The Cannes 2018 lineup features films that deal intelligently with themes like identity, unconventional parenting, and social crises. Kristen Cochrane is back with another brilliant list of women-led films to see at this year’s fest (or after, at a theatre/laptop near you).
The Cannes Film Festival is the most prestigious, exclusive, and ostensibly glamorous film festival—one that is paradoxically known for its very vocal audiences (think: jeers, boos, and heckling). This year, the jury is composed of five women and four men. Cate Blanchett is this year’s President of the Jury, joining Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay, and Khadja Nin. But this kind of box-checking show of female visibility has not always been the Cannes MO, and it’s also not enough. In fact, the festival has been criticized for its past discriminatory practices, from a lack of female representation to the strict high heels policy for women on the red carpet. Even worse—out of the 18 films that are in competition for this year’s illustrious Palme d’Or, only three are directed by women. And to date, the only woman who has won a Palme d’Or was director Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993.
This tells us that despite increasing visibility and representation of women, we still need to be wary—some progress is not the same as fundamental systemic change. What’s more, we need to “trouble” the categorization of women as such altogether. As Judith Butler notes in her groundbreaking book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), representation “seeks to extend visibility and legitimacy to women as political subjects; on the other hand, representation is the normative function of a language which is said to either reveal or distort what is assumed true about the category of women.” Butler is also emphasizing that many self-identifying “women” have historically been excluded from the category, such as racialized women, women who are not cisgender, and working class women, among many others.
The reality is that film festivals (and the film industry at large) are still predominantly organized by people with normative identities (e.g. “white” people, the wealthy, the able-bodied). Nonetheless, festival programming is increasingly showing promise, and Cannes’ 2018 promises instances of diverse and nuanced storytelling. Below are some films premiering at Cannes that feature thoughtful representations of women—in all the senses of the word. Stories of note include an animation-live action hybrid documentary about a transnational subject in the Yugoslav war, a mother-daughter story where the roles are seemingly reversed, and a film that fictionally addresses the very non-fictional reality of families in the midst political instability in South American geographies.
1. Happy as Lazzaro. Directed by Alice Rohrwacher; Italy
After winning the second most prestigious prize at Cannes in 2014—the Grand Prix for The Wonders, a drama set in the Italian countryside—Italian director and actress Alice Rohrwacher is back. The surreal drama Happy as Lazzaro / Lazzaro Felice, follows a young peasant named Lazzaro after he encounters Tancredi, a nobleman with whom he is often mistaken. In their pastoral village, their existence is made miserable by the heinous Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna. Lazzaro and Tancredi bond over a scheme Lazzaro as hatched; the latter will fake his own kidnapping in order to leave town. Rohrwacher, who both wrote and directed the film, has a history of garnering critical acclaim, beginning with her first feature film Heavenly Body (2011), which delved into a contentious cultural issue for Italy—criticism of the Catholic Church. In light of her oeuvre, it seems that Rohrwacher is undaunted in her cinematic approach.
2.Leave No Trace. Directed by Debra Granik; United States
Having already premiered at Sundance this January, the critically-acclaimed Leave No Trace will screen at Cannes as part of the Director’s Fortnight category. In The Hollywood Reporter, Jon Frosch wrote that Leave No Trace is a “tough-minded, touching new drama,” starring Ben Foster as Will, a veteran with PTSD who seeks a pastoral life in the wilderness of Oregon. His 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) has decided to follow him. They forage for food, drink rainwater, and create campfires for cooking. But is this parenting style ethical? The authorities do not seem to think so, and they question his unconventional approach to fatherhood. Granik adapted Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment (2009) for the screenplay, which rekindles themes of family and solidarity – subjects she deftly explored in her 2010 film Winter’s Bone starring Jennifer Lawrence as a hardy teen taking care of her younger siblings in the wake of their father’s abandonment. The resilience of Granik’s female characters, it seems, is a deliberate choice for her oeuvre.
