Can the Cannes film festival find its way in at a time of the Me Too campaign?
Female stars vow to protest on the red carpet, two top directors are barred and bans hang over other movies at the most political festival in years
Cannes — The most political Cannes film festival in years opens on Tuesday with female stars vowing to protest on the red carpet, two top directors barred from attending and bans hanging over other movies.
With the industry still reeling from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and Cannes under fire for its dearth of women directors, Cate Blanchett and Kristen Stewart are likely to join actresses and women directors on Saturday in a protest in support of the Me Too and Time’s Up movements. The new Star Wars spin-off, Solo, is the only Hollywood blockbuster in a slightly less starry line-up than usual.
But with no less than a dozen films with LGBT themes, and others tackling child abuse, male prostitution and an eye-watering DIY sex change, it has all the makings of a vintage year for scandal and controversy.
A new documentary about the tragic singer Whitney Houston by Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald reportedly includes a devastating revelation about the demons that dogged her short life. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler — whose film is breaking box office records — is also likely to tackle the lack of black faces in Hollywood in a Cannes masterclass.
Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam is fighting in the French courts to have his disaster-plagued The Man Who Killed Don Quixote shown and the first Kenyan movie to be selected for the world’s top festival has already been banned in its homeland for daring to depict a lesbian romance.
Despite a plea by US director Oliver Stone, Tehran has refused to lift a travel ban on Iranian master Jafar Panahi, whose Three Faces is in the running for the top Palme d’Or prize.
The dissident director made it clandestinely after being banned from making films for 20 years for his activism after the "stolen election" of 2009.
Appeals to bail Russia’s Kirill Serebrennikov, under house arrest in Moscow on embezzlement charges his supporters claim are political, have also fallen on deaf ears.
Festival director Thierry Fremaux told reporters on Monday that it was ironic that both Iran and Russia should be "punishing the directors when neither film is political". Serious doubts also hang over whether Gilliam’s Pythonesque movie will be allowed to close the festival after it became embroiled in a bitter legal battle over who owns the rights. Judges in Paris will decide on Wednesday whether the film, which Gilliam has laboured on for almost two decades, can be shown.
But it is Cannes’s "dismal" record on female directors, and Saturday’s red carpet protest led by A-list stars that may generate the most political heat. Long before Weinstein had been accused of attacking four women at the festival, Cannes had been under fire for a "problem with women".
Women have been stopped on the red carpet in previous years for not wearing high heels, and its dress code has been condemned as sexist.
But the Weinstein scandal has given its critics further ammunition, with screenwriter Kate Muir of Women and Hollywood lacerating the festival as "a two-week celebration of male brains and female beauty".
The fact that only three out of 21 directors in the running for the top prize are women — the same number as last year — has also rankled.
While admitting that Cannes "will never be the same again" after the Weinstein scandal, Fremaux said he was against quotas.
Instead he put Hollywood star Blanchett — one of the first to call out Weinstein — at the head a majority-female jury alongside another of Weinstein’s victims, French "Bond" actress Lea Seydoux.
But Fremaux’s surprise decision to lift the festival’s seven-year ban on Danish director Lars von Trier has stoked feminist ire.
The ageing provocateur has been accused of sexual harassment by the singer Bjork, and his production company has been hit by multiple similar claims. Von Trier sparked outrage during a 2011 Cannes press conference by saying that he was a Nazi who understood Hitler and sympathised "with him a little bit".
But Michel Hazanavicius, the Oscar-winning director of The Artist, who is on the festival’s board, insisted Von Trier was joking, while Fremaux said on Monday that the Dane was not an anti-Semite.
Pointedly, however, he has not risked giving Von Trier a press conference this time for his new serial killer flick, The House That Jack Built with Uma Thurman and Matt Dillon.
Hazanavicius said the veteran Swiss-French director Jean-Luc Godard, whose latest film is also at Cannes, has also said "much worse things than Lars von Trier on this very same topic".
But that "doesn’t mean we have to condemn them" as artists, he added.
"It’s very difficult for people to accept the idea that you can be a jerk in your personal life and a great artist."