PARIS — In the glory years of Italian cinema, Fellini, Antonioni and Visconti used to compete against each other at film festivals. This year, the trifecta of Italy’s leading contemporary directors — Matteo Garrone, Nanni Moretti and Paolo Sorrentino — all have films in the official competition at the 68th annual Cannes International Film Festival, where each has taken home prizes before.
Mr. Garrone and Mr. Sorrentino, both in their mid-40s and both presenting films in English this year, are part of a younger generation, more stylized and often darker in their palettes and sensibilities. Mr. Moretti, 61, has evolved over the years from making sui-generis comedies in which he stars, Woody Allen-style, to more somber family dramas like the one he’s presenting this year.
Asked about the stiff national competition, the first time in years that so many Italian films have been in the running for the Palme d’Or, Mr. Garrone said he was pleased. “Finally,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Rome.
In 2008, his film “Gomorrah,” about organized crime outside Naples, took home the Jury Prize at Cannes and in 2012 “Reality,” about a man who becomes obsessed with being on television, also competed. His film “L’imbalsamatore” (The Embalmer) was chosen in 2002 for the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, which showcases emerging talent.
This year at the festival, which runs from Wednesday to May 24, Mr. Garrone is presenting “Il racconto dei racconti” (Tale of Tales), a big-budget fantasy shot in English and starring Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones and John C. Reilly. Its official screening is Thursday.
Filmed in luscious landscapes and darkly romantic castles from Tuscany to Sicily, the film is based on the book of fairy tales by the 16th-century Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile, who went on to inspire the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. (Italo Calvino once described the book as “the dream of a deranged Neapolitan Shakespeare.”)
Mr. Garrone said, “I fell in love with this book, and I embarked recklessly on a very ambitious film.”
Filming in English helped the director get a strong cast and a leg up in international distribution, but Mr. Garrone said it was also a smart artistic choice — Basile’s writing is in an antiquated Neapolitan dialect and would have needed to be translated into contemporary Italian anyway.
“After ‘Gomorrah,’ I got many offers to do films in America or outside Italy,” Mr. Garrone said. “In this case I made a different choice. I brought the actors, American and English, to my house, to Italy, into my world, my culture.”
In filming “Tale of Tales,” Mr. Garrone, who was trained as a painter, said he was inspired by Goya. “It’s a fantasy, but a fantasy that keeps a certain identity and personality connected to our culture, to my point of view,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty unusual film with respect to the genre.”
The film will be up for the Palme d’Or alongside Mr. Sorrentino’s latest, “Youth,” which officially screens on May 20 and stars a bespectacled Michael Caine as a semi-retired composer and conductor. It is the director’s first film since “La grande bellezza” (The Great Beauty), an elegy to decadent Roman decline, which competed at Cannes in 2013 without winning any awards, before going on to win the best foreign language film prize at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Six of Mr. Sorrentino’s seven films have competed at Cannes. His 2008 film “Il Divo,” about the powerful Italian prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, won the jury prize there. Sean Penn was the president of the jury that year and after meeting Mr. Sorrentino he later agreed to star in his “This Must Be the Place,” which was filmed in English and competed at Cannes in 2011.
Mr. Sorrentino also shot “Youth” in English. The French-Italian co-production is set partly at a spa in the foothills of the Alps, and also stars Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda. The film’s score is by the New York composer David Lang, whose music can also be heard in the opening sequence to “The Great Beauty.”
In a telephone interview from his home in Rome, Mr. Sorrentino said he loved working with Mr. Caine. “He’s a real phenomenon,” he said, “an actor who doesn’t need to make an effort to become unforgettable. It’s a quality that very few actors have, an absolute naturalness.”
The most seasoned director of the trifecta, Mr. Moretti, is presenting “Mia Madre” (My Mother) this year, screening on May 16. The film is a tragicomedy in which he stars with Margherita Buy, one of Italy’s most soulful actresses. She plays a director whose mother is dying and who is trying to keep it all together in the middle of filming a movie with a difficult American actor played by John Turturro, who speaks in Italian.
It is Mr. Moretti’s seventh film in competition at Cannes since 1978, when his Italian cult classic “Ecce Bombo” was shown. In 1994, he won the best director award for “Caro diario” (Dear Diary), which helped launch his international career. “Habemus Papam” (We Have a Pope), about a reluctant pope, competed at Cannes in 2011.
Outside of the three directors in the main competition, two other Italian filmmakers are also showing at the festival. Roberto Minervini, an Italian working in the United States, is presenting “The Other Side,” about people living on the margins in America; it will compete in the Un Certain Regard section, reserved for more difficult and innovative works. And “Mediterranea,” about African immigrants in Calabria directed by the Italian-American director Jonas Carpignano, will be shown in the Critics’ Week selection.
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the event where “Mediterranea” would be shown. It is part of the Critics’ Week selection, not Directors’ Fortnight.