During this afternoon’s annual press conference to introduce the jury of the official main competition for the Cannes Film Festival, the panel’s president Cate Blanchett expressed sympathy for the two directors who, due to various reasons, are not being permitted by their home countries to attend the fest, despite the fact that their films are competing.
Russia’s Kirill Serebrennikov whose Leto premieres tomorrow night, and Iran’s Jafar Panahi, a previous prize winner forbidden to travel here, will have his latest film 3 Faces shown Sunday, but neither can come – at least as it appears now. Asked about the politics affecting the festival and if it will be taken into consideration when judging the movies themselves, Blanchett was careful to draw a difference. “I think this has not become a political film festival, and I think the making of the work is probably not inherently political, but the way it is going to be digested in the cinema post-festival may have political implications for people and open their eyes and minds and hearts to situations that are going on around the world… But this is not the Nobel Peace Prize, it is the Palme d’Or, so it’s a slightly different function but yes it is a terrible situation that two of the filmmakers will more than likely not be here when their films screen,” she said.
This year’s jury as chaired by Blanchett consists of five women and four men, something Blanchett pointed out was the norm when a woman is chosen president and not any kind of statement necessarily in support of women filmmakers of which there are only three in the main competition this time around. She said she hopes, and expects, there will be more in the future but that the jury cannot focus on that, but rather only on the films that are placed in front of them in any given year. The Jury members include Ava DuVernay, Chang Chen, Robert Guediguian, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Denis Villeneuve, Khadja Nin, and actresses Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart, many of whom have been to Cannes before with their movies. African-born musical star Nin is that jury rarity who does not come from the world of film at all and presumably will be offering a completely different point of view in the deliberations based on her own professional background.
The group all fielded the moderator’s initial question of “What makes a Palme d’Or winning film?”, with Blanchett opining it should be a movie that includes everything, all facets of filmmaking. Stewart feels it should be one where you are “fundamentally, undeniably moved” and that stands the test of time. DuVernay also brought up timelessness as an attribute and called for movies with “emotional masculinity” that can find humanity in the universal sense of the word.
“The task is impossible. We will disappoint and confound,” said Blanchett who added that the ultimate choice may divide the jury, critical consensus and audience favorites, and that essentially their choice may not please everyone. “If critics think differently, that’s wonderful.” The two-time Oscar winner actually said that despite running a jury pressed with the mission of handing out awards, she is not focused on them at all and more interested in the dialogue the films provoke with artists both inside and outside of the competition.
Inevitably, the subject of the #MeToo movement came up. “It’s a wave, a movement. For change to occur it needs to take place in specific actions. It’s addressing the gender gap, and the racial diversity, and the equality, and the way we make our work,” the jury president said. And as for the lofty question posed about the state of film itself, the French-Canadian Villeneuve attempted to answer in English but got so caught up in what he wanted to say that he lapsed into French. Essentially he said that unfortunately humanity keeps screwing up and historically making the same kinds of mistakes, and that it is up to film to reflect that and, most importantly, tell the truth which these days he believes is endangered. DuVernay hopes cinema can continue to be universal and she said that growing up in Compton, California there wasn’t a lot to see outside her window and that films gave her the opportunity to understand families in Iran, Shanghai and elsewhere, bringing together all parts of the world.
Sitting under the official poster image for the 71st edition of Cannes which features a striking kiss between the stars of French legend Jean Luc Godard’s 1965 film, Pierrot Le Fou, Blanchett tried to gingerly react to a question about how you treat such an immense (“mythique” was the word used by the journalist) figure of the cinema when they are once again in competition for the Palme d’Or which is the case with the 87-year-old Godard and his new film, Le Livre d’Image (Image Book). Although it wasn’t noted at the conference, this is his 8th time eligible for a Palme d’Or since his first go-round here in 1980 with Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie). And of course his most groundbreaking work came well before that in the 50s and 60s with the French New Wave, Breathless, and so much else. He finally did win a Jury Prize here the last time up with 2014’s Goodbye To Language where he tied with Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, but still the Palme d’Or has eluded him.
“It’s a level playing field isn’t it, so if you remove everybody’s names it’s very, very hard when someone has been so profoundly influential on international cinema not to bring their body of work into your experience of what films they’re making and he continues to experiment. Who knows what this particular experiment will be,” she wondered. “I am sure his body of work will stand with or without a Palme d’Or, but it’s very hard to sit in judgement of another artist. That is going to be the most challenging and painful moment for all of us. I can’t honestly respond to (the question) because I am going into this process – I think we all are – with a genuinely open mind and so we are trying to leave names and pasts, and just deal with the present.”