Controversy? What controversy? Some journalists and bloggers, including at least one who isn’t even here, are saying there is a controversy in Cannes this year over the fact that no women directors are represented in the official selection. That may be true — there were four last year — but anyone who has sat through the first four competition films as I have must realize that, so far at least, women are the dominating factor in all of them. And from what I have been tipped about the remaining films it is just the beginning. Women may not be behind the camera this year but they are very prominent in front of it. They are also prominent on the jury making up nearly half. When asked about the lack of women directors this year, Oscar winning juror Andrea Arnold said she would never want one of her movies considered for a berth just because it was directed by a woman. Nevertheless women are a very visible force in the films seen to date. And there is the image of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe on the festival’s poster everywhere you go here.
In Wednesday night’s opener Moonrise Kingdom, young newcomer Kara Hayward practically carries the movie (with co-star Jared Gilman) which also features female heavyweights Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. In the Egyptian film After The Battle that premiered in Thursday’s late slot, women dominated the action as the film deals directly with the problems they have encountered in that society before and after the recent revolution. In one of Friday’s premieres, Paradise Love, a fiftyish, heavyset woman played by Margarethe Tiesel gets it on in heavy sexual encounters with African men that would never be seen in a Hollywood film (it’s got far more male and female frontal nudity than any non-porn film in memory). This is actually a (not very good) movie more demeaning to males (for a change) than females, but it presents sexual desires of mature women rarely seen or talked about. Also on Friday Dreamworks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted premieres with a woman as the key villain played to hilt by Frances McDormand.
And then there was Thursday night’s prime time Cannes premiere, De Rouille Et D’Os (Rust And Bone–Sony Pictures Classics) featuring a lead performance by Marion Cotillard as a whale trainer who becomes a double amputee after a tragic accident. It is a remarkable portrayal that could put her in strong contention for a prize here as well as another Oscar nomination. At the film’s after party at Carlton Beach, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard told me that although they haven’t yet officially dated the film he is aiming for Thanksgiving and an Oscar run. He says he is certain Cotillard will be a major contender again. Incidentally his co-president Michael Barker won’t be in Cannes until the weekend. He is giving a major college commencement address in Texas.
Harvey Weinstein, also at the party, stopped me to pointedly proclaim, “This was a great film tonight”. And he has two movies of his own competing directly against it.
Believe it or not the Oscar- and Cesar-winning Cotillard has never had a film in competition at Cannes before and never walked the famous red carpet until now. She missed last year’s out-of- competition opener, Midnight In Paris , due to her pregnancy. As she walked the steps she had the style of a young Audrey Hepburn and the photographers ate it up. The powerful love story directed by French favorite Jacques Audiard was actually filmed in Cannes and the next-door town of Antibes and got a rousing 10-minute standing ovation. Cotillard appeared to be very moved by the reaction as the Palais theatre showed her face on the big screen. Along with Cotillard and Audiard, who won the Grand Prize here a couple of years ago for the Oscar-nominated Une Prophete, there was lots of talk about her co-star Matthias Schoenaerts, the Belgian actor who starred in last year’s Foreign Language Oscar nominee Bullhead. He gives a remarkably powerful performance that could put him in awards contention too. At least one head of a major specialty distributor told me tonight they are trying to sign him for a film and they know they’d better hurry. He is going to have a huge career in Hollywood films, potentially as an action star. But as this movie and Bullhead prove he is also a very fine actor. Asked about the progress of a career in American films when the Rust And Bone contingent met the press earlier in the day, Schoenaerts quipped, “It’s funny you say that because just last week they called me for Rambo 34, but I told them I wouldn’t do it unless I got to be in 35 and 36 too. I take my time for now. There is stuff moving in the States but I have time”.
Cotillard whose international career is red hot (Dark Knight Rises comes next for her in July) said her co-star can play many roles, and added she has been fortunate herself to work in different countries and explore different cultures. She went on to compare him to Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis.
Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain adapted the film from a book of short stories by Craig Davidson but they added the two main characters in order to create a love story at the center of the tale which Schoenaerts believes carries strong themes about the power of reconciliation.
Asked about bringing the film to Cannes, Audiard said “it was shot nearby so we thought it would be handy to just drop in at the Festival”. For Cotillard her first visit is an emotional one but she noted it is separate from the experience of winning the Oscar (for La Vie En Rose). “It’s a tremendous emotion for me. I am always surprised when people talk about these prizes I have won in my career but I don’t know what the link is with Cannes. This is my first time here in the official selection and I’m thrilled. Cannes is such an iconic place with so many stories and films in its history. I am so glad to be here”.