If you even remotely know me, you’re probably pretty aware of my long-lasting, unconditional love for the Cannes Festival. Heck, I grew up with it and the crazy movies projected there constituted my main film references from a good two thirds of my life!
That being said, in the last years, Cannes became a bit of a grumpy old French man: arrogant about its old successes, complaining about the disruptive newbies (hello Netflix) and dismissing all things not Cannes. Oh, and, of course, refusing to give women the space in the industry that they deserved!
Now, legendary Agnes Varda is gone and gets to be celebrated by finally headlining the festival (yes, it’s her on the photo below, the first time a female director is featured). I want to hope that her spirit will protect Cannes and bring a je-ne-sais-quoi of avant-garde, feminism, freedom, freshness to the event, and allow it to become again the wonderful place that it used to be.
Are my hopes too high, or are they justified? Let’s have a look at where we stand.
What Cannes used to be
No matter how far I go back in my memories, Cannes has always constituted my ultimate film event of the year, more than the Oscars or its French equivalent the Cesars, more than the Golden Globes, the Mostra or Toronto. Having grown up in France, Cannes always represented glamour and avant-garde, and it taught me to develop a certain taste in cinema - and a certain resistance as some movies featured can get very slow… Cannes allowed me to find my favorite filmmakers - David Lynch, Abdellatif Kechiche or Emir Kusturica - and to develop taste for films I’d have never thought about.
Because, to me, Cannes has always been this non-commercial festival, this place where a French film about school or an obscure Romanian movie about abortion could get awarded. It was the place where any creative could come and submit their project, with no heavy networking or political tricks). In 1968, the festival was even cancelled in solidarity to the riots that were going on in France (yellow jackets, where are you?).
Will our Sleeping Beauty wake up?
But in the last years, Cannes felt a little tired. Although the quality of films is still as high, most of the last awards came to famous male directors (Haneke, Kechiche, Malick, Loach) and rarely welcomed newcomers or too radical films.
Moreover, the question of female representation has become more problematic over the years as no female director has ever received a Palme d’Or of her own yet.
Geographically speaking, Cannes isn’t doing much for diversity anymore, as Europe and the United States make for over 75% of the award-winners, although the festival intends to be international (representation wise, it does better than the Golden Globes though). Notably, no Sub-Saharan film has ever won a Palme d’Or (whereas the Oscars attributed the best Foreign Film to South African Tsotsi in 2006). Considering the many awards that came to sovietic countries during the Cold War, it is regretful to read that the Cannes cinema isn’t using its political power the way it used to.
This year will only be a milestone if it choose to be one
This year, Cannes is making a conscious effort to modernize itself. Out of the 19 directors competing for the Palme d’Or, 8 are beginner competitors. And the festival has made a lot of post #metoo noise last year.
But out of the 19 competing films, only 4 of them are directed by women - just 20% of the competitors (and one more than last year))! In our day and age, and considering the marvelous work of young female directors like Rungano Nyoni, Coralie Fargeat, Anne Biller, Andrea Arnold, Dee Rees and so on, this speaks loads about the true willingness of institutions to change.
In such a situation, I cannot help but pray for a female director to win the festival, no matter what. Although I love these directors to death, this year I do not wish Abdellatif Kechiche’s incredible description of sentuality to win, nor Quentin Tarantino’s last tribute to the silver screen, I don’t want zombies from Jim Jarmusch, I don’t even want the political rawness of Ladj Ly.
This year - and I hate saying this because I hate choosing politics over art - I just want to see a woman walk the red carpet, the same way that Agnes Varda should have already walked it 50 years ago.