Film & Television

Carte Postale De Cannes

Festival de Cannes, now in its 74th year (or l’édition 74, as they refer to it in French), is considered by many to be the most prestigious film festival in the world. Each year, glamorous stars and millionaire moguls rendezvous on red carpets along the Riviera, and dozens of films from around the globe compete for prizes including the coveted Palme d’Or. It’s an event where deals and reputations are made. It’s a place to see and be seen. 

But Cannes is newer than you might think — nearly a quarter of a century younger than the Academy Awards here in the U.S. And its early history (or what Hollywood might call its “origin story”) is as fascinating as any of the movies it showcases. The first festival was held in 1946, two years after France was liberated and one year after World War II officially ended. But the concept was conceived earlier.

It was 1938 and there was an upset at the Venice Mostra, then considered the premiere international film festival. An American film was set to win the Mussolini Cup for best foreign film, but Hitler was able to use his growing influence, and Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia was named instead. Representatives from the U.S., Great Britain, and other democratic nations left in protest. 

On his way back to France, Philippe Erlanger decided that a new international festival was needed, one that would be immune to political machinations. He gained the support of Jean Zay and Albert Sarraut, France’s Ministers of Education and the Interior. Within months, Festival de Cannes was organized, scheduled to open September 1st, the same day as Mostra. Neither festival was to take place as planned. On September 1st, Germany invaded Poland, and on September 3rd, war was declared. In 2002, a special jury awarded a retrospective 1939 Palme d’Or to Cecil B. DeMille’s Union Pacific. (The filmmaker had been dead for 43 years.)

Although not technically canceled, last year’s Cannes was dramatically altered due to the COVD-19 pandemic. There were free online screenings and a limited outdoor festival. Spike Lee, who had been appointed president of the Jury, was invited back for 2021. The festival, with safety precautions in place, including regular saliva tests for all Palais des Festivals audiences, is happening now. As usual, there is controversy as well as glamour. 

And, as always, there is good news and bad where women filmmakers are concerned.

Of the 24 films eligible for the Palme d’Or, only 4 were directed by women. This is disappointing, given the gains we’ve seen domestically over the past three years (the percentage of women directing top box office hits has more than doubled since 2018), and the fact that Cannes often celebrates smaller, independent films and documentaries, genres in which women are better represented. No female American directors are represented.

The four selected films do include:

Bergman Island, by Mia Hansen-Løve, a French director. The movie is about married writers who go to an island that inspired Ingmar Bergman in order to work on their screenplays. As time goes by, their lives, work, and location begin to meld in unusual ways. Mia Wasikowska and Tim Roth star. Hansen-Løve is a journalist as well as auteur, and her earlier films, Après mûre réflexion (2004), All Is Forgiven (2007), and Father of My Children (2009) earned critical praise.

La fracture, by Catherine Corsini, another French director. Her film tells the story of Raf and Julie, two women in a troubled relationship who find themselves in a hospital together on the night of a violent demonstration. In addition to her directing and writing credits, Corsini served as a jury member at the Brest European Short Film Festival.

The Story of My Wife, by Ildikó Enyedi from Hungary. The movie, Enyedi’s first in nearly 20 years, centers around a sea captain who makes a bet with a friend in a café that he’ll marry the first woman who walks in. The director was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2017, and has juried the Berlin International Film Festival.

Titane, by Julia Ducournau, yet another French director. Titane is about the reunion of a father and the son who disappeared 10 years earlier. Ducournau is no stranger to Cannes. Her short film Junior won the Petit Rail d’Or in 2011, and her acclaimed, deeply disturbing, fantasy/horror movie Raw won the Fipresci Prize in 2016.

The films sound fascinating, and I look forward to their release in the U.S. market. But the odds are not in these directors’ favor. Only one woman has ever won the Palme d’Or — Jane Campion in 1993 for The Piano.

Although there aren’t as many women represented for the selected films as one would hope, Cannes’s jury for feature films tells a different story. Under Lee’s leadership, the jury is majority female. Judges include actor/writer/director Mélanie Laurent, director Mati Diop, actor Mylène Farmer, actor/writer/director Maggie Gyllenhaal, and writer/director Jessica Hausner.

And, perhaps to avoid any accusations of gender bias or misogyny (or perhaps because she genuinely deserves it, as I would certainly agree), an honorary Palme d’Or was presented for lifetime achievement to Jodie Foster. The two-time Oscar (The Accused and Silence of the Lambs) and three-time Golden Globe (the same plus The Mauritanian) winner has acted since she was a child, adding director and producer to her résumé in her early thirties.

In perfect French (Foster was class valedictorian when she graduated from Lycée Français de Los Angeles), she told the opening night crowd that “There has never been a better time for women to enter the film industry,” and that “movies have too long been starved of female perspectives.” Admitting that the industry is still dominated by men, “They don’t understand how women lead because they’ve never seen women lead. There is now an awareness that it’s been too long that we haven’t heard stories told by women . . . This is the moment.

“I know it’s a bit cliché to say, ‘tell your own stories’,” she continued, “But what I mean is: ask yourself questions about the truthfulness of things and whether they resonate within you, instead of pleasing others, be it the public or producers.”

Alas, the next day’s headlines were more focused on Foster’s fluency than her empowering message. And her peers agreed. “I got one thing to say before I sit down,” Lee said when she was finished. 

“I wish I could speak French like Jodie Foster!”

Festival de Cannes wraps up on July 17. To stay abreast of screenings, honors, and news, visit


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