Reflections on puritanism and vindication of the role of filmmakers are at the center of the debate at the Cannes Festival, in competition, from Tuesday, July 6 to Saturday, July 17. An edition with little presence of American films, where romantic comedies have emerged as the star subgenre.
The Cannes Film Festival enters the halfway point of its 74th edition, with controversy once again dominating the public debate, while films in competition introduce themes such as gender equality, the claim of the author and the rise of the romantic comedy. .
The festival of festivals has always been characterized by the choice of avant-garde films, with committed messages, and after a year of absence, due to the pandemic, critics were eager to know what are the philias and phobias of the greatest authors.
And there, in that context, a debate has arisen around Puritanism. “Benedetta”, by the Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, author of “Showgirls”, “Elle” or “Basic Instinct”, is a favorite to win the Palme d’Or, in a romance between nuns during the Italian counter-reformation.
Praised by many and questioned by others, Verhoeven was uncomfortable at the press conference this Saturday, July 10, when he had to answer questions about profanity, nudism and sex scenes.
“Don’t forget, in general, that people, when they have sex, take off their clothes,” Verhoeven snapped at a journalist. “So I’m basically surprised by the fact that we don’t want to look at the reality of life,” he added. “Why has this puritanism been introduced? In my opinion, it’s wrong. “
Some of the critics have questioned that the film has a “masculine look” when representing sex scenes, which they have considered do not fit with the reality of the novices of the convent.
The theme of the “male gaze” is not new at Cannes. In 2013, Abdelatif Kechiche, winner of the Palme d’Or for “Adele’s Life,” was accused of voyeur in his lesbian drama. Criticisms that he also experienced in 2019, when he premiered in Cannes, the second part of his film “Mektoub My Love”, with an endless scene of oral sex, where only the female protagonist appears naked.
Cinema after #MeToo
However, feminist critics have also praised the conscientious treatment of the Norwegian director, Joachim Trier, in his film “The worst person in the world”, whose protagonist is a young woman who tries to find herself while constantly changing lovers.
In this film, critics have valued the changing gender dynamics, as well as the discovery of the Norwegian, Renate Reinsve, an unknown actress, who is already a favorite to win the award for best female lead.
“Growing up before #MeToo, you are shaped by the strong opinions of men,” Reinsve said in an interview with AFP. Speaking of her character in the film, she added: “She finds her identity in the eyes of others. When you get rid of that, you become yourself and stronger. “
On how to film women, the French filmmaker and screenwriter, Nathalie Marchak, also spoke for France 24.
“There are a million ways to film a scene; the key question is where do I put my camera and what does it say, “he explained in an interview with France 24 from Cannes. “It is a fascinating debate and one that we must not shy away from. It’s part of the role of cinema to question the way we see ourselves. “
Only four directors in the Official Section
This debate is framed in a context of question to the Cannes Festival, where in the Official Selection there are only four women directors out of a total of 24 candidates for the Palme d’Or.
A historical trend, since only the New Zealander, Jane Campion, has won the highest award for her film “The Piano”, in 1993.
Despite the numbers, for the director of Cannes, Thierry Frémaux, in parallel sections such as A Certain Look, the Critics ‘Week and the Directors’ Fortnight, parity dominates. He cited it as evidence that “the future of cinema will be female.”
For feminist critics, the fact that there is such an imbalance in the Official Selection responds to the fact that there is a bias in favor of an industry still dominated by men.
However, Frémaux, who has supported various initiatives promoted by women to achieve greater gender equality, has refused to introduce “positive discrimination” claiming that the Festival chooses films on merit and not on gender.
Something shared by Marchak, for whom to speak of “positive discrimination” is an “insult” to women. “The directors want to be selected for the main festivals not because they are women, but because their films deserve to be the center of attention,” he explained. The point is not to favor the directors over their male counterparts, he added, but to ensure that women are present in the selection process and have their lack of visibility in the industry addressed.
“The first feminist director”
In this first week there have been images to remember, such as the delivery, by the Spanish director, Pedro Almodovar, and the South Korean, Bo Joon-ho, last winner of the Palme d’Or for “Parasites”, of the honorary award of the Oscar winner, Jodie Foster.
In fact, Foster has assured, in reference to the Spanish, that “he was the first feminist director” for having always put women at the center of his films.
“It was the first time that I saw films that spoke about women in an authentic way,” Foster said of Almodóvar’s films, calling Almodóvar an exception among male directors who “cannot easily be transposed into the body of a woman and wondering what the complicated and complex experience of a woman consists of ”.
Divorce between Cannes and Hollywood
Another sign that is confirmed in this edition has to do with the increasing distance between Cannes and Hollywood. There have only been two films in the US Official Selection: “Red Rocket” by Sean Baker and “Flag Day” by Sean Penn.
Nor have there been any major studio movies, little influence from the major platforms and no trace of exclusive release blockbusters, as there had been in the past. A relationship that is reserved for the Venice Film Festival.
Meanwhile, Cannes continues to bet on the great names of auteur cinema, in an edition that for critics, such as the Spanish, Manu Yáñez, have left a long list of romantic films.
Love for times of pandemic, while the pools begin to think about the next winner of the Palme d’Or, waiting for new surprises, in the last week of the French contest.