3. Capernaum. Directed by Nadine Labaki; Lebanon
Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki began her career as an actress, and moved to the director’s chair for her feature debut, Caramel (2007), which looked at the quotidian rhythms and contemporary concerns of five Lebanese women– the intersections of tradition, forbidden love, and sexual repression, among others. Her sophomore feature, Where Do We Go Now? (2011), follows a group of tough women who step up Lysistrata-style (minus the refusal of sex) to deal with local religious conflict. Labaki’s third film, Capernaum, was produced by a female producer, Anne-Dominique Toussaint, with whom Labaki regularly works. Set in an unspecified Middle Eastern region, the film tells the tale of a child who rises against his current circumstances, and launches a lawsuit during a political and social crisis. Capernaum is largely composed of non-professional actors, and, as Toussaint claims, “will have the same humor and humanity” of Labaki’s previous films.
4. Los Silencios. Directed by Beatriz Seigner; Brazil; France; Colombia
Brazilian filmmaker Beatriz Singer wrote, directed, and co-produced Los Silencios, a harrowing story of two siblings, Nuria (María Paula Tabares Peña) and Fabio (Adolfino Savinvino) who find themselves on an unidentified island after fleeing armed conflict in Colombia. The 12-year-old Nuria and 9-year-old Pablo, along with their mother, Amparo (Marleyda Soto), have discovered that their father is alive—after they believed he had died in a landslide (the effect of a mining company’s work). When they are told that their father has been hiding in the stilt house where they are headed, Nuria refuses to speak to prevent discovery of this family secret. Her brother, on the other hand, does not safeguard this information. Los Silencios is Seigner’s sophomore film; the Brazilian-Indian co-production Bollywood Dream (2010) was her debut, an adventure-comedy which tells the story of three Brazilian actresses who attempt to work in the Indian film industry and face difficulties as they encounter cultural differences.
5. Angel Face. Directed by Vanessa Filho; France
In Angel Face, award-winning actress Marion Cotillard will likely demonstrate her superb and versatile acting chops. Angel Face—written and directed by French filmmaker Vanessa Filho—follows Marlène (Cotillard) who lives with her eight-year-old daughter Elli in a small town near the French Riviera. To assuage their boredom and evade social services, they engage in unconventional ways of entertaining themselves. The respective roles of parent and child are unsettled in this film; Marlène is impulsive, irresponsible and transgressive, and Elli takes on a kind of motherly responsibility in the absence of a reliable parental figure. It’s Elli who forces Marlène to contend with her inner turmoil in order to lead a more stable life. The film is in competition in the Un Certain Regard category, which typically features unconventional stories. Cotillard rarely stars in feature debuts, which suggests that Vanessa Filho’s vision should be worthy of our attention. It has, after all, been compared to the critically-acclaimed American film by Sean Baker, The Florida Project (2017).
6. Chris the Swiss. Directed by Anja Kofmel; Switzerland; Croatia; Germany
Chris the Swiss, Anja Kofmel’s 3.3 million dollar feature debut, is a hybrid animation and live action documentary. The Lugano, Switzerland-born director explores the transnational nature of war in this film. On January 7th, 1992, in the midst of the Balkan War in what is now Croatia, a young Swiss journalist’s body is found among an international mercenary group. The journalist, Christian Würtenberg, was murdered, but the circumstances are unknown. Twenty-five years after the murder, Würtenberg’s younger cousin attempts to uncover the mysteries surrounding Christian’s death. It is alleged that Würtenberg had become involved with a paramilitary group, whose ideological position was far-right and extremist Catholic. The group, known as The First International Platoon of Volunteers (PIV) was in battle for Croatia’s (then a newly formed nation-state) national interests,. In an interview with Variety, Kofmel said that she used both animation and live action to highlight the story’s mysterious context. The film has an existential tenor – it contends with issues like the fallibility of memory,mortality, and subjectivity.
The Cannes Film Festival is on from May 8 to 19. See the list of full programming here :)
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and graduate researcher at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Her current research is located in queer cinema, particularly in Latin America, but she also writes on topics related to culture, film, media and their intersections with gender and sexuality. Her work has appeared in Amuse/i-D, AnOther, Teen Vogue, Somesuch, and VICE.