Cannes Competition: A Guy Thing

Andrea Arnold Cannes Jury - P 2012
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Andrea Arnold Cannes Jury - P 2012

Female helmers are absent again from this year’s line-up of Palme d'Or contenders, but French femme directors are making an impact in the festival’s sidebars.

CANNES - Cannes competition lineup this year is another testosterone-driven affair, with not a single female director in the running for the Palme d’Or. This is nothing new - despite the occasional burst of fresh female air à la Jane Campion (the only woman to ever win Cannes’ top prize) or British director Andrea Arnold, who went toe-to-toe with the festival big boys with Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009) and this year returns as a member of the international jury.

“I would have hated it if my film got selected for Cannes because I am a woman as some sort of charity,” Arnold said at the Jury press conference when asked about the lack of female directors in this year’s line up. “And it is true that, the world over, there are very few female directors. So maybe Cannes is just a small piece representing the larger trend.”

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Last year, four women vied for the coveted Palme d’Or prize – Lynne Ramsay, Julia Leigh, Naomi Kawase and Maiwenn, who ended up taking home the Jury Prize for Poliss. This year, the competition is a cinematic boys club, much to the chagrin of women across the globe, specifically in France where nearly 900 women in film have signed a petition to protest at the website, that translates to “The beard in Cannes,” with the header “Cannes 2012: A man is a man.” The site criticizes the fest for showing, once again, that ‘men like depth in women, but only in their necklines.’”

But while the competition lineup may be severely lacking in estrogen, French female directors are proving that an extra X chromosome is indeed welcome on the Croisette. Outside the competition, female directors have found a place in Cannes sidebars. Sylvie Verheyde’s Confession of a Child of the Century and Catherine Corsini’s The Three Worlds will screen in Un Certain Regard;  Noemie Lvovsky’s Camille Redouble will close the Director’s Fortnight; Sandrine Bonnaire’s debut feature Maddened by His Absence and Alice Winocour's first film Augustine screen in Critics Week.

“It’s not a surprise, but it’s still shocking,” Verheyde says of the fact that no female directors made it to official competition this year, adding: “Directing is still a man’s job. However, as she points out: “In France, we’re better represented than other places.”

For Bonnaire, “It’s not about being a man or a woman – it’s about the desire to tell a good story. We don’t have the same sensibilities of course, but that’s not what’s important,” she says. The actress-director will present her first fiction film after screening documentary Elle S’Appelle Sabine, a tribute to her autistic sister, in the Director’s Fortnight in 2008 that won the FIPRESCI prize that year.

She adds: “I don’t want people to catalog my film as a ‘woman’s movie.’

Verheyde also doesn’t want to be labeled as such.

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“I’m happy to be a woman and a director, but I don’t represent all female filmmakers,” she says.

Plus, all of these films aren’t simply stories about women. Male characters are very present. In Maddened by His Absence, Hurt plays the central role alongside child actor Jalil Mehenni and Augustin Legrand.

“I really wanted to focus on paternity. We always talk about motherhood in films, but we don’t often talk about paternity,” Bonnaire says, adding that Hurt’s character is in fact “more of a mother figure” since the audience has the impression that he feels the pain of the lost child more than Alexandra Lamy’s mother role. “He feels more pain in the visceral sense of the term, even if she feels it just as much, if not more, but she’s in denial.”

Bonnaire says she felt a bond between several of the characters including Alexandra Lamy’s mother figure.

“I wanted a woman in front of me, not just an actress, to share the experience with her as a woman. Alexandra had that,” Bonnaire explains, adding: “I felt a down-to-earth quality about her, very healthy and delicate with a real sense of who she is.”

Like Bonnaire, Corsini chose to focus on both male and female characters. “Just because we’re women doesn’t mean we're necessarily in a better position to talk about women. Male directors have made great films about women,” Corsini says, adding that “The role of an artist is to be able to show several points of view.”

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In Three Worlds, Corsini presents a drama about a young man (Raphael Personnaz) who is involved in a hit-and-run accident just before getting married and must deal with the repercussions of his actions. The protagonist is male, but the film also stars actresses Clotilde Hesme and The Silence of Lorna star Arta Dobroshi.

“Everyone always says I make films that tell stories about women. This one is about a male character and I am just as much at ease. It’s great to have distance between director and subject,” she says.

Three Worlds is Corsini’s fifth feature. Her first three films premiered in festival sidebars and her 2001 title Replay screened in Competition in 2001.

Alice Winocour’s first feature Augustine stars Vincent Lindon, singer-actress Soko and Chiara Mastroianni in the 19th century period drama about a doctor studying a hysterical patient. Winocour has directed three short films, but this will be her ambitious freshman effort to put her on the map after graduating from prestigious French film academy La Femis in 2002.

Fellow Femis alum Noemie Lvovsky will present her fifth feature Camille Rewinds in the Director’s Fortnight. Lvovsky wrote, directed and stars in the story about a woman who, after discovering her husband will leave her after 25 years of marriage, finds herself 16 again and reliving her past.       

While the verdict on these French female-driven films has yet to be determined, what’s certain is that all eyes will be on them at the male-dominated fest.

“I think it’s going to be the hot topic at the festival this year,” Corsini says of the battle of the sexes. Corsini doesn’t blame the festival, however, for the lack of female representation. “The first thing that needs to happen is that producers need to make films by women. In order for the festival to select films from women, there needs to be more films from women,” she explained.