It’s Day 8 of the 71st Cannes Film Festival, taking place on the French Riviera from 9th to 20th May. Dresses, fashion, receptions, parties, ‘red carpet’ appearances by movie stars and international celebrities and even some films occupy the Cote d’Azur sea front Palais for 12 days.
And this year some protest too. 82 women walked the red carpet at the beginning of the festival to highlight the limited number of female filmmakers who had been selected for the competition’s line-up in its 71 year history. Only one woman, Jane Campion, has ever won the coveted Palme d’Or in 1993 for her film “the Piano”. That is one-woman director out of 82 against 1,645 films directed by men. The Palme d’Or is the Festival’s and the world’s most coveted award for best film, maybe even more prestigious than the Oscars.
As reported by AP, Salma Hayek, Jane Fonda, “Wonder Woman” filmmaker, Patty Jenkins and the French director Agnes Varda, recipient of an honorary Palme d’Or, were joined in the protest on the red carpet by some Cannes jury members; Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay and Lea Seydoux.
And if the “affaire 82” was not enough, there was the ‘affaire Netflix’. Netflix is an online film and TV streaming service which also produces its own full-length films and TV series. In a feud with the Film Festival, Netflix pulled five titles out of the competition. Several were hotly anticipated titles, including the latest from Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” and Paul Greengrass’s “Norway”. Also pulled from the competition were Jeremy Saulnier’s film, “Hold the Dark”, Morgan Neville’s documentary, “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” and the restored version of “The Other Side of the Wind”, an unfinished Orson Welles film. The feud followed last year’s complaint by the theatrical exhibitors’ guild FNCF which protested against the inclusion of the Netflix titles “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” in 2017 because it wouldn’t be releasing them in French cinemas. The problem is that in France a film has to play in cinemas for 36 months before it can be streamed. This rule is part of a European Union system that helps finance European movies and TV, bringing work to big and small screens. Netflix, on the other hand offers a constant flow of programming to its 125 million or more subscribers.
On the plus side a quick reshuffling of the programme allowed into the competition lesser known filmmakers like Wanuri Kahiu, whose “Rafiki”, a sweet and bitter story of two Kenyan women who fall in love, owes a debt to Dee Rees’s “Pariah”, as it maintains its own tough-minded integrity. “Donbass”, is a harsh, mordant Ukrainian movie from Sergei Loznitsa that feels very Cannes and which reflects the French cultural tradition of directors making and showing films for industry professionals for their own audiences.
The 71st Cannes Film Festival opened with “Everybody Knows”, a melodrama from the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, a favourite in Cannes, whose credits include “A Separation”. “Everybody Knows” stars Penélope Cruz as Laura, whose teenager is kidnapped while the family is visiting her Spanish hometown. Ms Cruz’s husband, Javier Bardem, plays Laura’s former lover, Paco, a winemaker whose good fortunes have stirred resentment in her family, which has experienced a self-inflicted fall in its own fortunes. Mr Farhadi’s script is far too busy. The film is crammed with characters and underexplored themes, including class tensions, nativism and ugly attitudes toward migrant workers but he is exceptionally deft at mining the spaces that open up between people, particularly during a crisis.
At his news conference, Mr Farhadi said he hoped that Jafar Panahi, whose movie “3 Faces” is in competition and who is barred by Iran from leaving the country, could attend Cannes. That Mr Panahi could not attend, Mr Farhadi said, “is something that I have difficulty living with”. Perhaps because Iran is so often demonised in the United States and its auteurs are so often rightly venerated at Cannes, it was widely noted that the day that “Everybody Knows” had its premiere, President Trump announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. In 2017, Mr Farhadi boycotted the Oscars in protest against the president’s travel ban. His film “The Salesman” went on to win the best foreign-language Oscar.
Despite its “arthouse” feel Cannes recognises the power of Hollywood and American cinema. Netflix is a leading studio and a multinational corporation. Last weekend “Avengers: Infinity War” was the top box-office draw everywhere from Australia to Ukraine. The people who benefit the most from this global domination are those on the board of the Walt Disney Company.
Françoise Nyssen, the French minister of culture, wrote in the official catalogue, “This year, I would like to showcase a special cause: gender equality”. This may be difficult at a festival that fails to champion the work of women as much as it should. Will this be the year when a second woman director wins the Palme d’Or? We’ll find out by the 20th.