With three films by female directors in the mix this year, speculation was rife that the Palme D’Or might finally go to a woman for the first time since Jane Campion made history 25 years ago with The Piano.
Eva Husson’s Les Filles Du Soleil took an early bath last week after a disastrous press screening; but Italy’s Alice Rohrwach and Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki – with Happy As Lazarus and Capernaum, respectively – both sustained buzz until awards night.
As it was, both went home with minor prizes – an ex aequo Best Screenplay award for Rohrwach, and a Jury Prize for Labaki, as, once again, the main awards went to men: the Grand Prix for Spike Lee with his crime drama, BlackkKlansman; the Palme D’Or for Hirokazu Kore-eda with his offbeat family story, Shoplifters.
Another year and still no company for Campion? This was the elephant in the room, which jury head Cate Blanchett delicately sidestepped.
“All of us, men and women alike on the jury, we’d love to see more female directorial voices represented,” she said. “And I feel that there’s a very strong drive within the organization of the Cannes film festival to make sure that they explore, with their ‘curious’ hat on, female perspectives. There perhaps weren’t quite as many female-driven narratives as I’d have liked. But there were certainly some powerhouse performances – we awarded one, and there were several more we could have chosen from.”
Blanchett continued: “But, of course, in the creative arts, when you have homogeneity of perspective, it’s a very uncreative place. So, the more diverse the perspectives, the more creative and interesting and dangerous and exciting the film will be.”
The process of picking the Palme, she insisted, was harmonious. “No blood was shed,” she joked. “It was very respectful. But, of course, it was a very strong year and a very diverse year. A lot of very strong, interesting first films. So we had to often move beyond the place of our natural taste and try and put our ‘objective’ hats on. And, of course, it was a group decision – no one person led the jury.”
Blanchett seemed happy to do most of the talking for an international jury that included actors Chang Chen, Léa Seydoux, and Kristen Stewart, musician Khadja Nin; and directors Denis Villeneuve, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Ava DuVernay, and Robert Guédiguian.
“There’s a lot of rules in France – surprisingly,” she dryly noted. “The Palme D’Or, it has to be something where all the elements come together, where the acting is extraordinary, where the direction is extraordinary, where the mise en scène is profound and deep, the cinematography … where all those elements of seamlessly interwoven. And it was hard, because there were several films we felt were like that. And it was a very difficult decision. But, in the end, I think we were completely bowled over by [Shoplifters]. How intermeshed the performances were with the directorial vision. It was a very difficult decision. And that’s the hard thing: we’re not here to judge, we’re here to choose.”
Following the jury, Grand Prix winner Spike Lee took the stage for a surprisingly low-key and even (almost) humble press conference, despite rumors that he wouldn’t return for anything less than the Palme D’Or after his disappointment with Do The Right Thing in 1989.
“It’s a very, very scary time we live in today,” he told the crowd. “But, for the most part, y’know, I’m not gonna do a rewind of my previous, profane press conference [last week].” Surprisingly, Lee made no comment about his long-standing beef with Cannes, except in passing, when asked what advancements he had seen in civil rights in the intervening years.
“Next year will be the 30th anniversary of Do The Right Thing being here in Cannes,” he said. “And if you’re asking me have there been advances in that time for people of color in the USA, I’d say yes. But still, I feel there’s very low importance [placed] on the lives of people of color – police harassment and whatnot. So there’s a lot of change. But there’s still a lot of stuff that needs to happen. The present administration, they are doing many things to roll back the clock, which is, I feel, dangerous. That’s why I say this is the year of living dangerously.”