival – though it is unknown if it will play in or out of contention.

This is interesting for a number of reasons, one of which is that the film was rumored to show at Cannes last year, and supposedly the festival held off on announcing their titles in hopes of getting Malick’s latest. But Malick – much like Hong Kong Auteur Wong Kar-Wai – is notorious for having prolonged post-production periods, as he often finds his film after he’s done shooting. The film was also independently financed, so until it was picked up by Fox Searchlight there was no definite release plan.

There was a thought – even until early December – that the film might be ready for 2010′s Oscar season. When Searchlight grabbed it that was dashed – they already had a full plate with both 127 Hours and Black Swan gunning for Oscar position (which they did), and Malick’s film looked to be too much competition for themselves. When a May release date was announced, it seemed unlikely it wouldn’t go to France first.

Cannes is a natural fit for Malick because he won a director’s prize there with Days of Heaven back in 1978. Malick is famous in film circles for having directed two films  – two of the best films of that decade – in the 1970′s, and then disappearing off the scene. Rumors suggested that he was helping with re-writes without credit during that off period, but he was also known to translate philosophy. He returned in 1997 with The Thin Red Line, and since then moved on to another film in 2005 (The New World), and now has Tree of Life, and another film in production. His new dedication to cinema has proven fascinating, as Malick is nothing if not a mercurial director.

His long absence is unexplained as Malick is now notoriously press-shy, and does not talk about his work or much of anything publicly – which has also led to him not having been photographed all that much. In that way, it’ll be interesting to see if he shows up for Cannes. He’s a maverick, and that’s partly why his cult has bloomed.

In America, the release date hasn’t changed, which means it will be up against the Hangover Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2.

Do you think Tree of Life can win its weekend?