Cannes: Isabella Rossellini Talks Ageism in Film
"Is it so horrible to grow old?" she asked during the debut "Women in Motion" talk and mused on balancing family and career, as well as her mother's memory looming large over the festival.
The “Women in Motion” talks kicked off Thursday with a spirited discussion with Isabella Rossellini and French producer Claudie Ossard about aging in Hollywood and why there’s a lack of female representation behind the camera.
“Is it so horrible to grow old?” Rossellini asked when an audience member suggested that advances in special effects technology could keep an actress forever young onscreen.
The series of talks, which mark a partnership between The Hollywood Reporter and luxury group Kering and will run throughout the 68th Cannes Film Festival, launched with the Rossellini-Ossard conversation, spanning such topics as pay discrepancy (“I pay myself,” Ossard joked) and what needs to change (“It’s [about] fostering an audience” not reliant on teenage boys,” Rossellini said). Held in a penthouse suite of the Majestic Hotel in front of an audience of some 40 international journalists, the conversation was moderated by THR executive editor Matthew Belloni.
Rossellini, whose career has included such iconic films as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her, addressed the dearth of roles and beauty endorsement deals available to women over the age of 40.
“I don’t know why there is this attention on youth,” said the former face of Lancome cosmetics. “I don’t look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I wish I was 20 years old.’”
But for most women in film, “after 45, 50,” beauty contracts dry up, she said, miming cutting off her head, eliciting laughs from the audience.
As an actress, Rossellini insisted that her age has never been held against her, nor was her gender in pursuing her first directing project — a series of shorts about the sex life of bugs — with the Sundance Institute.
“I can’t say…I’ve been discriminated against,” she said. “No man has taken my job. Yet.”
Ossard, one of the most successful producers working in France with such credits as Betty Blue and Amelie, also echoed that sentiment, saying the European cinema industry is equitable, but things are worse in Japan, where she just shot a movie. To women coming up in the film industry, she advised: “Be natural. Don’t try to fight.”
As for her biggest challenge, Rossellini said it has been balancing family and career.
“The hardest thing for me to do was to integrate my children and my professional life,” she says. "I tried to bring them with me on the set ... They wanted to be with their friends."
The intensity of a typical Hollywood production, which involves much longer hours than in Europe, might be keeping women from making better inroads as directors, Rossellini suggested.
“I think a lot of women cannot be directors because they have children and they have to take care of them,” she said.
Neither Rossellini nor Ossard felt comfortable weighing in on the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent calls for an investigation into the lack of female directors in Hollywood.
“We’re not American,” Rossellini says. “I don’t feel like I can comment.”
Rossellini’s mother, the late film icon Ingrid Bergman, is the official face of Cannes this year, a sweet reminder for the actress as she performs her duties as president of Un Certain Regard jury president.
“Having Mama here in Cannes, I don’t miss her anymore,” Rossellini joked of walking the red carpet during the opening night film ceremony Wednesday night (a giant poster of Bergman’s face looms large over the Palais steps).
Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault and Janice Min, THR's president and chief creative officer, were on hand for the debut talk, which will air on THR.com and on Kering's digital platform.
The talks will resume Saturday with a discussion with Salma Hayek and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Watch the complete discussion below: