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Why the Women Ruled Cannes 2017, Even When the Festival Failed Them

The fest still struggles to program female filmmakers, but this year's women took to the Croisette to talk sexism and equality, while winning awards and selling their films.

Nicole Kidman, Elisabeth Moss, Jane Campion and Gwendoline Christie'Top of the Lake: China Girl' photocall, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 23 May 2017

Nicole Kidman, Elisabeth Moss, Jane Campion and Gwendoline Christie

James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

As the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival comes to a close, the tide appears to be turning for women. With Sofia Coppola, Naomi Kawase, and Lynne Ramsay in this year’s competition, the lineup included more work from female filmmakers than almost any other year of the aughts, although that still worked out to just 15.8% of the 19-film competition slate. But beyond the numbers, things are changing.

Nicole Kidman, the unofficial queen of this year’s festival thanks to her turns in four of its most anticipated entries (two of which were directed by women), used her platform to call for more female filmmakers across the board. “Still only about four percent of women directed the major motion pictures of 2016,” she said at the press conference for Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” “That there says it all. I think that’s an important thing to say and keep saying. Luckily, we had Jane Campion and Sofia here. We as women have to support female directors, that’s a given now. Everyone is saying it’s so different now — but it isn’t. Listen to the statistics.”

READ MORE: Cannes 2017: The Competition Has a Higher Percentage of Female Filmmakers, But It’s Still Pretty Bad

Similarly, Diane Kruger opened up about her experiences making movies with women during a chat with Variety and Kering at their “Women in Motion” series. “I just think it’s a different point of view, especially for a female character,” she said. “I find that they are maybe more profound, a little less single-dimensional.”

Kruger is excited about the future, adding, “I think it is changing because women are speaking out more and I know that there is a real push in Hollywood to try to have more female directors.”

She was also forthright about other kinds of sexism that she’s encountered while working, adding, “I’ve certainly never been paid as much as a male costar in the United States. In France, yes,” she said.

Elsewhere, another actress spoke out about her own and very personal experiences with gender imbalance in the industry. Robin Wright, who just year lobbied for equal pay on her Netflix series “House of Cards,” again spoke out about the topic during her chat with Variety and Kering. “Feminism today has become such a derogatory or diva-like word,” said Wright at the event. “Feminism means equality, period. Equal work, equal pay.”

Elle Fanning Nicole Kidman Colin Farrell Sofia Coppola Kirsten Dunst'The Beguiled' photocall Cannes

Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst at the Cannes Film Festival

Silv/REX/Shutterstock

Wright was at the festival to promote her short film “The Dark of Night,” a spin on a ’30s-era film noir. It may be her first crack at directing a film, but Wright’s interest in helming projects is burgeoning; she’s also directed seven episodes of “House of Cards.”

Jane Campion, the only woman to win the Palme d’Or (“The Piano”), spoke out about the immense freedom she feels in television, a format recently embraced by the festival. At the festival to promote “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” the second season of her lauded Sundance Channel television series, Campion told Anne Thompson that, when it comes to TV, “I feel like I can say whatever the hell I want.”

While Cannes still falls behind when it comes to selecting female filmmakers for its competition, this year’s festival still included a number of female-led projects in the section, including features starring festival favorites like Tilda Swinton (Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja”), Isabelle Huppert (Michael Haeneke’s “Happy End”), Elle Fanning (Coppola’s “The Beguiled” and John Cameron Mitchell’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”), and Julianne Moore (reunited with Todd Haynes on his “Wonderstruck”).

Kruger was on hand to stump for Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade,” while Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” boasted stars Emma Thompson and Elizabeth Marvel, despite a story that’s mostly concerned with the male experience. Elisabeth Moss, also starring in “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” was at the festival for Ruben Ostlund’s English-language debut “The Square,” too. Female filmmakers might be in short supply, but women ruled nonetheless.

Dunst, back at the festival with her beloved Coppola, cried on the red carpet as “The Beguiled” group made their way to the film’s premiere, hours after a series of strong reviews hit the wire. The last time the duo bowed a film at Cannes, it was “Marie Antoinette,” which was booed. This time, they were being hailed for a feminist film led almost entirely by women.

Beloved French film star Huppert co-hosted the festival’s glittering 70th anniversary party, alongside festival director Thierry Fremaux. In her opening monologue, she listed a range of filmmakers and actors who have left their mark on Cannes over the years, and made a point to acknowledge Campion. “Seventy palmarès (prize winners), but only one for a woman,” Huppert said. “No comment.”

Jake Gyllenhaal, Seo-Hyeon Ahn, Tilda Swinton and Bong Joon-Ho'Okja' photocall, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 19 May 2017

Jake Gyllenhaal, Seo-Hyeon Ahn, Tilda Swinton and Bong Joon-Ho

James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Campion then got a standing ovation, one she wasn’t exactly thrilled about. As Campion later said, “It’s a tragic reason to be applauded. Andrea Arnold and I were talking about it with the director of ‘Toni Erdmann’ [Maren Ade]. We’ve got to do something… get the cream of the industry together.”

That kind of forward thinking, and the desire to uplift each other, is the most exciting female-focused narrative to emerge from the festival, but there are signs that it’s already going into effect.

READ MORE: With ‘The Beguiled,’ Sofia Coppola Seeks Cannes Redemption with a Southern-Gothic Remake

Although the acquisitions market at this year’s festival was less than robust, a number of female-made features made it out with distribution deals, including Chloé Zhao’s Directors’ Fortnight entry, “The Rider,” which went to Sony Pictures Classics after it bowed to the stellar reviews. Kaouther Ben Hania’s Cannes Un Certain Regard entry, “Beauty and the Dogs” went to Oscilloscope, which is planning a theatrical release for the film later in the year.

Elsewhere, Sundance Selects snapped up North American rights to Claire Denis’ “Let the Sunshine In.” The dramedy screened in the Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight sidebar and follows a single mom and divorced artist named Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) who is looking for love.

Competition awards will be handed out Sunday, but a number of other sections have already announced their picks: Directors’ Fortnight bestowed two of its five awards to female-directed films, including Zhao’s “The Rider” and Denis’ “Let the Sunshine In.”

Earlier in the week, Critics’ Week gave out short film prizes to “Los Desheredados,” helmed by Laura Ferres, and “The Best Fireworks Ever,” from Aleksandra Terpińska. The SACD 
Award



, which supports new writers, went to Léa Mysius, who wrote “Ava.”

“I absolutely believe in the superiority of women,” said “Okja” star Jake Gyllenhaal at a press event. “All the people I work with feel the same way, and they must, or else I don’t work with them.”

There’s no better place to recognize and laud the superior than at Cannes.

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