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Women takes centre stage as Cannes film fest opens

Cannes Film Festival 2015 will see a huge presence by female directors and actors -- from director Emmanuelle Bercot's La Tete Haute to Charlize Theron starrer Mad Max: Fury Road to director Agnes Varda being awarded, women are everywhere.

world cinema Updated: May 13, 2015 17:42 IST
Emmanuelle Bercot,La Tete Haute,Charlize Theron

The Cannes Film Festival eschews its usual blockbuster kick-off on Wednesday, opening with a gritty French film (La Tete Haute) that marks only the second time a female director has won the coveted first slot.

Normally reserved for flashy hits such as Moulin Rouge or The Fifth Element, the opening selection in 2015 is Standing Tall, starring French icon Catherine Deneuve.

Director Emmanuelle Bercot, little known outside her native France, is the first woman to open the world's most famous film festival since Diane Kurys in 1987 for her film A Man in Love.

The pace will pick up quickly over the coming 12 days, with a number of high-octane extravaganzas, including Mad Max: Fury Road starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, China's The Assassin and Japan's Yakuza Apocalypse.

Charlize Theron-starrer Mad Max: Fury Road is among the major big-budget films to be screened at Cannes 2015.

The festival has come under fire in recent years for failing to give much representation to women, and 2015's top Palme d'Or competition again features only two female directors -- the same as 2014 -- out of 19 selections.

They are French actors-turned-directors Valerie Donzelli and Maiwenn, part of a particularly strong showing for France which has five films up for the Palme.

But women appear to be more central to other parts of the line-up in 2015.

Legendary director Agnes Varda -- who made her name during the French New Wave of the 1960s -- will become the first woman to be awarded an honorary Palme d'Or.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman is presenting a special screening of her directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness about the early years of Israel.

Order comes from chaos
In 2015, the jury is led by US indie favourites Joel and Ethan Coen, who won the Palme in 1991 for Barton Fink and the runner-up Grand Prix for Inside Llewyn Davis two years ago.

"We love Cannes and the festival. We have come here very often," Ethan Coen told France's Le Figaro newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday.

They promised to try to confuse their jury, which includes stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller and Sophie Marceau.
"We fully intend to give them contradictory orders, and then see what happens," Ethan joked.

"That's exactly what we do on the set of our films," his brother Joel added. "Up to now it's worked pretty well. Order comes from chaos."

They will judge a typically eclectic selection that includes Matthew McConaughey in The Sea of Trees, Michael Fassbender risking the cursed role of Macbeth, and Cate Blanchett in Carol, teaming up again with Todd Haynes who directed her Oscar-nominated turn as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There.

Carol is another female-centred film, telling the story of a love affair between two women, played by Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

"Midrange films with women at the centre are tricky to finance," Blanchett told Vanity Fair recently. "There are a lot of people labouring under the misapprehension that people don't want to see them, which isn't true."

Among the highlights appearing outside the competition are Woody Allen's latest, Irrational Man, and a new Pixar animation called Inside Out.

There has also been a surprising number of non-anglophone directors working in the English language this year.
Two Italians -- Paolo Sorrentino who made the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty and Matteo Garrone who made the widely praised Mafia drama Gomorrah -- are presenting films in English in 2015.

The same goes for Greece's Yorgos Lanthimos, whose film The Lobster sounds like the most bizarre entry -- a dystopian tale starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in which hotel guests have 45 days to find a lover or face being turned into animals.

First Published: May 13, 2015 15:57 IST