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The Kering “Women in Motion” talks, presented in partnership with The Hollywood Reporter, continued Wednesday with a discussion with actress Golshifteh Farahani and producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint, the star and producer of Cannes Critics’ Week entry Les Deux Amis.
Alison Brower, deputy editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, led the discussion, which delved into Farahani’s challenges as a woman of color in the French film industry, as well as the dual controversies of her appearance in a 2012 video for the Cesar Awards in which she showed her breast while undressing, and her recent fully nude cover for Egoiste magazine.
Farahani believed the Cesar video would be cropped to show only her shoulders and face, she said. The resulting furor over the video left her feeling “wounded” and resulted in an anger that led to the Egoiste shoot.
“I wanted to just ask in those photos, ‘What is your problem? Look at me. Am I a threat? Why is there this much fear of women? Why is everything about putting the veil on women?'” she said, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the other gender. “There is a fear. The reason, I think, is the weakness of men.” The resulting photos were meant to be confrontational at the time. The shoot took place three years ago, though the images were first published just this past February.
Though she’s poised to become an international star with her role in the next Pirates of the Caribbean installment later this year, Farahani said that independent films are more rewarding.
“All these blockbusters — the best thing about them is that I know how to appreciate little independent films,” she said. “I think Les Deux Amis is going to give me more income and credit mentally than Pirates of the Caribbean.”
The Iranian-born actress first rose to fame after starring in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies. That role resulted in months of government interrogations before she escaped and entered a self-imposed exile in 2008, she explained. Despite her initial despair, the situation has given her strength and new opportunities abroad. “Now I’m here and I’m very happy and grateful to my interrogators, the government of Iran and the fascist regime because they all led me to such a wonderful light. I’m very grateful to them.”
In contrast, Toussaint, who has produced nearly 40 films and won a Cesar Award, said that growing up in Europe, she always believed her dreams were possible. That surety has prompted her to support other women in the business.
“After all these years I feel like I had a mission to help other women and other people to feel this freedom I have always known,” she said. “I feel that I was lucky in my life from the beginning and I think it’s important now for me, it’s like a mission, to help people — and especially women — to create and to express their art.”
For Farahani, being a woman of color has led to unconscious segregation on some occasions. “I think there is a problem in France that anyone who is not European, you want to know where they come from and why do they come from somewhere or why they speak English or why they are human,” Farahani said. “That’s the big barrier for all of us that are coming from some far, far away countries. But at the end of the day we are all artists.”
As an artist, her desire is to make beautiful films, but as a female actor from Iran, every role or action is turned into a political statement, whether she intends it that way or not, said Farahani, pointing out that non-ethnic stars don’t receive the kind of scrutiny she’s under. “I don’t want to do anything political but anything I do it becomes political. Like Lea Seydoux, if she is not wearing the veil, or she’s naked or she’s doing whatever, it’s just art, there’s no problem in it. But if I’m walking it becomes a political walk.”
“I had to tell people I was not born with a scarf because I came out Iran,” she continued. “People think you came out of your mother with a scarf, they can’t imagine that the scarf is not stuck to your head.”
Without repeating the old adage that “the personal is political,” Toussaint agreed with it. “What is political and what is art? I think everything you do in life in a way is political. It’s a way of behavior and could be a way to be free or not from convention from rules.” That keeps her focused as a producer on seeking out interesting, independent projects from all over the world.
While neither guest would or could cite general gender differences between male and female directors, Toussaint said that there is often a softer approach from female producers. “I think female producers and male producers are different,” she said. “I think I do my job a bit like a mother.”
“It’s something easy and something more sweet, even if sometimes there are conflicts,” she added. “I have noticed that a lot of women producers are like that, and when it’s a man it’s more with force.”
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